CTOs for hire help SMEs save time in going digital, meet cyber-security needs

Minister of State for Communications and Information Tan Kiat How (centre) visiting Asia Excel, which has benefited from IMDA's CTO-as-a-Service Scheme. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN
Mr Ray Rajagopal, managing director of Asia Excel, a Singapore retailer and distributor of bathroom and kitchen appliances. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

SINGAPORE - An initiative to offer small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) access to a chief technology officer (CTO) has helped them save time when they go digital.

On top of this, the 70 companies in Singapore that have used the scheme since December last year have received help to assess what they need first, before getting recommendations of possible technology solutions and even training programmes.

This is according to an update on Friday (Feb 25) by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) and its appointed consultants on the government initiative.

In the scheme, companies that cannot afford an in-house technology chief have access to a consultant CTO, who helps them implement their digital plans.

The service can help companies shave off time for putting their digital plans in motion to a month, instead of the six to nine months they would have taken on their own, said Stone Forest, one of the two consultancy firms in the initiative. The other firm is Accenture.

The CTO-as-a-Service scheme, announced in February last year, helps SMEs assess their digital readiness and identify their digital needs through a Web portal, and recommends digital solutions eligible for subsidies under the Government's SMEs Go Digital scheme.

SMEs that need more help can tap a pool of IT consultants who can tailor specific tech solutions to meet their needs, if off-the-shelf products and services are not available. These consultants can also offer project management services.

Nearly three in four SMEs that used CTO-as-a-Service engaged these consultants, said IMDA.

Many companies that seek help from the scheme do so because they do not know where to start when they want to digitalise, said Ms Eileen Tan, executive director and head of information technology services of Stone Forest.

Some firms use CTO-as-a-Service to avoid the time-consuming process of trial and error when trying to digitalise, she added.

"At the same time, they want a more holistic approach towards digitalisation, not just from the cyber-security perspective, but also from a governance perspective, especially when it comes to data security," said Ms Tan.

Amid more cyber attacks, cyber security and data protection have come into focus as companies go digital during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Latest government figures show that cases of ransomware, in which hackers lock up digital files until a ransom is paid, surged 154 per cent in Singapore between 2019 and 2020.

Eligible companies that use the consultants' advisory and project management services for the first time do not need to pay, but are billed for subsequent consultations.

SMEs that use CTO-as-a-Service come from sectors such as construction, food services, food manufacturing, logistics, marine and offshore engineering, professional services, retail, security and wholesale trade, said IMDA.

Asia Excel managing director Ray Rajagopal (left) with Minister of State for Communications and Information Tan Kiat How at Asia Excel's store. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

Asia Excel, a Singapore retailer and distributor of bathroom and kitchen appliances, needed a tech solution for processing the large number of online orders it would get during sales events from different e-commerce sites and platforms.

Its managing director Ray Rajagopal said Asia Excel could get 500 orders during peak sale periods, which could take three days to process. But with the help of a solution recommended through CTO-as-a-Service, the processing time could be cut to just 30 minutes.

The time savings meant staff could focus on other things such as serving customers.

"We are an SME and do not have an in-house IT department or any IT experts. So, definitely, we have to rely on solutions (like those from CTO-as-a-Service)," said Mr Rajagopal.

Asia Excel managing director Ray Rajagopal said his company is an SME which does not have an in-house IT department or IT experts. So the firm has to rely on tech solutions like those from CTO-as-a-Service, he said. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

Minister of State for Communications and Information Tan Kiat How, who visited Asia Excel at IMM Building in Jurong on Friday, said the scheme was expanding its scope of help.

In the future, it is expected to help SMEs build digital capabilities in areas such as data analytics and advanced systems such as artificial intelligence, while also meeting cyber security and data protection needs, he said.

"We started this CTO-as-a-Service with a number of SMEs and the feedback has been very positive," said Mr Tan. "I encourage SMEs to come on board - check out the services and continue your digital transformation journey."

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