Budget 2017: SG$80m to be pumped into government-led digital programme

For the marketing industry which often viewed as “start-up friendly”, the SMEs Go Digital Programme might be of interest, as the Singapore government has plans to invest SG$80 million. This was revealed during the recent Budget 2017 speech.

The programme will be led by the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA), which will work with SPRING and other sector lead agencies in this effort. It will also start with sectors where digital technology can significantly improve productivity such as retail, food services, wholesale trade, logistics, cleaning and security.

The SMEs Go Digital programme will comprise of three components, on top of the strengthening of capabilities in data and cybersecurity:

1. SMEs ready to pilot emerging ICT solutions can receive advice and funding support. This will be done through the collaboration of consortiums of large and small firms to increase the adoption of impactful, interoperable ICT solutions.

2. SMEs will also get step-by-step advice on the technologies to use at each stage of their growth. This will be through the sectoral Industry Digital Plans.

3. SMEs will get in-person help at SME Centres and a new SME Technology Hub to be set up by IMDA. At these centres, SMEs can approach business advisors for advice on off-the-shelf technology solutions that are pre-approved for funding support, or connect to Info-communications and Technology (ICT) vendors and consultants. The more digitally advanced firms can get specialist advice from the SME Technology Hub.

Aside from benefiting from the SMEs Go Digital programme, agencies in the advertising and marketing industry should provide support which goes beyond digital communications, said Seema Punwani, principal consultant of R3.

"An SME will need to invest in digital platforms, infrastructure and talent, and will need support beyond communications and creative. Agencies who are nimble in their approach, and help drive business and product solutions will have a lot to gain in partnering with SMEs,” she added.

Lawrence Chong, CEO of Consulus, said that the move is the government's call to SMEs to take the digital revolution seriously, especially with the level of investment it is making in order to allow it to happen.

He added that the Singapore government is one which is influential in shaping sentiment on-ground. Hence if it is signalling to businesses to focus on digital - especially in areas such as data application and investment in IT platforms-  and aiding them with grants, SMEs are likely to listen.

“It is a good sign that the government is pushing the SMEs to catch up. Otherwise, it might be too late,” he added. Chong lauded the move given that in his own venture (where he runs a business consultancy firm), a sturdy investment into digital has allowed his company to scale globally over the years and allowed it to expand into Europe and Latin America.

Going digital and using data is a must-do and no longer an option. We are developing new approaches in combining data, design and business model to shape development strategies and the results has been fascinating.

Agreeing with Chong is David Chmelař, CEO and co-founder of iPrice Group an e-commerce comparison site, who added that the programme will play a pivotal role in helping SMEs adopt and grow further through digital technologies.

“As we are aware that 99% of Singaporean enterprises comprises of SMEs and contributes nearly half to Singapore GDP, not all businesses have moved their brick and mortar operations to the digital space,” Chmelař said.

A boost in e-commerce expected?

According to a study by DP Information Group, he explained that only 21% of SME are implementing business strategies that raises productivity through IT related investments.

“Businesses must realise there is much potential in e-commerce and Singapore is a great place for them to move into the e-commerce space,” Chmelař said. This is due to its mature payment infrastructure in Southeast Asia (SEA), with more than 73% of Singaporeans connected to the internet, Chmelař explained, adding that Singapore also has the best logistics and supply chain in Asia.

“To this end, SMEs must realise the huge potential of e-commerce and adopt digital technologies in order to grow and be competitive,” Chmelař added.

Meanwhile, R3's Punwani is of the view that with the increased adoption of digital wallets and growing usage of e-commerce, all the industries covered in the budget will stand a lot to gain from digital technology solutions.

In order to succeed as a hub for digital transformation, Singapore needs to get its SMEs along on the journey.

"The ones who already have some systems in place would need to review and upgrade their legacy systems to gain optimum results,” Punwani explained.

As for others who are just starting, they should learn to embrace new approaches that are customer driven and adopt agile technologies, Punwani added. The two things all SMEs will need are a ‘start-up’ like mindset and some light touch expert help to give them the assurance and the direction.

This is not the first time the Singapore government has turned a strong focus on digital, with recent years seeing the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) striking partnerships with major network agencies and media giants alike to create innovation and global excellence centres. All this was done in a bid to boost innovation and steer the country towards an era of digital disruption.

In a conversation with Marketing, Clarence Chua, director of professional services at the Singapore Economic Development Board said this is also largely because the marketing industry today is increasingly real-time, data-driven and tech-enabled.