Budget 2019: 3 must-knows for digitalisation and innovation

Helping firms innovate, digitalise, be efficient, and internationalise remain a key focus in Budget 2019.  In finance minister Heng Swee Keat's Budget 2019 speech yesterday, he announced a slew of measures addressing Singapore's security, economy, welfare, environmental sustainability, and tax system.

On the business front, the government will be investing SG$1 billion to help firms build "deep enterprise capabilities".

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers' global tax markets leader Peter Le Huray, the finance minister sees an external environment with continuing geopolitical uncertainty, a continuation of the digital revolution and slowing global growth. "The Budget response is a focus on security, particularly cyber security, and a targeted approach to expediting digital skills and re-skilling the workforce with less reliance on foreign manpower," he added.

Meanwhile, statistics on Digimind show there were 2,791 public mentions about Budget 2019 which garnered 168,288 interactions. The data was captured from public posts on Twitter and Facebook mentioning Singapore Budget 2019 from 11 February to 19 February. Sentiment around the topic was largely positive at 70%. Additionally, Meltwater's analytics revealed 59% neutral, 29% positive and 15% negative media coverage in the days leading up to Budget 2019 starting 16 February. Media reports spiked to 2,700 yesterday in lieu of the announcements, but the figure stood at around 400 as of this morning.

Meltwater's regional director of media solutions Mimrah Mahmood said, "The annual Singapore budget announcement never fails to get people talking, and this year is no different. With the large volume of conversation happening on social media, we can see that the Merdeka Generation Package and the Bicentennial Bonus are the announcements receiving the most chatter and resonating well. This isn’t surprising given that these are the packages have the most far-reaching, immediate and personal impact on the lives of citizens."

Meanwhile, with digitisation and innovation consistently a topic of conversation in the marketing industry, we outline three major must-knows for this year.

Digitalisation gets easier

With the new budget implementations in place, more small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can get more guidance on relevant digital technologies and skills training programmes. As such, the SMEs Go Digital will be expanded to develop digital plans for more industries, starting with accountancy, sea transport, and construction. Previously, they were rolled out for media, retail, food services, wholesale trade, logistics, environmental services and security.

The number and range of cost-effective, pre-approved digital solutions that are supported under SMEs Go Digital will also be increased. This includes digital marketing, which is one of the five categories of foundational digital solutions SMEs can receive in a Start Digital Pack. The scheme, launched in Budget 2017, has seen around 4,000 SMEs adopting pre-approved digital solutions to date.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore and the Info-communications Media Development Authority will also  jointly pilot a cross-border innovation platform for SMEs, known as the Business sans Borders, with an artificial intelligence-enabled marketplace to help SMEs match with buyers and vendors globally.

Spurring innovation and productivity

The government had set aside SG$19 billion for its Research, Innovation, and Enterprise 2020 plan and according to minister Heng, the investment is bearing fruit. He said, "Leading MNCs and our large local companies are also establishing their R&D centres in Singapore, in different areas of technology. We now have 14 corporate laboratories in our universities, doing cutting-edge work from cyber-physical systems to power electronics."

An "Innovation Agents" programme is piloted for small firms to tap on a pool of experts to advise them on opportunities to innovate and commercialise technology. Enterprise Singapore will be establishing a Centre of Innovation in aquaculture and energy at Temasek Polytechnic and Nanyang Technological University respectively to encourage innovation and develop more cutting-edge solutions.

The Automation Support Package (ASP) will be extended by two years. Introduced in Budget 2016, the ASP supports firms to deploy impactful, large-scale automation, such as robotics, Internet of Things solutions, and other Industry 4.0 technologies. Since its launch, the ASP has helped more than 300 companies to automate their operations and raise productivity. The Agency for Science, Technology and Research will extend its operation and technology roadmapping efforts to more companies and sectors, to guide them to make the best use of technology in alignment with their business goals. The scope of the Productivity Solutions Grant is expanded to support up to 70% of the out-of-pocket cost for training.

Helping firms scale up

Enterprise Singapore will launch a scale-up SG programme in partnership with the private and public sectors. Scale-up SG will work with aspiring, high-growth local firms to identify and build new capabilities, to innovate, grow, and internationalise. A SG$100 million SME Co-Investment Fund III will be set up to catalyse investment in Singapore-based SMEs that are ready to scale up. It is expected to bring in at least SG$200 million of additional funding.

Existing financing schemes offered by Enterprise Singapore into a single Enterprise Financing Scheme, while the SME Working Capital Loan scheme will be extended for about two more years, till March 2021. Since the launch of SME Working Capital Loan scheme in June 2016, it has catalysed more than SG$2.5 billion of loans. The extension is expected to catalyse a further $1.8 billion.

PwC Singapore's corporate tax director Irene Tai said, "The streamlining of financing schemes with Enterprise Singapore should be very much welcomed by companies as this would improve access to information on financial support options and allow them to select those that are most relevant to their business needs. This centralised approach should also allow Enterprise Singapore to channel the funds to where they are most needed."