[SINGAPORE] Forward- looking even as it stays rooted in traditional values is how Kurt Wee, president of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (ASME), describes the refreshed ASME logo.
It also arguably describes his approach, evidenced by the two large projects the association has undertaken since he took the helm last November.
By far one of the largest ventures ever undertaken by the association is its current push for a cloud-based platform - from which it will offer a range of functional processes ranging from accounting; human resource (HR) administration; customer relationship management (CRM); and, eventually, inventory and logistics management.
ASME's team put together a concept paper and, in January, made its rounds of the various government agencies, auditors and SMEs. Later this month, after it finishes its scoping, it will make its second round of presentations to the various agencies and potential partners.
"We will build the whole platform but we intend to involve institutions like the Singapore Institute of Technology that will build peripheral applications that will be attached to this platform - applications like employee leave management, employee claims and disbursements," says Mr Wee.
Plans are underway to start building in the fourth quarter of this year. Assuming it takes about 12-18 months to roll out the beta version, SMEs could get a taste of the platform by 2016. The pilot phase will likely target 8-10 industries.
"We must qualify (the programme) industry by industry. Because it's not just a cloud-driven accounting platform, there's a lot of industry-specific bookkeeping you need to understand and customise for," Mr Wee says.
In the first 6-8 years, he says he hopes to push the programme out to between 12,000 and 15,000 SMEs.
The benefits of such a system are manifold. On the one hand, an officer who is trained to use the system can move between companies and the skill sets are not lost in the ecosystem. On the other hand, such a system presolves problems for SMEs given that the data they input into the system will immediately be formatted and presented according to the different auditing and accounting regulations.
"It's time to take the SME's functional processes up a notch into the cloud. And if we can do that at a national level, we will have a tremendous impact," says Mr Wee.
Even as the association pushes forward on the technological front, it is committed to tackling long-standing issues that continue to plague SMEs, particularly rent.
Together with the other associations and federations, ASME is looking at developing a code of fair tenancy practices. They are also pushing for greater transparency in rental rates.
"We've been working quite closely to stitch up those paper recommendations and we're going to be working very closely with the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) and also the landlords to find some kind of sustainable practice that prevents this segment from becoming too volatile," says Mr Wee.
"Of course, it's easy for critics to say, 'yeah, but your SMEs still sign the rent deal despite the behaviour of the landlords'. But the reality is that if they don't maintain their breadth, they're in a worse situation. So they are cornered because the space is owned by very few landlords . . . and they are at the mercy of the landlords."
Such collaborations with other federations and associations is a core thrust of ASME's strategy. It has signed several memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with various associations such as the Singapore Human Resources Institute (SHRI), Singapore Ship Suppliers Association, and Bosses Network. It is likely to sign two more similar MOUs going forward.
"We've signed with SHRI because we want to try and direct more human resource domain knowledge down to SMEs . . . the (other) associations we are signing up with either don't have formal representation or they are specialised associations which may not have sufficient scale for secretariat-level initiatives that can support them," says Mr Wee.
"So we're entering into more partnerships with some of these specialist associations that may not be very big in size, so they can tap into our activities and our SME centres. ASME today is no longer about serving only our members; it's about serving SMEs at large."