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Iswaran calls on SMEs in domestic sector to get help going digital

SINGAPORE’S small businesses may be held back by limited resources amid the push to digitalise, Minister for Communications and Information S Iswaran noted on Wednesday.

These small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) - especially in domestic sectors such as food and beverage (F&B) and retail - may be behind the patchy digital adoption in industry here.

But Mr Iswaran, who made the observation in a morning press briefing, also stressed that government efforts are under way to bridge that gap.

The SMEs Go Digital scheme - which matches small businesses with subsidised, pre-approved digital business solutions - has added some 6,000 new SMEs to its ranks in the past six months.

That was after just 4,000 companies came on board in the programme’s first two years. SMEs Go Digital was launched under Budget 2017, with funds of S$80 million to be spent over four years.

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Most of the recent sign-ups were attributed to the launch of the Start Digital initiative in January. Under this, the Infocomm and Media Development Authority (IMDA) and Enterprise Singapore work with four partner banks and two telcos to offer a suite of digital services for newly formed companies.

Mr Iswaran noted that the SME digitalisation drive takes a targeted approach that he called “more modular, easy for them to fit into their schedules and lifestyles”.

“When we talk about inclusive transformation, digital transformation, it’s about businesses, not just the big boys or the tech companies. It’s also the small companies, SMEs and even traditional sectors, because they all stand to benefit,” said the minister.

“When we’re talking about workers, we’re emphasising the fact that it doesn’t matter which sector that you’re in, doesn’t matter what is your education background.”

He added that “we also need to understand what makes the most sense” for companies, with payments solutions and online platforms seen by SMEs as more valuable and popular options.

Start Digital packs offer digital business solutions across five categories: accounting, human resources and payroll, digital marketing, digital transactions and cybersecurity.

Mr Iswaran had earlier emphasised “the bigger picture, which I think you know - the context that we’re in”, which includes the ongoing trade war between the United States and China.

“Externally, this US-China tension remains a germane part of our environment, and it’s going to be that way for some time,” he said, while calling on Singapore to embrace change and adapt, or risk the country being bypassed in the global economy.

Mr Iswaran also drew a contrast between outward-facing, export-oriented sectors, where he said companies have adopted digital tools more widely, thanks to competitive pressure, and domestic ones.

“The pressure is perhaps a bit less, and as a result, you tend to find more variation,” he said of Singapore’s domestic industries.

“And that, I think, is accentuated when you have a lot of SMEs in this sector. A case in point would be, say, our F&B or retail sectors… Because they are small enterprises, they are resource-constrained.”

He added: “I don’t think it’s a lack of awareness anymore, or a lack of will. It’s just a question of where’s - having the toolkit and the capacity to get it done. So that’s where the work that IMDA is doing is very important, working with partners and so on.”

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