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'Digitalise and upskill' employees for modern workplace with technology

"One is related to digitalisation, and the other is related to internationalisation - the two important structural transformations needed for the enterprise scene." - Kurt Wee, president of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, on what he thinks will be the focus for enterprises in the upcoming Budget


ONE of the ways for Singapore's small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to differentiate and upgrade themselves in a competitive business climate is to keep their employees at the forefront of digitalisation.

And for good reason too. SMEs represent 99 per cent of all enterprises locally, while contributing to nearly half of Singapore's Gross Domestic Product (GDP). They also provide seven in 10 local jobs.

The Singapore workforce today is a diverse and varied one which is increasingly moving to a digital workspace. According to a poll from Microsoft last year across 14 Asian markets - which included Singapore, Australia, Japan and South Korea - 75 per cent of business leaders in Singapore acknowledge the need to transform into a digital business in order to succeed.

The study put out a snapshot of the factors playing a role in influencing the culture of work in Singapore:

1. An increasingly mobile workforce and exposure to new security risks:

The rise of mobility and proliferation of mobile and cloud technologies have resulted in individuals working across multiple locations and devices. However, the study found only 38 per cent of respondents are spending all of their work hours in the office, and 84 per cent of respondents are working off personal smartphones, with the latter raising new security challenges for organisations.

2. The increasing diversity of teams:

The study found that 26 per cent of workers in Singapore are working in more than 10 teams at any one point in time, making the availability of real-time insights and collaboration tools crucial to get work done.

3. There are gaps in employees' digital skills, despite business leaders' push to embrace digital transformation:

Even with new technologies being adopted across industries, deployment remains uneven. 74 per cent of respondents in the poll above felt more could be done to bridge the digital skills gap among workers.

Borko Kovacevic, director of productivity solutions at Microsoft Singapore, highlighted the rise of millennials entering the workforce as a catalyst for companies to address changing worker expectations.

"With more than half of the world's millennials residing in Asia, the workplace will need to transform to adapt to the technology habits of these digital natives. In addition, due to deployment of advanced and emerging technologies, organisations need to relook at reskilling its workforce to develop creative and strategic skills for the future," Mr Kovacevic said.

Gerald Leo, director of commercial partners, SME and corporate customers at Microsoft, believes the opportunities in the digital economy are real. In a blog post, he highlighted that in South-east Asia alone, the market size is expected to grow to US$200 billion by 2025, with e-commerce accounting for US$88 billion.

"As Singapore readies herself to seize opportunities in the digital economy as recommended by the Committee on the Future Economy, we need to ensure that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are not left behind and are at the very heart of our national digital transformation," Mr Leo said.

Another Microsoft survey, however, shows that business leaders still have plenty of room to grow when it comes to digitalisation of their business.

The Microsoft Asia Digital Transformation Study found that digital transformation for most organisations in Singapore is still at its infancy.

The study shows just 34 per cent of business leaders have a full digital transformation strategy, while half of businesses are in progress with specific digital transformation initiatives for selected parts of their business.

Some 16 per cent of respondents have very limited or no strategy in place, according to the study.

To that effect, the Singapore government has been a driving force in helping to keep local SMEs competitive through digitalisation.

In a keynote speech at this year's Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants (ISCA) Pre-Budget Roundtable, Liang Eng Hwa, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Finance, Trade & Industry, made it clear the upcoming Budget was unlikely to deviate from existing plans on transforming the economy, and future-skilling the workforce.

Kurt Wee, president of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (Asme), also told The Business Times that he expects the Budget to focus on two main areas for enterprises.

"One is related to digitalisation, and the other is related to internationalisation - the two important structural transformations needed for the enterprise scene," Mr Wee said.

But what does it actually mean to digitalise your business model? Microsoft has defined what it means to transform in four key points:

Engage customers

Consumers are savvier than ever before, with access to data ensuring they are often educated on a product or service before engaging. To stand out, organisations will need to deliver a new wave of deeply contextual and personalised experiences, while balancing security and user trust.

Empower employees

Organisations can empower their people and help them do their jobs better with the power of mobility, which allows employees to collaborate from anywhere, on any device, and access apps and data they need, while mitigating security risks.

Optimise operations

Technology disrupters such as Internet of Things (IoT) are accelerating the potential for businesses to optimise their operations. This can be done by gathering data across a wide set of endpoints, drawing insights through advanced analytics, and then applying what is learnt to continually introduce improvements. Organisations in manufacturing, retail, and even healthcare can shift from merely reacting to events to responding in real time, or even pre-emptively anticipating and solving customer issues.

Transform products and business models

The opportunity to embed software and technology directly into products and services is evolving how organisations deliver value, enabling new business models, and disrupting established markets.

An example of a company which is on its way to achieving digitalisation of its workforce is Asiawide Print Holdings, a Singapore-based printing service.

Previously using on-premise servers, Asiawide switched to Microsoft's Azure cloud-based platform, easing collaboration between employees without needing the help of chief executive Picasso Terrence Hong - who also doubles as the only IT support person - to be present.

"Ever since adopting cloud technology, we have become a more effective and efficient company. As we continue to set our sights on expansion in the region, having a robust IT infrastructure will enable us to build even deeper relationships with our customers and help us drive our business forward," Mr Hong said.


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