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SPA winners show move towards holistic view of productivity

It is critical for firms to boost productivity to create sustainable businesses in the current downturn.

The SPA winners received their awards at a gala dinner on Nov 11. Attending the event that night were (from left) Dawn Teo, director, strategic planning and corporate development, Amara Singapore; Charles Liaw, managing director, Times Software Pte Ltd; Nathaniel Kwek, CEO, Sushi Express Group Pte Ltd; Mok Hon Yong, chief strategy officer, Onn Wah Tech Pte Ltd; Serene Seow, managing director, Eu Yan Sang (Singapore) Pte Ltd; S Iswaran, Minister for Trade & Industry (Industry); SS Teo, chairman, Singapore Business Federation; Lilian Tan, director, Aerolog Express Pte Ltd; Richard Lee, founder and CEO, Aalst Chocolate Pte Ltd; Mika Umemura, area general manager, Village Hotel Bugis; Danny Lien, managing director, Amos International (S) Pte Ltd; and Pang Lim, managing director, Koufu Pte Ltd.

FOR the man in the street, productivity is associated with buying huge machines, using expensive robots and deploying the technology to reduce reliance on labour.

But people are realising that productivity is more than just robots and machines. It is about taking a holistic approach by combining technology with skilled workers and efficient processes.

And if this year's Singapore Productivity Awards (SPA) is anything to go by, the adoption of such an approach across industries is fast accelerating.

The 10 winners from SPA 2016, organised by the Singapore Business Federation (SBF), have all taken a rounded approach to productivity, ensuring that they pay close attention to the details of making every action count.

The 10 SPA winners were drawn from six sectors in the economy - food and beverage, hotel, logistics, retail, manufacturing, and infocomm and technology.

The 10 winners received the awards from Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S Iswaran at a gala dinner held on Nov 11.

They were: Sushi Express, Koufu, Amara Singapore, Village Hotel Bugis, Times Software, Aerolog Express, Amos International, Aalst Chocolate, Onn Wah Tech and Eu Yan Sang.

The companies displayed a clear commitment to productivity, showing that this can be achieved despite difficult economic conditions, said Lawrence Leow, chairman of the Singapore Productivity Awards Panel Committee.

"The winners have leveraged technology and innovation to improve efficiency and investment in people to build new capabilities. We have also seen examples where productivity initiatives originated from employees," he said.

"It is heartening to note that these companies are advocating a culture where everyone contributes to increasing productivity. This is the kind of mindset that will drive businesses to excel and distinguish themselves."

Take Sushi Express as an example. It keeps a laser-sharp focus on ensuring that its entire operations are lean and mean. This includes buying specialised maki-making robots, taking a deliberate decision to serve only fresh seafood sushi and not providing a menu for customers to choose food from.

This need for speed has generated much success for the company, growing to 12 outlets in about five years - a feat given the mature and saturated food and beverage market.

SBF chairman Teo Siong Seng said that productivity remains critical to the sustainability and success of a business today.

"Today, productivity is not only about resource optimisation. Companies need to adopt a holistic approach towards productivity, which includes leveraging technology and automation, embracing innovation and value creation, facilitating capability building for employees and fostering collaboration," he said.

"Having these elements in place will help businesses achieve higher productivity and growth, and retain their competitive edge."

The awards methodology is based on a quantitative and qualitative analysis. It looks at various aspects of a company's business from their processes to their people, by adopting both the Integrated Management of Productivity Activities framework and the Singapore Business Excellence framework.

SPA was started in 2014, in conjunction with the National Productivity Month, to recognise firms that have show significant results in their productivity journey.

DP Information Group is the knowledge partner for the SPA, and the judging panel comprises industry leaders from organisations such as SBF, the Singapore National Employers Federation, Spring Singapore, the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, Restaurant Association of Singapore, Singapore Hotel Association, Singapore Logistics Association, Singapore Manufacturing Federation, Singapore Retail Association and the Singapore Infocomm Technology Federation.

The push for productivity is even more urgent given that Singapore can no longer afford to rely on manpower to raise growth.

Value-added per worker - a key metric of overall labour productivity - in Singapore has been in negative territory over the past two years, -0.5 in 2014 and -0.1 last year.

Growth this year is expected to come in at the lower end of the official 1-2 per cent forecast range, and the only way to grow from here on is to keeping pushing the productivity frontier, said winners of the award.

Companies across industries and sizes have to make the move to become productive despite the weak growth prospects, a lesson that oil and gas firm Amos International keenly understands.

"To maintain this competitive advantage, we must consistently review our processes to close the process gaps so that our service offering standard can continue to improve," said Amos managing director Danny Lien.

"The adoption of technology and automation sends a clear signal to the industry that Amos is a forward-looking organisation that believes in continuous improvement."

Ho Meng Kit, chief executive officer of SBF, hopes that these winners will serve as role models for their respective industries.

"The 10 winners have exhibited outstanding performance in productivity with best practices and traits such as visionary leadership, continuous drive towards productivity, efficiency and effectiveness, focus on people and customer excellence, as well as embracing innovation and technology," he said.

SBF is also doing its part to help nudge companies along their productivity journey. Apart from organising the SPA, SBF also conducts a range of classes and activities that it rolls out to companies to educate them on productivity processes.

Last year, SBF launched the Mentorship for Accelerating Productivity programme which helps companies take a holistic approach towards raising productivity.

The programme, supported by the Singapore Workforce Development Agency, helps companies raise awareness about productivity, identify productivity gaps and groom in-house champions to push the message through.

At the same time, SBF recently launched a new version of the Holistic Industry Productivity Scorecard (HIPS), developed by SBF and DP Information Group.

Companies using the free online tool can gauge how well they are doing compared with their peers in the industry, a valuable insight for firms unclear about what it means to be productive.

Among other things, firms can use the tool to assess labour cost, operating profits and fixed assets. New features this year include allowing firms to benchmark themselves across multiple years, in order to track their performance.

HIPS 2.0 also includes a nifty scenario planning tool as well as a trending analysis tool, useful for presenting data graphically.

Said SBF's Mr Teo: "The sooner businesses embrace innovation by adopting these strategies, the better equipped they will be to transform and remain viable. We encourage businesses and employees to make the most of the broad range of government schemes available to raise their capabilities and become more innovative and productive."

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