Janet Ang: SMEs must take action to digitalise

The Chairman of the SBF Digitalisation Committee shares her view on efforts to help local companies compete in the new economy

As the head of the SBF Digitalisation Committee, Janet Ang has the unenviable task of pushing local businesses out of their analogue comfort zones and into the digital arena. To achieve this, Ms Ang and her team are reaching out to local enterprises to convince them of the urgent need to digitalise their operations in the face of a fast-changing competitive landscape.

Together with government agencies and trade associations, the committee is helping to remove hurdles and assuage concerns that are hampering business owners from making the digital leap. We speak to Ms Ang, who was also the former Vice President of Industry Solutions & Business Development at IBM Asia Pacific, on the committee’s plans ahead and her view of the business community’s digitalisation journey so far.

What do you see as the key challenges facing businesses who want to digitalise?

When the push for SMEs to go digital started a few years ago, the first goal was to create awareness about the need for digitalisation. Not just to take advantage of grants like the PIC (Productivity Innovation Credit) but to really leverage technology to create a competitive advantage.

I think the awareness is there now. The challenge today is for business owners to take action and invest in the solutions and training required to go digital. Despite being aware, many SMEs are still hesitant because the leadership may not be tech-savvy, coupled with a general fear of digitalisation.

Helping SMEs to train their staff to engage in digitalisation efforts to acquire the right skills and access talents from outside of their organisations is also another urgent challenge.

What can businesses do to better prepare themselves for digitalisation?

Firstly, there needs to be buy-in from the C-Suite. They need to be convinced that something must be done and gain a deeper understanding of what is required. The second part has to do with the availability of skills to help companies on this journey.

For this part, companies must be prepared to invest and send their people for training so that they acquire the skills required or enhance their existing skills. SMEs must be prepared to free up 20% of their time for such training. At the employee level, workers have to decide that upgrading their skills is something they have to do for their survival.

What are some of the initiatives that the SBF Digitalisation Committee is undertaking to help local enterprises in this area?

We recently held a digital forum with about 150 companies from the logistics sector, together with IMDA (Infocomm Media Development Authority), A*Star and the Singapore Logistics Association. We explained to them the Logistics Industry Transformation Map (ITM), which identifies strategies to help enterprises grow.

IMDA then translated the ITM into a more detailed Industry Digital Plan which tells companies what to do, how to do it and who can help them on this journey. This will help them develop a step-by-step guide for their own company. For enterprises with more advanced needs, they can approach the SME Digital Tech Hub by IMDA that provides specialist advisory services to business owners.

How can enterprises get started on this journey?

At SBF, we have identified a few basic areas where companies can get started on. There are two key ones which are national initiatives: e-payment and e-invoicing networks, which is being driven by IMDA.

By getting on these networks, businesses can improve their efficiency and cash flow. If they do nothing else, SMEs should start with these two initiatives, and from there proceed to see what other parts of their operations they can digitalise. At the same time, we have heard from the SMEs that they want a one-stop platform for tech solutions, and we are working on that.

Which sectors do you see most in need of support?

There are a number of industries we are working with now. Logistics the first sector we are working on. It’s big space because the supply chain is global, so our local players need to be plugged in or risk losing out. We will also be working with companies in retail and F&B, as well as wholesale. Construction is another area we will be looking at in the near future.

What is the downside if local companies fail to digitalise?

Every industry and company will get shaken up if they don’t do something. Just look at what has happened to traditional retail businesses. They have been disrupted by the ecommerce players. They need to create new online and offline offerings.

Also, if you don’t go digital, customers globally may not want to procure from you because you might be more expensive to transact with. So it’s better to get plugged in before you are given an ultimatum.

Are you optimistic that the local business community can achieve digitalisation?

I believe that with a concerted effort we can address the issues mentioned. It will take a lot of work and many hands working at different levels – including SBF, the trade associations and industry – but I’m reasonably optimistic that we can do it.

If you’d like to be updated on the activities of the SBF Digitalisation Committee, please register your interest here: tiny.cc/z7g04y or send an email to [email protected].