Navigating a Labour Crunch with Technology

IDV Asia leveraged Industry 4.0 solutions to transform and overcome its manpower challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

When the strict border closures due to the pandemic led to a manpower shortage for interior fit-out specialist IDV Asia, it looked for digital solutions that could help streamline processes and increase productivity.

To explore these solutions, IDV Asia’s CEO Mr Vincent Chew decided to participate in SBF’s Industry 4.0 Human Capital Initiative (IHCI), the first programme in Singapore dedicated to equipping companies with people management and job redesign skills required for successful digital transformation.

IDV Asia enrolled in IHCI’s Enabler Programme in March 2020. The eight-week programme helps companies to get started on their Industry 4.0 journey in a controlled and low-risk environment by offering a mix of experiential learning and actual solution trials on a company’s shop floor.

BiZQ speaks with Mr Chew on his experiences of participating in IHCI, the key learnings garnered from the programme, and how his company has ultimately benefited from Industry 4.0 transformation.

Why did IDV Asia decide to expand its services from a visual merchandiser to a full-fledged retail and commercial interior fit-out specialist?

As a visual merchandiser, we provided many creative solutions to enhance the look of our clients’ shopfronts. From these successful projects, our clients asked us to also help them with the production of their store fittings. Since 2013, we have expanded our services to undertake boutique construction for our clients, many of whom are luxury brands.

How has the pandemic impacted your operations?

Prior to the pandemic, we were experiencing a period of revenue growth. When the pandemic hit, the shortage of manpower was a key challenge for us. Historically, many companies, including ours, have relied on foreign labor to complement our local workforce to meet production targets. However, due to the pandemic, some of our workers had to be quarantined in a dormitory, while others decided to return to their home countries because of the uncertainty. We realised that we had to find a way to overcome this challenge and pivot our business for recovery.

How then did you pivot in response to the crisis?

We focused on upskilling our people to prepare them not just for the current situation, but also for the post-COVID future. I am always on the lookout for new ways to improve our productivity including ways to leverage technologies to resolve some of our operational pain points. Through the Singapore Manufacturing Federation, we were introduced to the IHCI Enabler Programme.

What was a key insight that you gained from the IHCI Enabler Programme?

We discovered that one of our main problems was the lack of lead time visibility on the work we were doing. Much of the planning done by the production supervisor was either verbally to the worker or through pen and paper.

As we did not have a system to capture data and monitor progress in real time, we did not have sight of how work was progressing until we physically visited the shop floor. Without the ability to measure and analyse data, we did not know which areas required improvement, and could not implement systems or solutions to improve our work processes.

How did the programme help you develop a solution to address this problem?

Together with a team of consultants from McKinsey & Company, we developed a task assignment software to assist the production supervisor in assigning and tracking the tasks of individual workers. This gave us visibility through a digital dashboard on what was happening on the shop floor.

As a result, the process has become more efficient. My production supervisor now has a clear view of a project’s progress, and he can plan out the schedule accordingly. As for the workers, they are now more aware of the work that they have at hand and can better plan their own time as well.

The solution has helped us to streamline our process and reduce our dependence on foreign workers. Our employees were also able to upgrade their skills as they had to learn to use the new software.

How did you manage to motivate your workforce to make the changes required for this new system of working?

At the beginning, we did face resistance from our employees in learning how to use a new software and changing the way they worked. To encourage participation, we explained to our employees how this change can improve not only the company’s production process, but also help them to better manage their work as they would be able to plan their own schedules and be clearer on their responsibilities.

Through these discussions, our employees were better able to understand the need for such a system and were therefore more willing to try out the new solution.

Looking ahead, what are IDV Asia’s plans for Industry 4.0 transformation?

Having an in-house ITS team, we are developing modules in our ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) solution, termed as “CADENA” which integrate our whole company’s operations process. We are now looking to integrate the task assignment software into this system to make it available to all our teams. Currently, it is only being used by the production team.

We also plan to make this solution available to other small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the manufacturing sector. We believe that it will benefit them in addressing some of the operational pain points and the availability of data-analytics reports for their business planning.

What advice would you give to companies looking to implement Industry 4.0 solutions?

My advice is not to be fixated on the technology itself, but to use these as tools to enable employees to be successful in their roles. And if you come from that perspective, it allows the company and employees to journey together through this transformation more seamlessly.

The key takeaway of Industry 4.0 for me is not so much about productivity gains, but on how it can enable my employees to grow and find greater fulfilment in their work. This is more important than just successfully implementing new technology.

The Industry 4.0 Human Capital Initiative (IHCI) – Come Join Us!
IHCI strengthens manufacturing companies’ operational and human capital capabilities to successfully implement and scale Industry 4.0 (i4.0) for business transformation. Jointly developed by the Singapore Business Federation (SBF) and Workforce Singapore (WSG), the programme aims to encourage companies to embrace their i4.0 journey by taking a holistic approach covering business, technology, and organisation. To access the IHCI self-help portal for an array of complimentary i4.0 and human capital resources, log on to If you are thinking of accelerating your i4.0 journey, you may read up more on the IHCI Enabler programme by logging on to to register for a free session with SBF and our appointed consultants from McKinsey and EY.