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28 Apr 2020 Updated 15 Sep 2020

SME Centres help SMEs digitalise during virus downtime

The Business Times Leila Lai

MHI Training Master team

Staff and trainers of first aid training provider MHI Training Master posing for a photo in January 2020. It is using the downtime to speed up digitalising its business processes and explore remote training methods.

ON-SITE operations have ground to a halt for most small and mid-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Singapore during the ongoing "circuit breaker", but some are seizing the extended downtime as an opportunity to implement new digitalisation initiatives.

A number of them have sought support to do so from the one-stop SME Centres set up by Enterprise Singapore (ESG) in partnership with trade associations.

First introduced in 2013, the SME Centres provide business assistance and drive capability upgrading. Some of the services they offer include one-to-one business diagnosis and advisory services, capability workshops and group-based upgrading projects.

Chen Yuan Sheng, managing director of events company YSNC Production, got in touch with the SME Centre at the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (ASME) to realise an idea that had been brewing for some time.

Noting the high risk of error when communication with vendors, suppliers and clients is done mainly by cellphone and e-mail, Mr Chen envisioned a platform that would bridge communication gaps, generate quotations automatically and ultimately improve the quality of projects delivered and customer satisfaction. In the long run, it would also help his company expand in the Asia-Pacific and Japan region.

"We had the idea in mind of bringing automation in the coming three to five years down the road, as it requires sufficient funding and preparation timeframe to develop a systematic and holistic digital platform," said Mr Chen. "With the unprecedented virus outbreak, we are facing a great loss of project volumes, which in return (resulted in) lots of additional time. Hence, we decided to pool the available resources together and push the automation plan forward."

He consulted a software development company that he trusted for advice, and the company in turn introduced him to the SME Centre@ASME.

"I was sceptical about the grants and assistance I could get in the first place," Mr Chen said. "But with a couple of meet-ups with the business adviser, sharing our business model and direction, and of course with the great patience of the adviser, we were guided in the enrolment and fully equipped with the knowledge of how we can work closely together to benefit from the schemes by Enterprise Singapore."

With the SME Centre's help, YSNC Production is now applying for the Enterprise Development Grant, which will help it pay for the development of the automated platform.

RI Luxury, the brand owner of Läderach Swiss Chocolatier (Singapore), sought the help of the SME Centre @ Singapore Manufacturing Federation (SMF) to overhaul some of its processes while the Läderach retail outlets at Jewel Changi and Takashimaya are closed.

The company obtained the Productivity Solution Grant to implement an inventory management system, allowing managers to remotely access stock and plan orders without being present at the stores.

Läderach general manager Lin Yiqun noted that RI Luxury's parent company Royal Insignia has worked with the SME Centre@SMF since 2013, and its business adviser there now knows the company, its business plans and employee profile very well.

"This is the main reason why we can adopt digitalisation solutions in a short time, as our business adviser understands what are our business challenges and what are some of the things SMEs like us can prioritise in the short run and progressively in the long run," said Mr Lin.

When first aid training provider MHI Training Master had to cease all face-to-face lessons, the company decided to bring forward its plans to digitalise its business record system, which it originally aimed to complete by June 2020.

A business adviser from the SME Centre at the Singapore Malay Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SMCCI) connected the company with solution providers that could help it digitalise its storage of information like master lists of participants, attendance sheets and invoices. The adviser also advised MHI on the most suitable grants to offset the costs.

Deputy managing director Mohamed Hafeezuddin Mohamed Hussain said: "With this digitalisation, we are expected to streamline our current system, allowing staff to work off-site and technically anywhere with Internet access."

MHI trainers are now exploring other methods to conduct training, such as using video conferencing and e-learning platforms to deliver the theoretical aspects of the courses.

Amid the current crisis, the SME Centres have also received more queries from SMEs about business continuity plans, cash flow and contractual obligation.

"As the business advisers are familiar with the support measures announced by various government agencies, they have been helping SMEs adopt digital solutions, manage their resources and optimise their workforce, and explore new revenue streams," said Amreeta Eng, director of enterprise services at ESG.

The advisers link SMEs up with other government agencies, trade associations, domain experts and industry players when necessary, to identify solutions for SMEs' needs. The SME Centres also invite experts for sharing sessions and webinars, which SMEs can join to "expand their knowledge and spark transformation ideas", said Ms Eng.

The companies said that despite the hit to revenue, there are silver linings in the present circumstances.

"With the current situation, we are able to pilot and merge our old data to the new system, minimising daily disruptions," said Mr Hafeezuddin of MHI Training Master.

Läderach's Mr Lin said that higher-than-expected conversion for its e-commerce store has allowed the company to experiment with its online offerings. "With the inability to carry out local and APAC business development activities, our team is now focused on enhancing our e-commerce site and digital marketing strategies to generate more sales."


Source: The Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.


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