Govt seeks to modernise wholesale industry with digital roadmap

The Business Times by NG REN JYE


DIGITALISATION has helped local food distributor SATS BRF to create a document retrieval system which enables halal, health and import permits to be stored in the cloud and automatically indexed.

It is a far cry from when it used to deploy two staff members working four hours a day to generate 28,000 documents a year. Digital copies of its permits can now be retrieved and attached to customer invoices, saving SATS BRF up to 95 per cent of its time previously spent on document handling.

This experience was shared by SATS BRF, a subsidiary of ground-handling and in-flight catering firm SATS, during a visit on Monday by Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon.

During the visit, Dr Koh launched a guide to help SMEs in the wholesale trade on their journey towards more efficient processes. Called the Wholesale Trade Industry Digital Plan (IDP), the guide comprises a three-stage digital roadmap that charts out the different solutions that wholesale trade SMEs can adopt at each phase of their growth, as well as the relevant training programmes required to enhance employees' digital skill sets.

"It will help them to look at which point they are at today, then find an entry point to go into this whole process of transformation," said Dr Koh.

Companies can approach SME Centres located at trade associations and chambers or the SME Digital Tech Hub in Henderson Road for diagnosis and advice.

Going by the step-by-step guide, stage one is where SMEs will be provided suggestions on the basic IT solutions that are available, such as enterprise resource planning systems for sales and inventory management. In stage two, platforms such as B2B e-marketplaces for SMEs to connect with the global trading ecosystem will be highlighted.

These could help companies to tap new markets, as well as manage supply chain financing and procurement.

In stage three, SMEs can look towards improving their competitive edge in cross-border trading by using technologies such as blockchain technology and artificial intelligence.

Contributing about 16 per cent of the nation's gross domestic product (GDP) in 2017, the wholesale trade industry is largely burdened by paper-ridden, old-fashioned processes. Within the sector, SMEs account for about 97 per cent of total outfits.

Yet, many of them do not know where to start, even if they understand the need to digitalise and the business opportunities that may come with it, said Dr Koh.

Administered by Enterprise Singapore and the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), the IDP is one of the strategies under the wholesale trade Industry Transformation Map rolled out last year to help more trading companies adopt digital technology and internationalise.

According to data from the Department of Statistics, more than 80 per cent of sales in the wholesale trade are derived from overseas markets. Therefore, it is highly influenced by the evolving global trading environment such as the rise of digital business-to-business (B2B) marketplaces and the use of blockchain and artificial intelligence to improve trade processes.