SMEs to get more help to adopt technology

The Straits Times by IRENE THAM

As new technologies disrupt their traditional business models, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) will see an existing initiative expanded to help them transform digitally and to stay relevant in their business .

Specifically, SMEs can continue to look forward to having up to 70 per cent of the cost of more tools such as cyber security and artificial intelligence subsidised, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.

Such help will come under the SMEs Go Digital programme, announced in 2017.

"We will expand the number and range of cost-effective, pre-approved digital solutions that will be supported under SMEs Go Digital to boost technology adoption among SMEs," he said.

So far, the scheme has helped some 4,000 out of 200,000 SMEs in Singapore in basic automation. The Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) has budgeted some $80 million for potential beneficiaries over four years starting from April 2017.

IMDA will also roll out Industry Digital Plans (IDPs) for the accountancy, sea transport and construction sectors, where innovation has been lagging.

Specifically, these IDPs will contain a non-intimidating guide to help SMEs in identified sectors assess their digital readiness and explore opportunities to go digital.

Similar IDPs have already been launched for the logistics, retail and wholesale trade sectors.

SMEs Go Digital replaced a more basic seven-year-old iSprint initiative, which provided similar subsidies and basic technology advice benefiting some 8,000 SMEs.

Separately, IMDA will also jointly pilot a cross-border marketplace with the Monetary Authority of Singapore. To be powered by artificial intelligence, the marketplace aims to help SMEs find global buyers and suppliers.

Known as Business sans Borders, the initiative is at proof-of-concept stage and aimsto enhance domestic and international trade opportunities for SMEs.

The Automation Support Package (ASP), announced in Budget 2016, will also be extended by another two years until March 2021.

Under the scheme, more than 300 SMEs have had better access to loans for qualifying projects, with the Government sharing risks with participating financial institutions and jointly providing up to 70 per cent of the cost of technology projects.

Mr Jonathan Ho, head of enterprise market in KPMG, said the moves will build more digital capabilities in companies. But SMEs also need help "to road-map their digital journey".