Ensuring a healthy outlook for local firms

Operating a resilient and sustainable business is possible, even amid today's challenges. The key lies in investing in the future by innovating continuously.

"ACCELERATING Growth, Innovating for Tomorrow" - the theme for this year's Enterprise 50 (E50) Awards comes as a timely reminder of the pertinent puzzle pieces that our local enterprises must put in place to not just survive but thrive in the future.

The business environment is changing rapidly. We are faced with growing protectionism, with the world's two largest economies engaged in wide-ranging and sustained trade tensions. Interest rates are rising, potentially hiking business costs.

Once an abstract concept, digital disruption is now a reality for organisations, hurting some sectors more than others. E-commerce, for example, has changed the way retailers operate within an online-to-offline and offline-to-online mode. In manufacturing, Industry 4.0 challenges operations, but can bring about significant lifts in productivity and output if applied appropriately.

Our workforce also faces new challenges with an ageing population and the inability of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in attracting and retaining younger workers.

At the same time, workers need to be re-trained and up-skilled, especially with the re-design of jobs that comes hand-in-hand with the greater adoption of technology and automation.

There is renewed urgency for our businesses to transform. Be it business model and processes, manpower practices, the adoption of new and better technology, or spreading their wings beyond the Little Red Dot, our local enterprises need to begin their journey of change. And quickly.

To that end, the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE), made up of five Cabinet ministers and 25 members from the private sector, was set up to map out the blueprint for Singapore's future and examine the strategies for the Republic's next phase of economic growth. They released their recommendations in early 2017, along with the formation of the Future Economy Council to oversee the implementation of these recommendations. Twenty-three Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs) were subsequently rolled out, covering industries that account for more than 80 per cent of our GDP.

In support of the CFE's recommendations, the Singapore Business Federation (SBF) organises the annual Future Economy Conference and Exhibition to raise awareness of the ITMs and encourage businesses to transform for the future.

INTEGRATED APPROACH

The ITMs aim to help businesses stay ahead of the competition by taking an integrated approach involving the government, businesses, our unions and workers, so all stakeholders can work collaboratively to enable industry transformation and upgrading.

This integrated approach is also what drives SBF to work in tandem with various government agencies, and with support from the major trade associations and chambers, for our programmes.

For example, there are upcoming plans for companies in the logistics sector to learn about the initiatives under its ITM, the programmes that are led by the Singapore Logistics Association, and for agencies like IMDA (the Info-communications Media Development Authority) and A*Star to showcase available technology. Businesses can benefit by participating in these programmes and gain access to the various government grants, assistance schemes and tap a network of potential collaboration partners.

Our training arm, the Singapore Business Federation Institute (SBI), helps our local companies build capabilities and achieve inclusive and quality-driven growth as Singapore restructures. This helps our local workforce take their skills to the next level, thereby helping companies cope with pertinent business challenges.

Overseas expansion is another puzzle piece that will help our local businesses accelerate growth. Our businesses can look to markets both near and far. Within the region, Asean is already the sixth-largest economy in the world and is projected to become the fourth-largest economy by 2030 after the US, Europe and China. With a combined population of over 600 million, and with a middle-class population growing in affluence, our businesses must leverage on our proximity to these markets to their advantage.

Our companies should also make effective use of the various trade agreements and partnerships negotiated by the Singapore government. There are over 22 free trade agreements (FTAs), whether bilateral or multi-lateral, and partnership agreements such as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, which will take effect on Dec 30, 2018.

To venture overseas, companies can take advantage of the regular business missions to major markets across Asia, Middle East, Africa, Europe and the Americas. In the recent China International Import Expo (CIIE), SBF led nearly 350 senior business representatives to the trade fair. This was good exposure for our local companies on a global platform. Periodic seminars are also conducted to help businesses interpret, understand, and tap on the various FTAs.

CONNECTING STAKEHOLDERS

The BRI Connect is another example of how we empower Singapore-based businesses with timely and practicable intelligence on project and market opportunities along China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). It is an online and offline platform to connect various stakeholders involved in the BRI network, providing market and project intelligence, project consultancy and resources. It also broadens their reach and access to regional partners, capital and expertise needed to take on BRI projects.

Innovation and digitalisation are the other key pieces to future-ready our local companies. The SBF works closely with government agencies, research institutions, centres of innovation, and institutes of higher learning to drive this. We formed the SBF Digitalisation Committee with representation from the other major trade associations and chambers to optimise outreach in this area.

There is also a sub-committee on Innovation, Technology and Productivity as part of the SBF SME Committee (SMEC) to help SMEs innovate and adopt relevant technology.

The winners of this year's E50 Awards have proven that even in today's challenging environment, operating a resilient and sustainable business is very much possible. The key lies in investing in the future by innovating continuously.

SBF would like to congratulate all the winners for this year's E50 Awards, and to The Business Times and KPMG for the continued success of this prestigious awards. We look to these companies as shining examples for the business community.

  • The writer is CEO, Singapore Business Federation