Government to help SMEs become digitally savvy: Yaacob


THE government has been working hard to help Singaporean companies, particularly SMEs (small and medium enterprises), to be better prepared for the digital economy, Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for Communications and Information told Parliament on Monday.

Responding to questions during the committee of supply debate for his ministry, Dr Yaacob said that digital technology could help companies across all sectors drive productivity, create growth, catalyse innovation and boost competitiveness.

In line with CFE (Committee on the Future Economy) recommendations, the Ministry of Communications and Information will help companies transform and build strong digital capabilities, he said. It will also deepen workers' technical expertise and continue to digitalise the government to better serve Singapore.

Dr Yaacob noted that since 2010, iSprint (Increase SME Productivity With Infocomm Adoption and Transformation) has helped more than 8,000 SMEs improve their business through technology solutions. He added that IMDA (Infocomm Media Development Authority) and CSA (Cyber Security Agency) would work with agencies such as Spring Singapore on an "SME Go Digital" programme to build on iSprint's work

Dr Yaacob said that SMEs could approach SME Centres for basic advice on off-the-shelf digital solutions pre-qualified by IMDA. "For those with more advanced needs, such as data analytics and cybersecurity, experts at a new SME Digital Tech Hub will provide dedicated assistance."

The Hub will also help connect SMEs to ICT vendors and consultants, as well as conduct workshops and seminars to help build SMEs' digital capabilities. SMEs interested in experimenting with emerging digital technologies can pilot co-creation projects with IMDA. At each stage, SMEs will continue benefiting from funding support to defray the cost of technology deployment, the minister said.

IMDA will work with sector leads to develop sector-specific industry digital plans which are aligned to their respective Industry Transformation Maps. The minister added that in order to accelerate the pace of transformation, the government would adopt a sectoral approach. For a start, there will be focus on sectors where technology can uplift productivity, such as retail, logistics, food services and cleaning.

IMDA will also collaborate with big corporations that can play an influential role in helping to digitalise the SMEs they work with. Market leaders such as telcos and banks can also work with ICT companies to expand their traditional services, and provide more value-added solutions to their SME customers.

Under this programme, StarHub will partner IMDA and various vendors to provide F&B (food and beverages) and retail SMEs with a comprehensive digital solution package.

The programme will help these SMEs adopt ICM (infocomm media) solutions to improve productivity. For a start, the Smart Retail Programme will target 1,000 SMEs in the F&B business. StarHub will reduce the complexity of IT for these SMEs by integrating the right ICM solutions that would be compatible as a single, seamless service. This encompasses broadband to WiFi connectivity, and business applications, such as retail analytics, customer relationship management, point-of-sale, digital ordering and payment.

Dr Yaacob also said that the government would expand the Accreditation@IMDA programme to include ICM enterprises and introduce other schemes to grow these companies.

Accreditation@IMDA leveraged government demand to identify and establish the credentials of promising start-ups. Due to these accredited companies' success, IMDA will now be expanding the programme's focus beyond the public sector to enterprise sectors such as real estate and finance, the minister said. It will also expand beyond accrediting start-ups to include small high-growth SMEs.

In keeping with CFE recommendations, the government will help high-growth SMEs tie up with large local enterprises (LLEs) and multinationals "to seize global opportunities". Companies such as CapitaLand, Mediacorp and Sentosa Development Corporation will work with these SMEs for product innovation, capability building and export into overseas markets.

The minister said there was also a need to equip Singaporeans with relevant digital skills. Giving an update of the TeSA (Technology Skills Accelerator) programme, announced last year, he observed that as at mid-February, TeSA has enabled over 10,000 professionals to benefit from upskilling and reskilling opportunities.

Beyond ICT professionals, it is important for the workforce of other sectors to start digitalising, the minister added. "The SkillsFuture Leadership Development Initiative (LDI) aims to develop the next generation of business leaders, helping aspiring Singaporeans acquire leadership competencies and critical experiences. TeSA will work with LDI and other partners to implement on-the-job training leadership programmes with a focus in developing tech management skills."

The minister noted that cybersecurity was becoming increasingly important. He said that cybersecurity was identified as an emerging growth sector as it was projected to grow at 9.3 per cent CAGR (compound annual growth rate) to reach around S$900 million and could potentially provide over 5,000 additional job openings by 2020.

Dr Yaacob added that the government would introduce a Cybersecurity Professional Scheme to attract, develop and retain cybersecurity practitioners in the public sector. Centrally managed by CSA, the scheme will develop a core of cybersecurity specialists to be deployed across agencies to support Singapore's cyberdefences.

As part of the on-going efforts to professionalise the wider cyberworkforce, the scheme will also provide a framework to catalyse growth and uplift the overall industry, Dr Yaacob said.

"I am pleased to see the industry playing their part in growing the industry. Singtel for instance, is reaching out to students through an interactive online portal called the Cyber Security Experience (CSX). This portal will be launched soon and hopefully such efforts will interest students to explore cybersecurity further and eventually join this exciting field."