SMEs have the awareness but lack efforts. Source: Shutterstock

SMEs have the awareness but lack efforts. Source: Shutterstock

SBF CEO: SMEs need to plug the gaps in digital skills and IT infrastructure

SINGAPORE’S government has advanced its nation-wide digital transformation efforts in the last decade to ensure businesses steadily thrive in an increasingly competitive digital marketplace.

Generally, most businesses have adopted a technology-first mindset and embraced the fact that change is integral — according to the Singapore Business Federation (SBF).

However, through the organization’s survey, it seems like, despite the overall positive transformative growth, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are lagging behind.

Only 33 percent of SMEs prioritized the development of digital business capabilities in 2019 compared to the benefitting 60 percent of large companies.

According to SBF CEO Ho Meng Kit, although SMEs are well aware of the need to transform, there are evident gaps in technology talents and information technology (IT) infrastructure.

While it’s easy to point fingers and stamp SMEs as slow adopters, they are actually struggling to build the right digital team and have limited resources to invest in new solutions.

Even though the government has solidified efforts in producing more tech talents, the demand is significantly larger than what the country can hope to supply which results in talent deficit.

Large companies with greater resources are attracting most of the tech talents, including foreign ones, as they are able to meet salary expectations.

SMEs – especially those that are already facing budget constraints – are not only unable to hire the right talent, but they could not even find any that is available for employment.

Looking at the bigger picture, Ho addressed this by saying the SMEs should instead, invest in developing the right digital skills across their current workforce.

One way to do that is by offering digital skill training for employees which include developing capabilities around artificial intelligence, data analytics, cybersecurity, and digital leadership.

While this can ensure that talents are nurtured internally and trained to support digital transformation initiatives aptly, SMEs will also benefit from the innovative culture that naturally grows within the organization.

Putting talent gaps aside, another key obstacle is the cost of technology adoption – which is only an issue if companies plan to go digital excessively.

A worrying number of SMEs bear the misconception that technology solutions will strain resources.

Although, to a certain degree, the sentiment is true, what SMEs fail to realize is solutions can be cheap and affordable if deployed with the right strategy.

Starting small is the key to not fall short in going digital whereby SMEs can begin by developing a website, automating administrative processes and adopting technology tools that can help with marketing.

SMEs should structure their digital strategies within their capacities and resources instead of assuming deploying complicated, high-end solutions as the only way to transform.

Nevertheless, Ho insisted that SMEs can always rely on government incentives and digital-first programs to help them achieve a satisfactory level of digital capabilities.

Albeit the challenges that SMEs face, there are always ways for them to strive and succeed if they are keen enough, but one thing for sure, staying still is never an option.