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Speech by Mr Heng Swee Keat, Minister for Finance at Singtel's 99% SME Event at Comcentre

05 Jun 2017

Ms Chua Sock Koong, Group Chief Executive Officer, Singtel

Mr Bill Chang, Chief Executive Officer, Group Enterprise, Singtel

Mr Daniel Zhang, Director and Chief Executive Officer, Alibaba Group

Ms Jeannette Wong, Group Executive, Institutional Banking Group, DBS

Mr Parminder Singh, Chief Commercial and Digital Officer, Mediacorp

Ladies and Gentlemen

1. Good morning, I’m pleased to join you today to kick off the 99% SME campaign for 2017.

Seize Opportunities in the Digital Economy

2. SMEs are a large group, covering a wide range of economic activities. They are diverse with very different needs and capabilities.

a. Progressive SMEs can add growth, vibrancy and diversity to our economy, and create good jobs and good opportunities for many of our people.

b. When firms, including SMEs, succeed in innovation and value creation, they can bring benefits to their clients and to their workers.

3. But SMEs may find it difficult to keep pace with changes in technology.

a. Some have shared with me their apprehension about the digital economy. They are concerned their businesses will be disrupted.

b. These are mindful business owners who are reading the changes around them with care. It is understandable to see changes in terms of threat rather than opportunity. However, the digital economy does indeed open up new opportunities and frontiers. SMEs that are nimble can respond quickly to take advantage of these opportunities.

4. To succeed in the digital economy, what matters is the mind-set – to be willing to adapt, and to be quick to see and seize the opportunities.

a. When this mindset is paired with the right tools and partners, a company has a fighting chance to ride the changes well.

b. Technology-enabled productivity tools offer help for businesses to manage their manpower constraints, and accomplish more with less. Technology can also be a tool for innovation that spurs new business opportunities.

c. Given the pervasiveness of digital technology, our SMEs need to be equipped with strong digital capabilities.

d. We have to address this in a vigorous and robust manner to help SMEs overcome traditional and new challenges, and to seize digital opportunities.

5. It was with this in mind that I launched the SME Go Digital Programme in this year’s Budget, to provide more support to our SMEs in their digital transformation journey.

a. Under the SME Go Digital Programme, we are developing Industry Digital Plans to help SMEs identify digital technologies that are relevant to their sectors, and the vendors whom they can work with. This will be a dynamic plan of action that we update regularly. Work is also underway to set up a SME Digital Tech Hub to advise SMEs with more advanced digital needs.

b. A key strategy under this programme is to work with influential partners, to gather expertise and develop solutions that can be scaled.

c. It boils down to two basic ideas. To go digital – indeed, to adapt and thrive when changes are happening swiftly – we need the right Tools for Growth, and Partners who can Make a Difference.

Tools for Growth

6. Tools for Growth. One advantage of the 99% SME movement is that it offers tested digital solutions and platforms to SMEs that might otherwise not be readily available to individual SMEs.

a. And Bill has just updated that the 2017 run has expanded the toolkit even further:

i. Mediacorp has renewed its support on advertising for this campaign.

ii. There are additional resources from DBS and Singtel to help SMEs adopt ICT solutions in areas such as cashless payment and digital marketing, with targeted support for specific industries such as the F&B sector.

iii. And they are launching a new 99% SME e-marketplace on Lazada, with training provided to on-board SMEs onto this platform.

b. Another critical ingredient is having the right people help SMEs develop their digital capabilities. The newly-launched Professional Conversion Programme for Digital Professionals by Nanyang Polytechnic will be useful to plug this gap, by matching firms with trained professionals. With the subsidised training provided, this will also be a key programme to prepare professionals to change jobs and become Digital Professionals.

7. Even as we reach out to the SMEs to share the right tools for growth, there remains much that we can learn from one other – beyond the use of a specific tool or platform or application, to, say, how we work with related industries, how we support workers, or how we take a business beyond geographical boundaries.

a. Lazada’s parent company, Alibaba, opened up the trading space for small business owners within and beyond China and, in the process, created many new jobs to support this surge in trading activity, such as in logistics.

b. Let’s look for ways to learn from one another’s experiences, and explore areas where we can work together to expand opportunities through IT for our SMEs.

8. Altogether, this is a comprehensive resource package that includes both “hard” tools as well as “softer” dedicated support. I encourage SMEs to come on board, to find the right tools to suit their purposes and take their business to the next level.

Partners who can make a difference

9. The right tools are only part of the equation. Given the complexity of running a business, making effective change is not something any of us can do alone. We need the right partners. As you know, I believe deeply in this. I have been speaking about the need for partnership and collaboration – at the firm, sector, industry and whole of economy levels – if we are to succeed.

10. In the digital transformation journey, partnerships will make all the difference.

a. From day one, the 99%SME initiative has brought together more than 20 partners from the public and private sectors, including the Trade Associations and Chambers and SME centres.

b. All the key partners have renewed their support and enhanced their contributions to the resource package for SMEs.

c. And the list grows. This year, new partners from the Polytechnics have come on board. Each new partner effectively adds to the full toolkit that SMEs can tap on, but also boosts the immeasurables – the spirit and synergy that all partners can draw on.

11. I’m especially happy to learn of the partnerships with the four Polytechnics – Nanyang Poly, Singapore Poly, Temasek Poly and Ngee Ann Poly. These will help to build firms’ capabilities while providing valuable hands-on work experience for students.

a. Even as the students help firms to adopt new digital tools, the students themselves stand to learn from the SMEs about their business considerations.


12. As change gets more complex, the right tools and partners will make all the difference. We can minimise the disadvantages of being a small country, and maximise the advantages of being nimble and entrepreneurial – by working as one in innovative ways, and collaborate to create good opportunities for our businesses and workers.

13. The 99% SME movement is a good example of how our large businesses, as well as trade associations, unions, educational institutes and government agencies can come together to provide comprehensive support for our SMEs.

14. I am happy to launch it with you, and wish the movement and your partners great success.