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Don’t be distracted by government grants and schemes: Koh Poh Koon to SMEs looking to go digital

Don’t be distracted by government grants and schemes: Koh Poh Koon to SMEs looking to go digital

File photo of a robot production facility launched by Singapore precision engineering firm PBA Group and a Korean industrial robot company. (Photo: Brandon Tanoto)

SINGAPORE: Businesses looking to digitalise their operations should ask why they are doing so before looking for funding options, Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon has said.

“Don’t be distracted by (government) grants and schemes,” Dr Koh told local business leaders looking to digitalise their operations on Wednesday (Mar 13).

Speaking on a panel at a conference organised by Human Capital (Singapore) and the Employment and Employability Institute (e2i), he said the first questions many companies asked when faced with deciding to go digital were “how to get started” and “what can the Government do for me?”.

READ: Some businesses struggling to keep up with digital transformation, MPs say

These, he said, are the wrong questions to ask. Rather, small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) should ask themselves why they are digitalising and what are the objectives of doing so.

“You don’t go to see a doctor and ask ‘what medicine can you give me’, right?” Dr Koh said. “The doctor will ask you: ‘Where’s the pain?' first”

He pointed out that there was no point for companies in the food and beverage (F&B) sector, for example, to apply for a grant to buy iPads to replace their current menus if they do not reorganise work processes.

“Those iPads will be as good as the cardboard menus they are replacing,” he said.

YCH Group executive chairman Robert Yap, who was also on the panel, advised fellow SMEs who may not know what types of “sickness” they hope to address with digitalisation to join trade associations and chambers (TACs) like the Singapore Business Federation, Association of Small and Medium Enterprises and Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF).

READ: Budget 2019 - Roadmaps for trade associations and chambers, as part of strengthening partnerships

Dr Yap, who was speaking as SNEF president, said these TACs have many businesses - small, medium and large - and they can help to diagnose the pain points other SMEs are facing. Once these are identified, the trade bodies can then help the company apply for the right scheme or grant from the government.

“There’s nothing wrong (with this); we’re not exploiting grants,” the businessman said.

The push for companies in Singapore to embrace digitalisation has been going on for some time now. This was reiterated at this year’s Budget announcement, when Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat revealed initiatives to help companies stay on top of tech advances.

This includes the expansion of the SMEs Go Digital programme to sectors like accountancy, sea transport and construction sectors. The number of pre-approved digital solutions under the same programme will be increased too.


In an earlier panel session on Wednesday, industry players like Mediacorp and Singapore Pools were quizzed on their efforts to stay relevant in today’s digital landscape.

Mediacorp CEO Tham Loke Kheng shared how the national broadcaster is placing the consumer at the heart of its transformation efforts, even as the industry faces up to disruption.

“If you like to receive your news through the traditional TV set, we will still serve you,” Ms Tham said. “But if you prefer to have your news on YouTube, we will serve you too.”

Mediacorp had inked a deal with YouTube last month to have Channel NewsAsia broadcast live 24/7 on the former’s platform.

Meanwhile, Singapore Pools has tapped on digitalisation to provide more value to its customer base, according to its director of TPO and Technology Advisory Ong Chee Ping.

Mr Ong said by bringing its gaming services online, the company is allowing Singapore punters to better track their spending and set daily or monthly spending limits, if needed.

This was not possible at a physical outlet, as counter staff would have to remember the faces of customers and how much they have spent, and assess if the person required counselling if they are spending more than usual, he added.

Source: CNA/kk(hm)


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