Are S'pore SMBs aware of IT help?

More funding initiatives are available for Singapore's small and midsize firms to use for their ICT enhancements, but not all may be aware of such schemes.
Written by Vivian Yeo, Contributor

More schemes and incentives are now in place for small and midsize businesses (SMBs) in Singapore to tap technology to improve their businesses, but some SMBs may still not be aware of the help available.

The SME Infocomm Package (SIP), announced by Singapore's Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) in June at the imbX (Infocomm Media Business Exchange) 2008, is the latest addition to a number of IT-related schemes.

SIP, offered by three consortia appointed by the IDA, allows SMBs to select ICT packages that include components such as hardware, applications, and Web hosting and maintenance. An additional incentive to subsidize the first 5,000 SMBs by up to S$1,000 (US$707) each, for signing up a package which includes developing a corporate Web site, was also introduced.

Over 120 SMBs have already signed up for the packages, according to a speech last month by Lui Tuck Yew, senior minister of state for education, and information, communications and the arts. In a speech last month.

Under another scheme, the Technology Innovation Programme (TIP), over S$1 million (US$707,400) has been awarded to 17 SMBs to apply technology for developing or improving products, processes or business models, he added. TIP is offered by Spring Singapore, a government body that establishes industry standards, in partnership with the IDA, which acts as an industry regulator.

Yet, Lui said there is "still a substantial number" of SMBs that have not automated basic business processes, such as inventory management, and accounting and finance. "With increasingly infocomm-savvy customers who want quick and effective services, these companies can do well to tap on infocomm technology and digitize processes to bring about greater efficiency and better serve their customers' needs," he pointed out.

Statistics released in June by the IDA showed that nearly two out of three (31 percent) of SMBs in Singapore have established a Web presence. According to the IDA, there are about 143,000 SMBs in the island-state. The authority defines SMBs as those with a minimum of 30 percent local shareholding, and less than S$15 million (US$10.6 million) of fixed assets for manufacturing firms or have fewer than 200 employees for other businesses.

Cost a concern
According to DP Information Group's SME (small and midsize enterprise) Development Survey 2007, high cost was cited as the biggest barrier to adoption of technologies, regardless of whether the firms were start-ups, in the process of expansion, or mature. For example, high cost of adoption was a key challenge for 65 percent of start-ups, compared to 34 percent that indicated lack of staff capabilities as a barrier.

A 2006 study by DP had revealed that nearly one-third of SMBs believed technology had not impacted their businesses.

Last November, a separate survey by the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry and the IDA found that SMBs were spending more money on IT.

Awareness of the schemes, however, may still be lacking among the target audience.

Wendy Yeow, co-founder of a boutique agency specialized in marketing luxury products, told ZDNet Asia that she was "not aware" of tech-related schemes for SMBs. Her company, established in 2005, had then engaged a professional to develop a corporate Web site for a price that was "below market rate".

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