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Act now to digitalise or lose competitive edge and see Singapore’s hub status being challenged and bypassed: Chan Chun Sing

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Singapore must act now to transform its economy or risk having its hub status being challenged and bypassed, and businesses’ and workers’ losing their competitive edge, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said.

The important reality we must come to terms with is that we are not returning to the pre-COVID world, Mr Chan said.

Businesses should not be preparing for ‘business-as-usual’ or preparing to return to the good old normal.

“Now is the time to re-engineer our processes, build a new economy, and transform to create the right opportunities for our businesses and people,” Mr Chan said at the Future Economy Conference & Exhibition (FECE) 2020.

“If we fail to act now, we may very well see Singapore’s hub status being challenged and bypassed. We may see our businesses and workers losing their relevance and competitive edge, and in turn, our economic and geopolitical manoeuvring space will be more limited and constrained.”

Embrace digitalisation

COVID-19 and the resulting lockdowns worldwide have seen a dramatic uptick in the use of digital technologies.

Digital technology has enabled companies to respond nimbly to the disruptions caused by COVID-19. E-commerce has seen a sharp increase with more customers switching to online channels. Because of this, companies have been able to venture out and capture value from the increasing volume of digital transactions and grow their customer bases by many more times.

COVID has impacted every one of us, and forced us to re-look our assumptions, Mr Chan said.

“But most importantly, it has shown us that with digital transformation, it can not only help us survive a crisis. It can help us to thrive in a crisis. It will allow us to transcend the tyranny of geography and size for a small city-state like ours.

Digital transformation will truly unlock for us, the world as our hinterland and market.  But that is if we make the right moves now, harness the power of digital to grow our businesses, drive our economic recovery, redefine our competitiveness and relevance to the world.”

To resist digitalisation is to be left behind

Mr Chan acknowledged that digital transformation comes with significant challenges both for businesses and workers.

Be it globalisation or digitalisation, businesses and workers must adjust and adapt. To resist change inevitably means that we will be left further behind, Mr Chan said.

“If we are to not lose out on the opportunities in the digital economy, it means we must make various tough decisions to re-organise ourselves for speed and agility, and also to update our mental models. This applies to the government, our businesses, and our people. The faster we adapt, the faster we recover. There’s no place for treading water, and waiting for normalcy to return. Others will overtake us, and the opportunities will pass us by.”

Not alone, there is help, says Chan Chun Sing

Through the SMEs Go Digital programme,  the government has stepped up support to help companies digitalise at different stages in their growth journeys.

Mr Chan revealed that under the SMEs Go Digital programme, more than 15,000 SMEs have applied for and received support from the PSG (Productivity Solutions Grant).

The Grow Digital initiative was launched in June to help SMEs willing and ready to seize business opportunities in overseas markets via digital platforms. So far, more than 1,400 businesses are transacting on these e-commerce platforms.

Empowering people

To ensure everyone has a place in Singapore’s digital future, the government has established the SG Digital Office to drive the Government’s efforts to push for digital adoption amongst everyone in the country.

1,000 Digital Ambassadors have been deployed to help stallholders and even seniors go digital.

Placements, traineeships and skills upgrading under the SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package and other reskilling programmes like the TechSkills Accelerator have also been ramped up, Mr Chan said.

“As our people gain new skills, the digital challenge will become less daunting. And we will become more productive, be able to take on higher value-added job roles, gain greater job satisfaction, and ultimately, form the digital backbone that every company needs to power their business transformation.”

Mr Chan encouraged businesses and workers to work closely together to enable this transformation effort to happen because ‘only when our workers are empowered to move up the value chain, can companies up their game’.

“And if history has taught us one thing, it is that this small little red dot of ours can be a positive example of constant transformation, helping everybody along, and constantly seizing new opportunities where we demonstrate and distinguish ourselves by being forward-looking and being nimble rather than hoping to return to the previous past.”

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