The use of advanced technologies in the workplace has become standard in recent years, with AI, Blockchain, Cloud and Data (ABCD), the Internet of Things (IoT), Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR/ VR) and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) collectively leading the charge.
Such technologies are not mere buzzwords, they are intricately intertwined. Cloud computing is considered the forerunner of current technology. Enormous boosts in computing power and speeds have enabled the fast processing of data.
In turn, insights and decisions obtained from these data have helped companies innovate further, offering new and improved solutions and experiences via IoT, AR/VR and RPA.
These technologies have a massive potential to help Singaporean and Southeast Asian SME innovation. However, SMEs must first understand where in their workflows they could fit, as well as how to appropriately fund their integration.
SMEs can use the examples below as models for their own innovative ventures to gain a competitive advantage.
AI-enabled automation is gaining steam for higher-order tasks that require greater decision-making abilities.
OCBC Bank has been using AI since 2016 to become more efficient and to find new revenue sources. As of Q3 2018, it has achieved 80% accuracy when shortlisting applicants for high-volume job functions.
Among the bank’s first AI-centric measures are its Emma Chatbot and the use of Thetaray’s AI solution in 2017 to identify possible suspicious transactions.
For the latter, the bank reported a 35% caseload reduction for its Anti-Money Laundering (AML) compliance analysts and quadrupled an increase in automation in identifying suspicious transactions.
Data analytics and monitoring have also become widespread in industries such as healthcare, hospitality, logistics and security.
In mid-2019, Singapore’s Changi Airport Group; private security organisation Certis; and AI start-up, Xjera Labs, piloted a multi-signal surveillance platform that captured audio-visual data to aid in the detection of security incidents within the airport.
According to Xjera Labs, a deep-learning neural network allows the platform to recognise faces, vehicle flow, crowds, cracks, and spalling.
Attention has shifted from cloud computing (where computing requests are processed in centralised databases) to edge computing, which is the processing of requests closer to their sources.
It takes time for requests to be sent to databases, processed and returned to their source. The faster this process occurs, the more feasible certain technologies can become.
Autonomous vehicles are a favourite example for edge computing, and these will be actively tested in western Singapore in the coming years.
Edge computing is also beneficial for all SMEs using or making IoT devices and AI-enabled services. It is able to handle a greater amount of data and analyse it faster, while offering more data privacy.
Big businesses do not have a monopoly on ABCD, IoT, and RPA. There are other ways for modest-sized players to leverage modern solutions for innovation without depleting their finances.
Family-run Transquest Supplies & Co Pte Ltd engages in landscaping, cleaning, and painting works. Under the leadership of second-generation businessman Milton Koh, and with the injection of alternative financing, Transquest now uses robotics to expedite everyday cleaning jobs. Feedback panels are also installed in public toilets for instant responses.
Transquest is also banking on digital reports, staff training, and a new appraisal and incentives programme to encourage internal development. Koh noted that staff feedback had been positive so far.
At the moment, the company is exploring the use of remote-controlled grass-cutting machines. Koh also foresees the use of an internal Transquest app for employees to access their staff records and review digitised company operations.
“After 30 years, we see the need to go digital to achieve better productivity and relevance in the market. Our longtime staff can also get on board with our vision and upskill to expand their capabilities”.
“With automation, we’ve been responding to our customers’ needs much faster and more efficiently,” said Koh.
The Singapore government offers several grants to spur tech-driven SME innovation and to offset adoption costs. Adjustments have also been made to this year’s budget to increase the amount of financial assistance and business resources provided to smaller enterprises.
Enterprise Singapore’s Enterprise Development Grant provides up to 70% subsidy for SMEs to automate operations or develop novel tech products.
In 2020, this grant will support around 3,000 projects. Eligible SMEs must have at least 30% local shareholding and be commercially viable to start and complete the project.
Another option would be the SME Working Capital Loan scheme. Budget 2020 increased SMEs’ cap for unsecured loans to S$600,000, with the Government assuming up to 80% of the loan-default risk.
SMEs may also turn to other private funding sources for technological advancement. One such example would be crowdsourcing funds from individual accredited investors through lending platforms.
ABCD, IoT, AR/VR and RPA can be implemented in multiple ways across industries and business functions. However, they are not the sole answer for all business problems. SMEs need to assess each solution and conduct trials before fully investing in them.
SMEs can also partner with other businesses that use or have built such solutions. By leveraging others’ expertise, SMEs can ride the wave of technological innovation to reap greater business success.
Comprehensive support from both the government and private sector is also available to SMEs. Through fresh funding, they can work with reasonable loan repayment terms to alleviate high-tech adoption costs and stay on track with their respective innovative pursuits. Wherever possible, SMEs are encouraged to tap on such support.
About the Author
Shankar Pillai | Vice President, Engineering | Validus Capital
With over 16 years of experience in delivering transactional technology platforms, Shankar's areas of expertise include Object-Oriented Technologies, Solutions Architecture, Cloud Platforms, Digital Marketing and IT Service Management.
At Validus Capital, Shankar heads Engineering and works alongside with the Chief Technology Officer to deliver Validus’ technology platform. He also manages the day-to-day IT operations for the company.
Shankar holds a Master of Science in Cyber Law and Security from the National Law University, Jodhpur and a Bachelor of Engineering in Electronics and Communication from Bharathiar University.