As technological advancements continue to transform how business is conducted, SMEs urgently need to adapt. Singapore has been making great strides in this direction, for example, our cashless payment capabilities are far ahead of any country in the region, with almost 60% of Personal Consumption Expenditures conducted electronically (The Business Times, 2017). However there is still much room for improvement; for example, administrative tasks alone take up 168 working days per year, costing the average Singaporean SME $160,000 annually, almost double the global average (Human Resources Online, 2018). Recognising the need for SMEs to digitise, the government has committed $80 million into the new SME Go Digital Programme that includes the building of a new SME Technology Hub which SMEs can go to for free business advice and access information on government schemes. (The Straits Times, 2017)
To learn more about software solutions for SMEs, I spoke to Mr Kenny Goh, CEO of SmartCommerce. Starting out as corporate executive in Oracle and Microsoft, Mr Goh noticed that there are many feature rich enterprise software catering to large organisations such as governments, banks, transportation and manufacturing. With access to advanced software, these large organizations were able to digitize, automate, globalize and scale. But many SMEs were in the cold. Therefore, Mr Goh set up SmartCommerce to reinvent tech solutions to fit in with the SME business model. His company now provides 3 integrated tech products, namely a Lead Gen CRM, QR Code Marketing and Omni Channel E-commerce. According to Mr Goh “Collectively, these 3 tech products form SmartCommerce. SmartCommerce is an AI driven digital marketing software platform. The end goal is to help SMEs create new wealth using technology.”
Lead Gen CRM
The Internet is a treasure trove of information for customers, prospects and sales leads information. SmartCommerce Lead Gen engine uses AI to crawl the internet for customer sales leads information, including email contacts based on user set search criteria such as target industry, country and keywords. The sales leads and customer contacts are then channelled into a CRM repository. The action does not stop here; SmartCommerce CRM comes with automated email marketing capability. This means that users can customize and automate email marketing campaigns. This technology redefines lead gen automation, target marketing, SME wealth creation and the innovation “wow” factor.
QR Code Marketing (FinTech)
The cost of retaining customers can be about 5-25 times cheaper than acquiring new customers. (Harvard Business Review, 2014) Thus to increase customer retention, companies have been providing customers with plastic cards and mobile apps, but these methods have not been successful. A radical idea, Mr Goh sees the QR code technology as the solution. Here’s how its works – Customers receive rewards by scanning the QR code and in exchange, companies get access to the customer profile (with PDPA consent). The customer profile will then be automatically updated into the CRM system mentioned above. Expanding on this idea, the QR code rewards digital credits; a Fintech play which will further benefit the merchant and customer communities.
Omni Channel E-commerce
In response to the news of the SME technology hub, Mr John Cheng, director of Cheng Yew Heng Candy Factory said that a key area of advice that he hopes the hub will provide is in “social media marketing” (The Straits Times, 2017). Mr Goh envisions the next generation of e-commerce as a concoction of desktop, mobile, social commerce (SMEs will have the ability to sell their products and services over popular social media sites such as Facebook and WeChat) and QR code marketing to drive online experience to offline sales and vice versa. With this vision, Mr Goh created the SmartCommerce Omni Channel E-commerce platform which helps SME create new e-channels to engage customers.
A case study; in Europe, popular stores such as Prada and Gucci now provide iPads to customers to browse their online catalogues instead of having to queue in notoriously long lines (Mail Online, 2012). However Mr Goh feels that this strategy can be further improved since there is a limit to the number of iPads that can be distributed. As such, the Omni Channel E-commerce platform offers integration with the QR code function to allow customers to browse online catalogues using their phones.
Trends in the region
Mr Goh has observed that while there is an ocean of tech solutions available, most SMEs still do not have an IT manager and often the myriad of choices lead to confusion. Every tech solution has different functions and benefits, which makes it difficult for SMEs to decide on which one to use due to sheer information overload. As such Mr Goh predicts a return to the days of “unified technology” but this time for the consolidation of modern solutions such as apps, digital automation and e-commerce into all-in-one software designed for SME. For example, the Unified Communications Market alone is expected to be worth USD61.9 billion by the end of 2018, translating to a CAGR of 15.7% annually from 2012-2018 (Ringcentral, 2016).
Riding on the trends
Mr Goh has observed that industry leaders are betting on E-commerce, AI and FinTech at the enterprise level. SmartCommerce is betting and investing in R&D to offer compact solutions that simplify E-commerce, AI and FinTech to allow SMEs to harness the full potential of modern technology in maximising returns. According to Mr Goh “there are some 149,000,000 SME worldwide, it’s a huge market. Our goal is to help SMEs digitalize to create new wealth.”
Challenges in expanding overseas
Mr Goh shared that when SMEs expand overseas, finding the right talent to staff overseas posts is a key success factor. The ideal candidate must demonstrate product know-how, be able to localize and systemize the business operations and be proactive. Now the big question is whether companies should send their trained Singaporean staff overseas or hire locally from the target country or a combination. Either way there will be opportunity cost, risk and training investment.
Enabling overseas expansion
On the issue of manpower discussed above, companies can tap on the SkillsFuture Study Award for International Business. This award provides $5,000 to eligible Singaporeans interested in training for opportunities in international job roles and this relieves some of the costs from employers to train their employees to be ready for overseas expansion. Additionally companies can participate in the Go SEA Award where companies who offer regional overseas internship programmes are matched with appropriate undergraduates who may then be recruited as full time staff after their internship period. This will therefore avail more staff to Singaporean companies to venture overseas.
In preparation of overseas expansion, Mr Goh has been working closely with International Enterprise (IE) Singapore that has been providing among others, market assessment support that includes information on events and conventions in the target country. This type of support is crucial since it gives a taste of what doing business in that country will be like.
In addition, IE Singapore’s overseas offices provide easy access to local partners which not only grant Singaporean SMEs with local allies to help navigate the business environment of the country, but also allow Singaporean SMEs to share their risk.
Call to Singaporean companies
The market for enhancing the digital capabilities of SMEs is huge and still relatively untapped. As the government continues to commit more support into this sector, Singaporean companies need to seize the opportunity to innovate new solutions for the SME business model. If we succeed here, the whole business ecosystem will be smarter and ready to compete in the digital future.
Harvard Business Review. (2014). The Value of Keeping the Right Customers. [online] Available at: https://hbr.org/2014/10/the-value-of-keeping-the-right-customers [Accessed 19 Jan. 2018].
Human Resources Online. (2018). Singapore SMEs suffer from 168 days of productivity loss over admin tasks. [online] Available at: http://www.humanresourcesonline.net/singapore-smes-suffer-from-168-days-of-productivity-loss-over-admin-tasks/ [Accessed 19 Jan. 2018].
Mail Online. (2012). Forget the Russians and Arabs. The Chinese are at the front of the queue for luxury goods in Britain. [online] Available at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2081473/UK-sales-Chinese-the-queue-luxury-goods.html [Accessed 19 Jan. 2018].
Ringcentral. (2016). 5 Reasons Why You Need a Unified Communications Solution For Your Business | RingCentral Blog. [online] Available at: https://www.ringcentral.com/blog/2016/05/5-reasons-why-you-need-a-unified-communications-solution-for-your-business/ [Accessed 19 Jan. 2018].
The Business Times. (2017). The need for SMEs to go digital. [online] Available at: http://www.businesstimes.com.sg/sme/singapore-budget-2017/the-need-for-smes-to-go-digital [Accessed 19 Jan. 2018].
The Straits Times. (2017). More help for SMEs to go digital. [online] Available at: http://www.straitstimes.com/business/more-help-for-smes-to-go-digital [Accessed 19 Jan. 2018].