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Companies need to be proactive in digital revolution

27 May, 2020

This article was contributed to and first published in The Business Times on 27 May 2020.

To say that Covid-19 has brought about many unwelcome changes is a gross understatement.

But it would be foolhardy to ignore the valuable lessons that this crisis is revealing.

And one of the most pertinent lessons for many businesses is the need for digital transformation.

To be fair, the writing has been on the wall for a while now, but the pandemic is proving to be a catalyst forcing businesses to rethink how they operate.

After almost two months since the circuit breaker started, businesses have had to reshape the way they work. And fast.

From disrupted supply chains to even basic communication, companies have had to react quickly to this challenging new Covid-19 reality.

In most cases, businesses that had stress-tests in place and have been adaptable aren't in so much of a scramble.

But for many, without the people, processes and technology in place, it's been a dramatically uphill battle.

As Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat mentioned in his speech yesterday, Singaporeans have to be prepared that some workers will lose their jobs, some jobs will never come back and some will look totally different in the future.

To accelerate change, the government announced that it would set aside more than S$500 million to help businesses in digital transformation.

This includes a Digital Resilience Bonus, starting with F&B and retail sectors, to incentivise them to build a digital presence and use digital payment tools.

Meanwhile, S$250 million will be set aside to help businesses develop offline-to-online business models to access new domestic and international revenue streams.

In many ways, these schemes concentrate on very basic levels of digital adoption rather than true digital transformation.

Of course, with many industries at completely different stages of their digital journey, it is hard to have a one-size-fits all package.

The true hope for innovation lies in Singapore's workforce itself. And it all boils down to the upskilling and reskilling of people.

PwC's Talent Trends 2019 report found that 79 per cent of CEOs worldwide "are concerned that a lack of essential skills in their workforce is threatening the future growth of their organisation", compared to 53 per cent in 2012.

The newly created National Jobs Council, which will be integrated with the Future Economy Council, is a welcome move that will develop deeper skills and reimagine the workforce of the future.

Training to scale up

With employees acclimatising to the tools and processes involved in working from home, this represents an opportunity for training to scale up.

As lifespans elongate and technology changes, companies need to make sure that learning is a lifetime experience.

For family businesses in Singapore, this may be an opportune time for NextGens to step up and steer the business in the new world.

As digital natives, they possess the knowledge and skills to help navigate this disruptive landscape. But they need to bring everybody along with them.

Likewise, to promote ownership of this digitalisation journey, the National Innovation Challenges would also be a great ground-up source to co-create solutions for business transformation.

Adding this fourth support Budget worth S$33 billion, the government is dedicating close to S$100 billion to support Singaporeans during this crisis, which is almost 20 per cent of the country's GDP.

And in a totally unprecedented move, Singapore's reserves will be tapped into for the second time in four months, pushing the budget deficit to be the largest since Singapore's independence.

With the Singapore economy probably expected to contract 4-7 per cent this year, steeper than a previous projection of 1-4 per cent, it is especially pertinent that these measures make a lasting difference.

It is time for companies to be proactive in this digital revolution, not reactive.

This pandemic has proved that change will always be the constant and if so, innovation needs to be a constant too.

Contact us

Ng Siew Quan

Ng Siew Quan

Partner, PwC Singapore

Tel: +65 9726 9880

Tan Ching Ne

Tan Ching Ne

Partner, Corporate Tax, PwC Singapore

Tel: +65 9622 9826

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