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Speech by SMS Chee Hong Tat at the Webinar on "Braving the Storm through Digital Transformation"

Speech by SMS Chee Hong Tat at the Webinar on "Braving the Storm through Digital Transformation"

1. Thank you for having me today.

2. More than a month has passed since the circuit breaker measures started on 7 April.

a. While these measures are critical to protect lives and ensure the safety of our family and friends, I know they are difficult for our businesses, including our heartland shops.
b. But if we do not implement strict measures to keep the virus under control and the number of community infections rise significantly, there will be greater and more prolonged pain for the entire country as we will lose more lives and livelihoods.  
c. Thank you for your understanding and support. 
d. We are in this together and the Government will do our best to support you, your company and your workers.

3. The Government has rolled out a series of comprehensive measures to support businesses and protect the livelihoods of Singaporeans.

a. More than $60 billion has been committed in the Unity, Resilience and Solidarity Budgets to help our companies, workers and households.
b. We are determined to get through this crisis, and also build stronger capabilities that will help us thrive in the longer-term.

4. The Enhanced Training Support Package (ETSP) offered by SkillsFuture SG is an example of a programme that can accomplish both objectives.

a. Through the ETSP, SMEs in the retail and other sectors critically impacted by COVID-19 are eligible for enhanced absentee payroll at 90% of hourly basic salary (up to $10 per hour) and support for up to 90% of their course fees with approved training providers, including the Singapore Institute of Retail Studies, NTUC LearningHub and the Institutes of Higher Learning.
b. ETSP provides support for our companies and workers during the crisis, and helps them to build stronger capabilities beyond the crisis.  
c. To-date, almost 18,000 training places have been taken up and more than 340 companies have benefited from ETSP. 
d. The enhanced absentee payroll cap of $10 per hour has been extended to companies in all sectors of our economy till end of the year.  
e. I welcome more enterprises to come on board, and tap on these schemes to support your wage costs and train your workers.  

Businesses Need to Operate Safely while Remaining Commercially Viable

5. We are preparing to resume more activities when conditions allow.

a. We must bring down the number of community infections, and to keep it low for a sustained period.  
b. We have made progress since 7 April, but the next few weeks will be crucial to decide how much we can ease the restrictions after 1 June.  
c. When we re-open the economy, we have to do so gradually, carefully and safely.
d. Otherwise, we could run the risk of a second wave of infections, which could potentially set us back further, and all our efforts would have been wasted.
e. There will have to be strict safe distancing and safe management measures, to allow business to continue while ensuring everyone’s health and safety.  
f. And we will make full use of technology to help us stay safe, including deploying SafeEntry to 16,000 premises, and making TraceTogether more effective and widespread.

6. This combination of practical measures and technology solutions to continue life amidst COVID is relevant to businesses too.

a. Of course personal relationships matter, as do face-to-face contact with your customers. 
b. These human interactions will never disappear.
c. But at the same time, businesses must take advantage of technology and digitalisation.  
d. Technology is not everything, but not knowing how to use technology will be a great handicap.
e. This has always been an important enabler to transform our economy.  
f. With the pandemic, learning how to make good use of technology has become even more critical and urgent.  
g. We must press on with these efforts with even greater speed and scale.  
h. Previously, we have focused on adopting technology to improve productivity, reduce labour reliance, and enhance customer service.  
i. These are still relevant.  
j. But the COVID-19 pandemic has added one more priority: using technology to enable businesses to operate safely while accessing new sources of revenue and finding new ways of serving their customers. 
k. Both factors are important - businesses need to operate safely and remain commercially viable.

7. Take for instance, Scent by Six, a company that retails perfume and home fragrances and conducts B2B fragrance customisation through its outlet at Bugis Junction.

a. They had set up a website and used social media platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram to gather more than 12,000 online followers. 
b. During circuit breaker, they had a head-start over their competitors and were able to quickly switch their business models and continue to sell their products online without compromising safety.  
c. Online sales are expected to contribute around 50% of their total revenue.  
d. Some of their competitors are a few steps behind and have yet to set up their online platforms. 
e. This crisis will accelerate the process of differentiating enterprises who will survive and those who will not.  

8. Digital transformation is not only for large companies or young technology start-ups. 

a. In today’s world, it is just as important for SMEs from all sectors, including those from traditional sectors, to adapt to the digital age.
b. I want to share with you the story of Mr. Mustafa – a vendor from Tekka Market who has operated his mutton stall for over 45 years.
c. IMDA and creative agency BlkJ recently organised a new online livestreaming initiative which featured vendors from the popular Tekka Market in Little India.
d. Vendors were given a one-hour slot via livestream to sell their fresh produce, and customers could place orders on a first-come-first-serve basis by commenting on the livestream.
e. Last Tuesday, Mr. Mustafa and his son stepped out of their comfort zone to promote their mutton stall on Facebook – explaining how it sources its meat from Australia, New Zealand and Ireland and sharing simple cooking tips with their audience.
f. To his pleasant surprise, Mr. Mustafa sold everything within 30 minutes and brought in more than $1,000 in sales in that short span of time.  Much more than what he could sell by waiting for customers to visit his stall physically.  
g. Mr. Mustafa’s story serves as an inspiration for all of us to be willing to try new ideas and pursue digital transformation for our businesses.  
h. In the face of the COVID-19 crisis, this is no longer a “good to have” or something that SMEs can put aside and adopt a “wait and see” approach.  

Government Programmes to Encourage Digital Transformation

9. Some of you may say, “I know digital transformation is important, but not all SMEs have the resources to adopt digital solutions.”  

a. We understand your concerns.
b. This is why the Government has put in place many programmes and support schemes to smoothen your digitalisation journey.  
c. We are here to work with you and assist you.
d. I want to share with you two of these programmes today.

10. First, the Retail E-Commerce Booster Package that we launched on 1 April to help retail businesses leverage on e-commerce platforms, such as Amazon, Lazada and Shopee, to reach local and overseas customers.
a. Mr Yeo Hiang Meng – one of our panellists today and the owner of Orient Jewellers – has leveraged on the E-Commerce Booster Package to sell his products to a wider customer base.
b. The onboarding process for Orient Jewellers took only 5 days and the Facebook page has garnered more than 900 followers within a month’s time.
c. Mr Yeo expects online sales to contribute to 15% of his overall revenue.  
d. I believe there is scope for this to go even higher as the company further develops its online capabilities and networks.  
e. A heartland shop need not confine its customer base to the immediate neighbourhood.  
f. With e-commerce, it can reach a wider group of customers from all over Singapore, and even overseas customers.  
g. I invite Mr Yeo to share more about his experience with the E-Commerce Booster Package later.

11. For SMEs looking for digital solutions beyond accessing e-commerce platforms, the SMEs Go Digital Programme provides a suite of digital solutions for SMEs along different milestones of their digitalisation journey.

a. HiMart Singapore, a minimart chain in Ang Mo Kio, Fernvale and Upper Serangoon, has been able to adapt and overcome the challenges of COVID-19 by leveraging an enhanced retail management system pre-approved under the SMEs Go Digital Programme.
b. The system allows HiMart Singapore to pull detailed reports of sales, inventory and wastage from the system – so that store managers can quickly replenish products and add new products based on the up-to-date sales data.
c. This has helped to contribute to a 22% increase in revenue and 15% decrease in operating expenses for HiMart – giving an advantage over its competitors during the crisis but also for many years to come, beyond the crisis.

Weathering the Storm as One United People

12. How we respond during this crisis and what we do beyond the crisis will determine what kind of society we will become in the years ahead, and how others will view us as a nation.  
a. Do we have the resilience and resourcefulness to weather the storm together as one united people?  
b. Do our businesses and workers have the capabilities and determination to transform Singapore’s economy and workforce, to change the way we work and seize new opportunities that come our way?  
c. Can we continue to work together and build on our strong spirit of tripartism, which PM highlighted in his May Day speech as one of Singapore’s key strengths? 
d. Does the crisis strengthen or weaken our social trust, our cohesion and our standing in the world?  

13. The answers to these questions depend on all of us.  

a. The road ahead will be tough.  
b. Some sectors of our economy will shrink, some companies will close down and some workers will lose jobs.  
c. Our task is to help viable companies to survive the crisis, save as many jobs as we can, and assist as many retrenched workers as possible to find new jobs in sectors which are still growing and hiring people.  
d. As a small country with no hinterland, it is not feasible for Singapore to look inwards and erect barriers from the world economy and global supply chains.  
e. We have a better chance of securing our future if we retain our strengths as a trusted and well-connected hub for the region, supported by our strong tripartite partnerships and our openness to trade, investments and talent.
f. As well as our ability to plan long-term, to deliver what we promise and to implement our plans effectively through concrete actions.  

14. I look forward to our panel discussion later.

15. Thank you very much.

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