AN ITALIAN restaurant run by chef Beppe de Vito is one of about 500 smaller businesses that have received a leg up from a government scheme called iSprint.

The scheme allowed Mr de Vito to tackle one of the thorniest problems facing restaurants in Singapore - time pressure on limited staff numbers in a tight labour market.

Now, the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) aims to dramatically lift the number of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) getting assistance under iSprint to 10,000.

A digital order-taking system, made possible under iSprint, has been a major boon to Mr de Vito's &Sons restaurant, in Cross Street, which can seat about 160 diners.

Staff productivity has been boosted as waiters use a palm-size tablet to take orders, which are wirelessly transmitted to a receiver in the kitchen.

Cooks print the orders for reference.

Said Mr de Vito: "This way, waiters save time as order-taking can be done at the table itself and waiters do not have to move back and forth from table to a waiting station to key in orders."

The result of this system, which was implemented at the China Square Central outlet last December, is a headcount reduction. Instead of 18 staff members needed for the restaurant, only 15 are needed. "In a year, I would have saved about more than $80,000 in salaries," Mr de Vito said.

Better still, more time spent with customers meant a 10 per cent increase in sales while tips have more than doubled.

&Sons is one of more than 50 food and beverage industry SMEs that have adopted a wireless integrated restaurant system.

The IDA iSprint scheme was launched in 2010. To date, about 500 firms have benefited from it.

The goal to boost that to 10,000 over the next three years was laid out in the 2014 Budget. It is one of three information and communications technology (ICT) programmes that will cost the Government $500 million all up.

From July, SMEs will be able to get a list of ICT solutions and the service providers from the IDA. Solutions include automating payroll systems and e-procurement systems.

The funding process will now be more streamlined. Unlike before, SMEs do not have to apply for the iSprint grant. Instead, IDA will reimburse the vendor directly for 70 per cent of project costs.

This scheme seeks to hasten ICT adoption among SMEs through a sectoral approach. A customised approach for each SME would be too slow as the sector itself has been slow in adopting ICT to improve productivity.

Initially, when an SME wanted an ICT solution under the iSprint scheme, it would approach IDA, which would then fit the firm with the correct solution. However, this was too slow and the sectoral approach was piloted.

An IDA spokesman said: "We worked with different trade organisations to find out the common productivity problems which could be solved with ICT.

"Then we put out several 'calls for collaborations' for different kinds of solutions for different sectors like childcare and real estate."

The benefits were obvious.

For example, IDA said, firms in the F&B industry could, on average, manage with at least one less hour per service staff member per day. They also reported increased sales of at least 5 per cent, owing to fast table turnaround after the wireless ordering system was brought in.

More than 30 sectoral productivity solutions have benefited more than 10 sectors since 2010, including retail, real estate and travel.