THERE isn't a saying - but there ought to be - about how behind every successful business, is a great deal of infocomm technology (ICT) firepower. It doesn't quite trip off the tongue, but it is no less true.
Titus Yong, vice-president, business sales, SingTel Group Enterprise, would know something about that, given how SingTel has backed much of the ICT offerings that small and medium-enterprises (SMEs) today count on.
"SMEs need to, and must, change their mindsets and reinvent the way businesses are run. To stay ahead of the curve, SMEs need to reconfigure the way they operate and embrace technology to drive greater efficiencies and productivity," he said.
"As the cornerstone of Singapore's economy, it is crucial that SMEs are given the means to transform themselves into potential world-beaters."
Now, in order for SMEs to overcome the productivity hurdle, there is a need for concerted and sustained efforts to help such firms.
Aptly enough, never before has there been this much attention paid by various quarters to get SMEs on the ICT bandwagon.
The recent Budget unveiled more refined incentives designed to prod SMEs further along the path of business transformation, using ICT solutions.
Singapore might be one of the most-wired nations in the world, but not all broadband connections are made equal, Mr Yong noted.
"From mobile to ADSL or fibre, choosing the right broadband plan is crucial for businesses to function optimally. While costs are always a consideration for SMEs, grants help take the edge off broadband expenditure," he said.
At SingTel, the ICT solutions on offer approach the question of an SME's productivity in three different ways - increasing business agility, reducing cost and seeking out business opportunities.
Increasing business agility
While technology has always been touted as the great white hope of the small business, today's challenges are unprecedented. Now, work requirements run across different time zones and instantaneous responses are expected regardless of an employee's physical location.
"Fixed mobile convergence is a game-changer which blends fixed and mobile communication services seamlessly and helps start-ups or companies with high mobile workforce to be reachable anytime, reduce costs and communicate with customers or colleagues whether they are at their desk or on the move," said Mr Yong.
"Coupled with cloud, the advent of devices and solutions which allow one to work on the move will also contribute to the productivity of SMEs. With mobility solutions, an employee would be empowered to work, collaborate and access vital information and resources on any device, anywhere and anytime."
It is not enough, however, that a firm has the tools that allow others to reach it; an SME needs to proactively reach out into the ether of the Internet, where thousands of other businesses already clamour for the consumer's attention.
In this respect, a strong online presence is called for, especially for startups, Mr Yong reckoned.
"It is . . . a good platform to share the company's values and how the start-up can deliver its brand promise. Digital marketing campaigns or even converting the site to an e-commerce platform will also boost up the business," he said.
SingTel has just a platform geared towards start-ups looking for a launching point online called SingTel myBusiness, which helps start-ups offer their products and services to other SMEs. This online SME community in Singapore is a veritable treasure trove of information, from links to government grants and expert advice.
The portal caters to each stage of business development - the start-up phase, local expansion and even the point where a firm starts to go regional.
In December last year, the SingTel myBusiness portal was given the Best SME Service and Asean ICT Gold Award for Best Digital Content at the Asia Communications Awards.
With success, comes size. But with size, comes cost.
"SMEs which grow locally may need to open new branches. Therefore, they need to maintain constant line-of-sight in order to exercise management control," Mr Yong said.
Here, cloud computing represents a cost-effective way to do just that.
"The government has played a leading role as a promoter and catalyst for technology adoption especially cloud computing, which harnesses the Internet to deliver hardware and software services," Mr Yong noted.
Going down the cloud computing route means that businesses do not have to resort to buying off-the-shelf software with a fixed number of licences, and this helps to reduce their fixed operating costs.
What is particularly appealing is the scalability of such a "Software-as-a-Service" model, which allows SMEs to increase or decrease the number of cloud users, depending on the vagaries of the firm's demands.
At the same time, resource allocation also becomes more efficient, as the elasticity of the model allows an SME to be agile and more responsive to the needs of its business.
Cloud computing also offers geographical scalability, by making collaboration easy. Cloud apps allow employees to use an online word processor to create, share and collaborate on documents such as proposals or sales documents.
Other collaborative cloud apps allow ideas to be shared and discussed online, without having to meet face-to-face. This means many people in different offices can view and work on the same document, cutting down on the time previously spent on the process.
"SMEs can also expect greater gains in flexibility and cost effectiveness by embracing cloud computing services. This is important because your business needs are constantly changing and you need to respond quickly to immediate or unexpected surges of bandwidth, sudden demands in storage or even seasonal spikes in hosting needs and resources," Mr Yong said.
"Your ICT infrastructure must be dynamic because the business environment is constantly in a state of flux."
Seeking out business opportunities
For most firms who have mastered the local terrain, regional expansion is all but inevitable. Given present circumstances, never before has venturing overseas been more pressing.
"SMEs in Singapore face challenging local business conditions, which have been exacerbated in recent years. These challenges range from tight labour supply, high business costs to limited local markets. So, it is essential for SMEs to consider venturing and expanding overseas for longer-term sustainable growth," Mr Yong noted.
If ever there were an archetype for regional expansion, SingTel would be it. The group has a presence in
many countries in the region through its associates - AIS in Thailand, Telkomsel in Indonesia, Globe in the Philippines and Bharti Airtel in India.
These existing connections can be used to help SMEs who are also intent on growing regionally, it believes.
"Expanding throughout Asia-Pacific is particularly challenging due to varying regulations, network integration and support issues between countries. (Therefore) . . . you need a trusted service provider that truly understands the region, can give you the foundation to grow and maintain your vital business links with complete confidence," said Mr Yong.
What makes SingTel a prime candidate for this role is its widespread physical infrastructure of data centres, undersea cables and 24-hour dedicated global helpdesk support.
At the same time, firms whose ICT requirements are more sophisticated have the option of using SingTel's managed hosting and services.
"This ensures that SMEs have robust, reliable communications services to support their regional growth," Mr Yong said.
"Through on-the-ground presence and knowledge of the local regional telco and ICT market, SingTel can pave the way and help SMEs settle their communications needs so that they can hit the ground running," Mr Yong said.