Maximising the potential of human resources, technology and globalisation can enable Singapore to add market value that will spur growth, said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

He told a conference yesterday that Singapore has the ability to expand, noting that enterprises can take advantage of opportunities in the medium and long term.

DPM Tharman, who was speaking at the opening of a two-day conference on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), outlined three new approaches the Government is adopting to strengthen the Technology Adoption Programme.

The Government will cultivate innovation through increased coordination by reaching out to tap private sector systems integrators to help firms identify their technology needs.

"We will work with SMEs to aggregate their demands, and then work with research institutions to translate their solutions in a way that is relevant to the SMEs," said Mr Tharman, who is also the Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies.

"Second, we will broaden the supply of new solutions and technologies in the private sector, customise and simplify it, and match it to SMEs.

"Third, we will look at sector by sector in our Industry Transformation Programme by working with trade associations, chambers of commerce, trade unions, universities and companies to bring together efforts in innovation, productivity, automation and skills development to help companies in over 20 sectors."

While the Government is deepening its role to assist enterprises, particularly SMEs, to foster innovation, Mr Tharman said he is pleased to see banks lending support through loans.

"Fortunately, so far, despite the slowdown, lending to enterprises in Singapore has remained quite healthy. We have not seen a sharp reduction in lending. If I compare it to the global financial crisis, this time round the banks are by and large continuing to lend.

Investing in capabilities for the long term

"I hope the banks continue to take a medium- to long-term view of viable enterprises. It's important for our economy, it's important for the enterprises."

He noted that SMEs are mindful of cash flow, especially during a slowdown where there is a gap between payments to suppliers and receiving payments from customers.

"It is during difficult times that innovations arise. Difficult times are when we invest in capabilities for the long term, and the banks too must take this attitude," said Mr Tharman.

Mr Ron Sim, founder, chairman and chief executive of Osim International, said firms need to "adapt, adjust, apply and innovate to survive" in today's digital world.

"We have to continue to take the lead in whatever we do, to be the first, to be quick," said Mr Sim. "We need to create demand versus supplying what the market needs. You can determine how much you want to sell and create the value and volume that you can capitalise on with the digital platform."

The two-day conference at the Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre was organised by the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry.