Last updated: 13 March 2023

Published on: 31 March 2022


A man accessing IMDA's Chief Technology Officer-as-a-Service (CTO-as-a-Service) via his laptop
IMDA’s Chief Technology Officer-as-a-Service initiative offers SMEs access to a pool of experienced digital consultants, a one-stop platform packed with easy-to-use resources and a digital assessment to identify relevant solutions.

By Jill Arul

From integrating artificial intelligence to e-invoicing, digitalisation is increasingly becoming a significant part of running a business. In fact, according to a 2020 Microsoft Singapore study, 83 per cent of SMEs have already launched digital transformation strategies. As such, it is clear that Singapore’s businesses are aware of the benefits of going digital.

However, understanding the need for digital solutions is only the first step. Despite implementing digitalisation strategies, many local SMEs continue to face challenges like high costs, resistance from staff, lack of expertise and confusion when choosing from a variety of digital options.

To make digitalisation simple and accessible for local SMEs to go digital, the team at the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) launched the Chief Technology Officer-as-a-Service (CTO-as-a-Service) initiative. CTO-as-a-Service provides quick access to a range of digital solutions through a one-stop platform as well as the option to receive strategy consulting and guidance from a digital transformation consultant.

By identifying SME pain points, gathering resources and designing solutions that would drive digitalisation among Singapore’s SMEs, the SMEs Go Digital team worked tirelessly to ensure that CTO-as-a-Service would be a success. Hear from three members of the team as they share what it takes to help local SME’s address challenges with digital solutions.

From challenges to opportunities

Ms Bowen Li, Mr Nathanael Lee, & Mr Ervin Kwan are from the SMEs Go Digital team & help to drive business growth through CTO-as-a-Service
Ms Bowen Li, Mr Nathanael Lee and Mr Ervin Kwan are dedicated members of the SMEs Go Digital team and have worked in different capacities to drive the growth of local businesses with digital solutions.

One of the most significant issues noticed by the SMEs Go Digital team is that many SMEs do not know where to start or which digital solutions can address their unique needs. To truly understand the pain points of local businesses, the team conducts annual surveys with SMEs to find out more about their digital readiness and challenges they are facing. Such surveys, combined with face-to-face work supporting local SMEs has offered IMDA employees in-depth insights into the difficulties they hope to address.

After spending several hours interviewing SMEs during the conceptualisation phase of the initiative and CTO-as-a-Service workshops, Mr Ervin Kwan, member of the SMEs Go Digital Innovation team, is keenly aware of the challenges that local businesses face. In his role at IMDA, he continues to support SMEs by matching them with tailored solutions.

“Most SMEs are at the lower end of digital maturity and with the current array of digital solutions and capabilities out in the market, they are often confused on what is relevant to them. Even if they shortlisted a few relevant solutions, they might not know what to prioritise. Implementing and integrating the digital solutions into their business process is no easy task.”

Ervin Kwan

Fortunately for SMEs struggling with complicated decisions, IMDA’s CTO-as-a-Service offers expertise as well as access solutions and guidance on implementing industry digital plans. At the heart of the programme, CTO-as-a-Service provides SMEs with the opportunity to tap into a shared pool of digital transformation consultants with extensive tech experience and impressive backgrounds implementing tech solutions in successful companies. Ultimately, these consultants will be an extension of their business as CTO-equivalents.

“In our research, we found that 81 per cent of local SMEs do not have in-house information technology staff with 63 per cent choosing to outsource the function. The lack of dedicated and readily available support can make it difficult for them to digitalise,” explained Ms Li Bowen, member of the SMEs Go Digital team and project manager of CTO-as-a-Service. “We introduced CTO-as-a-Service to address these difficulties by providing SMEs quick access to digitalisation resources and expertise anytime, anywhere.”

Currently in an early phase of the project, Ms Li and her team have already engaged 70 local SMEs across various sectors to be early adopters of CTO-as-a-Service. Additionally, of these early adopters, close to three quarters have signed up for digital advisory services with IMDA’s digital transformation consultants. So far these companies have begun identifying their biggest pain points and implementing the relevant digital solutions to solve it. 

A solution that fits like a glove

Ms Bowen Li, Mr Nathanael Lee and Mr Ervin Kwan are dedicated members of the SMEs Go Digital team
The team continuously improves the initiative by working closely with SMEs and understanding their unique digitalisation challenges.

Another significant part of the programme is the preliminary self-assessment tool that uses the Boston Consulting Group’s Digital Acceleration Index to measure and benchmark an SMEs digital maturity among its peers. To ensure that SMEs maximise the resources and guidance available, the self-assessment offers a robust overview of the company’s digital readiness before they begin implementing solutions.

With an understanding of their digital maturity, companies can maximise the resources and guidance available by tailoring their solutions and plans and choosing the most appropriate digital transformation consultants for their specific needs and industry. These digital consultants will then help the company plan a digitalisation roadmap that can include strategies for upscaling or even overseas expansion.

“All SMEs are at different stages of their digitalisation journeys. It is important to first assess their digital maturity to adopt solutions that best cater to their business needs at different growth stages.”

Nathanael Lee

Similarly, to ensure SMEs are aware of the options available to address their needs, the SMEs Go Digital team also continuously updates IMDA’s sector specific Industry Digital Plans (IDPs). The IDPs provide companies with an overview of easy-to-use guides on digital options they can adopt within their different industries.

“For example, one of the sectors I oversee is the early childhood sector,” shared Mr Lee. “It was interesting to see how tailored digitalisation played a part in preschool education from the daily routines of checking in for contact tracing to the facilitation of lessons.”

Designed to work in tandem with IDPs, CTO-as-a-Service takes customisation a step further, catering to the differences between each individual company as well as sector.

“We have CTO-as-a-Service to enable individual companies to assess their digital readiness and discover suitable solutions that address their specific needs through a one-stop platform.”

Li Bowen

CTO-as-a-Service was designed to support local SMEs as they embark on their digitalisation journeys. Equipped with tailored tools and guidance, SMEs can harness the power of technology with ease to drive Singapore’s digital economy.

Going digital with your business? CTO-as-a-Service offers quick access to resources and expertise for digitalisation!