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Finding the silver lining during COVID-19

Finding the silver lining during COVID-19

Learn about how Ms Olivia Sulaeman, CEO of Auntie Anne’s Singapore, finally found the time to map out the company’s digitalisation plan during the circuit breaker last year.

While many food businesses felt the financial pain of shutting down during the early days of Singapore’s COVID-19 circuit breaker, Ms Olivia Sulaeman from Chrisna Jenio—master franchisee of pretzel purveyor Auntie Anne’s—had reason to feel grateful. After all, it was during this period that Ms Sulaeman, whose parents own Chrisna Jenio, finally had the opportunity to break away from the mountain of office administrative tasks.

“There were many bottlenecks in our processes. For example, we were still using paper punch cards and manually entering the work hours of staff to compute payroll. And we couldn’t see sales trends from our point-of-sales system back then,” she said. The tedious data entry required for accounting and human resource matters constantly strained Ms Sulaeman, who split these duties with three other staff members.

All systems go

When the circuit breaker forced all of Auntie Anne’s seven outlets across the Republic to close for two months, it was go-time for Ms Sulaeman to make her digital ambitions a reality.

Ms Sulaeman contacted the SME Digital Tech Hub set up by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) and was promptly assigned a principal consultant who helped her to define priorities, draw up a digitalisation road map and link her to several solution providers.

We would not have been able to start our digitalisation journey so quickly without the help of the SME Digital Tech Hub.

Ms Olivia Sulaeman

CEO of Auntie Anne’s Singapore

Happier staff and improved workflows are some of the first benefits that Chrisna Jenio has seen since adopting digital solutions for their business.

After two weeks of Zoom calls with multiple solution providers and poring over a spreadsheet she had made on each solution’s pros and cons, Ms Sulaeman made her final picks for overhauling her point-of-sale, accounting, payroll and e-commerce systems.

She defrayed the costs with the Productivity Solutions Grant which co-funds the cost of digital solutions pre-approved by IMDA. The company also received the SMEs Go Digital programme’s Digital Resilience Bonus of S$2,500 for taking up a qualified online food delivery solution and registering for PayNow Corporate and InvoiceNow.

Happier staff, fewer errors

So far, one of the most impactful solutions that has been implemented at Auntie Anne’s is SMEPayroll, which helps simplify human resources and payroll matters. Staff can clock their hours, apply for leave, make medical claims and review their pay slip in one simple application.

The solution also eradicates discrepancies in billable work hours and lag time from double- and triple-checking for errors in a manually created excel sheet every month. Meanwhile, the complementary accounting system Xero helps eliminate manual reconciliations and provides immediate profit and loss reporting for outlets and the business in general.

Before this, some staff felt uncomfortable requesting for claims from their big boss in the office. Now, we don’t need to have an offline conversation every time someone needs to apply for leave.

Ms Olivia Sulaeman

CEO of Auntie Anne’s Singapore

Ms Sulaeman estimates that these solutions have helped the team enjoy a 70 percent reduction in man hours spent on manual tasks. The time is now spent on cost analysis, growth forecasts and troubleshooting issues faced at outlets based on the data received, she added.

Meanwhile, Auntie Anne’s new cloud-based point-of-sales (POS) and inventory management system has allowed the team to instantly post updates on promotions like limited time offerings. It also provides an audit trail for transactions; unlike before, when the team had to print every single receipt for audit purposes. 

The final item on Ms Sulaeman’s checklist is Auntie Anne’s new and improved e-commerce website, which is in the final stages of user testing. While they are already on a couple of online food delivery platforms, having their own ordering platform allows the brand to deliver island-wide from all of their outlets at a lower cost to customers. Together with Auntie Anne’s refreshed customer relationship management solution, the improved e-commerce site is expected to generate more earnings in the long run.

To new beginnings

“I’m just super relieved!” shared Ms Sulaeman about finally having a seamless, more automated workflow. Other than the ordering portal, the solutions were implemented speedily within three months of the first meeting with the SME Digital Tech Hub’s principal consultant.

Her next goals are to further integrate Xero, SMEPayroll and their POS system to save much more time and increase accuracy. More specifically, sales transactions from the POS system and accounts of salaries and claims in SMEPayroll will soon be automatically captured in Xero.

While the business is still in the infancy stages of digitalisation, Ms Sulaeman has picked up a wealth of knowledge from her experience so far. For fellow business owners on the digital road, she has only pragmatic advice.

Focus on the problems you need to solve. Always keep in mind that each software has its own limitation so make sure the solution is suitable for your business needs.

Ms Olivia Sulaeman

CEO of Auntie Anne’s Singapore

About SMEs Go Digital Programme

The SMEs Go Digital programme aims to make going digital simple for SMEs.

Under the programme, SMEs can receive up to 80% funding support from the Productivity Solutions Grant (PSG) if they adopt pre-approved digital solutions to take their businesses to the next level. There are pre-approved solutions for a range of sectors, including environmental services, food services, retail, security, wholesale trade and logistics.

IMDA will also roll out a new Chief Technology Officer-as-a-Service (CTOaaS) initiative under SMEs Go Digital later this year, to help SMEs identify and access resources they need to digitally transform. It will include quick access to digitalisation resources via a web application and a shared pool of skilled CTOs for SMEs that need more in-depth digital advisory.

Visit the SMEs Go Digital programme webpage for more information today. Subscribe to the SMEs Go Digital Telegram channel at for updates on new resources and support available.

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