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Upping productivity is top focus for SMEs this year: Survey

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Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Singapore will focus on boosting productivity as they grapple with a mixed business outlook this year, according to a survey by United Overseas Bank.

Of the 615 SMEs surveyed, 51 per cent said implementing productivity measures is a top priority. Other top priorities included reducing costs (43 per cent) and developing new sources of revenue (42 per cent).

One way that SMEs are planning to achieve their productivity goals is to increase investments in technology, which not only helps efficiency but also enhances long-term competitiveness, said Mr Mervyn Koh, UOB's managing director and country head of business banking, Singapore.

The survey found that 65 per cent of SMEs are already using digital solutions in at least one area of their business. Processes that have been digitalised include accounting (46 per cent), payroll (45 per cent) and marketing (38 per cent).

Looking ahead, SMEs said the top three areas where digital solutions will be implemented are expense management (24 per cent), customer relationship management (24 per cent) and sales (23 per cent).

About 88 per cent of them also plan to increase their use of electronic payments this year.

Another area of importance for SMEs is sustainability, with 59 per cent looking at how to improve sustainability of their business operations. Those in the business services, infocommunications and technology, and transport and logistics sectors give it a higher priority.

Business outlook this year varied among the companies, with 46 per cent saying they hold a positive outlook, 31 per cent negative and the remaining 23 per centneutral.

Their top concerns are the continued slowdown in global demand (23 per cent), the impact of ongoing US-China trade tensions (18 per cent) and the strengthening of the Singapore dollar (17 per cent), which SMEs worry will impact their competitiveness.

The survey, conducted in late November last year, polled 615 local SMEs with revenue less than $100 million. - THE STRAITS TIMES