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Agility essential in the digital economy

I refer to the article "IT firms and the joy of 'flex'" (The New Paper, Jan 29). Indeed, in this new age of the digital economy and unprecedented technological evolution, companies can no longer use traditional business models.

Technological trends such as social media, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, mobile and data security are changing the way companies operate, so they must adopt an agile approach by way of flexible IT staffing, assembled as required.

Our Government has had the foresight to emphasise digital technology and set the vision for Singapore to be a smart nation, adopting infocomm, IT networks and big data for tech-enabled solutions that provide a seamless experience for us to work, live, play and interact.

The SME Go Digital initiative was announced during Budget 2017 to help small and medium-sized enterprises develop digital capabilities in the fast evolving digital economy.

But a significant part of our workforce is inevitably left behind and out of sync with the fast-paced development in technology. While almost every aspect of a business requires computer knowledge, not every employee is sufficiently savvy to deal with and maximise the use of technology. Consequently, many companies continue to suffer from inefficiency and low productivity.

The current reality is that all corporations and businesses will have to invest in technology and appropriate IT support to increase productivity and reduce operating costs.

And not all chief executive officers or chief financial officers are sufficiently savvy to know where to start and how to go about it.

Not all companies, particularly SMEs, would have a full-time chief information officer to drive these initiatives. Without strong IT support, knowledge and suitably trained users, the best technology would be underutilised.

So, would the solution be to recruit permanent IT personnel to deal with the situation? If so, how many would have to be recruited to adequately deal with the various aspects of technology?

An alternative solution to address the critical skills gap that companies have been struggling with is a non-traditional form of outsourcing known as knowledge process outsourcing (KPO), a model yet to be fully embraced by Singapore companies but commonplace in Europe, the United States and India.

KPO is similar to traditional outsourcing but involves non-routine functions such as IT project management and where there is a demand for specialised, knowledge-based work by domain experts.

KPO entails a more customised approach based on each company's business requirements and challenges rather than the traditional cookie-cutter approach.

Companies can benefit from KPO to tap on a large number of specialised technical experts with diverse skill sets. This allows companies to gain superior quality outsourced services cost-effectively.

Though many Singapore companies are starting to see the advantages of this model, most of them still turn inwards, towards their existing full-time IT staff or individual contract staff, with or without the appropriate and complete skill-set to develop IT capabilities, to help drive innovation in new technologies and scale the business.

The future for our IT workforce is looking positive, as technology continues to permeate all areas of our lives. But for Singapore companies to stay relevant and stay ahead of the global competition, having an agile workforce is the way forward.

Companies would have to recognise that relying on permanent IT staff or contract personnel with a less diverse skill set cannot be the solution.

With more complexities brought about by emerging digital technologies and economic transformation, the need for KPO is likely to increase.

PATRICK NG

BUSINESS & FINANCE