Navigating the era of disruption
29 September 2016

In his National Day Rally, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong pinpointed technological disruption as a key issue SMEs face today.

According to PM Lee, “the defining challenge which we face in this era is disruption. Things are changing fast, old models are not working, new models are coming thick and fast and we are having to adjust and to keep up.” 1

SPRING Singapore underlines three of the major disruptive forces that affect SMEs: Innovation, technologies and workforce evolution2.


Rapidly changing technologies are constantly improving and changing the way tasks are accomplished. For instance, successful local app Carousell is a platform that lets users sell their second-hand items directly to other consumers, rendering thrift stores redundant.


Innovation helps create new opportunities and markets. The best innovation is not only about thinking outside the box, but helps provide solutions to gaps and shortcomings in the existing market. In 2012, Spotify was labelled “The next step in digital innovation” because of its unique ability to allow listeners to pick and customise the list of songs they want to listen to, as well as log in and share their preferences on social media.


The lesser known aspect of disruption is workforce evolution, which refers to the change in expectations of a flexible workspace or shift towards work mobile tools. More companies are giving employees the option to telecommute or work from home for more work-life flexibility. If you’re looking to empower your mobile workforce, consider the unified StarHub SmartUC hosted communications solution that lets your team enjoy seamless communications, whether they are on the go or at work.


The combination of these 3 factors have led to a rapid and massive change in every industry and work sector.


To stay ahead, many businesses are integrating these factors into their own operations, but that might not be enough. Here are 3 other ways to ensure that your business stays competitive in a harsh business environment:

Update your business model
“The source of many new disruptive markets is the sharing economy model.”

Although companies like Grab and local car-pooling app Ryde do not possess resources of their own, they profit from merely providing a platform connecting people with demand, with people who supply.


Given the promise these new platforms hold, your business’s best option is to embrace the change and tap into such platforms, harnessing their expansive potential. You can take your cue from established enterprises like Zalora which keeps up to date with the latest technological trends. The regional success optimises the customer experience by using their individual surfing history to recommend them similar products. Their mobile application is also touted for its usability, which simplifies shopping on Zalora, whether it is on desktop or on a mobile device.


Many businesses are also tapping into the mobile trend through apps like, which allow F&B diners to reserve spots at their respective outlets. Working with such applications could help facilitate business management on your end, and make enjoying your goods and services easier for your consumer base. 

Harness the Internet of Things (IoT)

Taking the IoT concept to its height, Forbes’ Murray Newlands declares that 2017 is when “The Internet of Everything” begins3. More commonly known as the Internet of Things, this recent development combines everyday objects with web accessed-information for increased functionality. Current IoT objects that have become integrated into our daily lives include GPS technology. With one touch of a button, people can do anything from plan their driving routes, to manage home security and track their fitness levels.

Small businesses can harness the IoT to offer a more interactive, seamless experience for customers. For example, with location-based information, a retail business could suggest their nearest outlet for customers to visit, or offer discounts and vouchers based on the number of mobile purchases made. With this new interactive form of technology, the sky is the limit.

Consider open innovation
“Look beyond your own business capabilities to stay competitive.”

Open innovation means reaching beyond your company to create new and innovative projects. This involves working with other businesses and external talent to expand your resources and capabilities. Everyone from Google, to local science and technology organisation A*STAR are jumping on board the Open Innovation wagon. Just this month, A*STAR launched its open innovation lab A*START Central, aimed at fostering growth within the medtech and biotech sectors.


Businesses not in the med and biotech industries still have plenty of local opportunities to collaborate and co-innovate. Events like the recent TechInnovation provides a platform for businesses to learn more about Open Innovation, and network with like-minded businesses they could consider partnering up with.


If possible, consider working with up-and-coming businesses or budding entrepreneurs. What they may lack in experience they make up for in ideas. They are also more likely to be informed of the latest trends, and could even play a part in shaping them.


Adding a positive note, PM Lee rounded off his speech with the hope that moving forward, Singapore will adopt an even more motivated attitude: 

“Always dissatisfied with where we are, always driven to do better."

Businesses can apply this perspective to their own organisation, continuously striving to improve and exceed expectations. This drive will organically bring about the innovation needed to stay ahead of the game.


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