Transformation through Collaboration – the Key to Increased Productivity  

Singapore – 7 October marked the launch of National Productivity Month (NPM) in Singapore. This national-level initiative provides a unique platform for industry and government to showcase ideas, celebrate best practices and share perspectives on how productivity can be improved.

Co-organised by the Singapore Business Federation (SBF) and the Singapore National Employers’ Federation (SNEF), the launch event at Suntec Convention & Exhibition Centre brought together 800 delegates from a diverse range of industries and sectors.

Opening the event, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong highlighted that rising costs and a tightening labour market are the key challenges for businesses in Singapore. Resource limitations and a mature economy add to the concerns. Productivity is therefore critical, now than more than any time in history.

Acknowledging that an increase in productivity requires collective inputs and efforts, PM Lee called for a collective shift in mindset by business owners and industry promoters. In order to achieve higher sustainable productivity, he stressed that all players should jointly embrace innovative ways of doing business and solving problems.
“Productivity is a long haul, a marathon without a finish line, but so long as we have confidence and keep working at it together, we will stay in the race and ahead in the race,” he concluded.

Echoing the spirit of working together to increase productivity, the food and beverage industry hosted a special panel session that focussed on the positive power of collaboration. Entitled, “Industry Transformation: Leveraging Industry Platforms for Sector Transformation”, the discussion was moderated by Ms Bev Postma, Executive Director of FIA and included four distinguished leaders with extensive experience in public and private sector collaboration.

Ms Postma opened the discussion by highlighting that each player – companies, industry associations, government agencies and consumers – has a significant role in tackling challenges. Collaboration between these players will heighten effectiveness and efficiency in problem solving.

Mr Ted Tan, Deputy Chief Executive of SPRING Singapore described the rationale behind the Government’s initiative on Collaborative Industry Projects (CIP), which is to create positive outcomes out of successful partnerships for the purpose of providing the scale and conditions that individual firms struggle with.

“Co-creating collaborative opportunities in the food industry can bring about win-win outcomes and significant productivity improvements. Forward-looking food companies take the initiative to collaborate across the value chain and look to each other as potential partners, rather than as competitors. The success of our industry transformation depends on the mindset of business leaders and workforce, as we strive towards strengthening the culture of collaboration amongst our food companies. We have seen good progress through various projects. As the enterprise development agency, SPRING will continue to support collaborative efforts between SMEs, large organisations and technology providers, to enable the food industry to improve productivity, stay competitive and achieve sustainable growth.”

Mr Tan also highlighted a number of successful collaborations including a project thatassists restaurants to outsource non-core food item preparation. This has enabled restaurant owners to focus on their key business processes, reduce their manpower need and increase productivity, while at the same time creating more business activities for food manufacturers.

Deputy President Designate of the Singapore Manufacturing Federation (SMF), Sunny Koh emphasised the critical importance of transformative business thinking. He explained that collaboration is a key enabler for transformation and is particularly valuable for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). There are many platforms that facilitate the process of collaboration but companies must actively seek out these opportunities in order to achieve success.

All panellists agreed that transforming business through partnerships is most evident in the adoption of technology. Use of technology in innovation and data collection is crucial to boosting productivity. When asked why SMEs have not been fast and active in applying new technologies to improve productivity, Mr Andrew Khoo, Honorary Secretary of the Restaurant Association of Singapore, explained that being an early adopter of new technology could be very costly for a small organisation. There are costs involved in set up and research. The solution to addressing this barrier lies once again in collaboration and co-created solutions.

“There are available schemes and plans offered by government agencies or in collaboration with other companies to invite small & medium businesses to try new technologies in a partnership model. The cost can then be offset amongst the participants, rather than being shouldered solely by one business.”

In fact, the Restaurant Association of Singapore (RAS) has worked with Unilever Food Solutions to launch a programme that aims to provide chefs, managers and restaurant owners with knowledge and tools to achieve greater kitchen efficiency, customer satisfaction and hence business profitability.

The role of innovation is vital to boosting productivity. While it is a challenge for SMEs to invest heavily in R&D, collaborative initiatives in R&D to solve complex business problems is the way forward. For food manufacturers and restaurateurs, developing innovative product and services through collaboration is becoming an increasingly achievable possibility. SMF has partnered with the Food Innovation and Resource Centre (FIRC) at Singapore Polytechnic exploring how to extend shelf life without compromise on quality. The partnership aims to create multiple possible pathways for food enterprises to bring new technology into their business.

At the end of the day, increase in productivity requires transformation – a fundamental change in the ways of working. While transformation may involve risks, collaboration among industry players or between industries provides more opportunities than risks.

On his closing note to the panel discussion, Mr Ted Tan echoed a proverb used multiple times throughout the panel discussion, “If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together.” Through collaboration, companies will be able to create a powerful synergies by being greater than the sum of their parts and work towards win-win solutions that work for everyone.

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