If “necessity is the mother of invention”, the COVID-19 pandemic has perhaps forced organisations across the world to rethink how they operate and function daily, and in doing so, accelerate transformation using digital technologies.
In Singapore, the importance of digital transformation for efficient operations has been emphasised for several years. Since 2010, the Singapore Government has been urging local companies, including small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), to transform their businesses to stay relevant and competitive.
The Government’s Start Digital scheme, for instance, allows new SMEs to take up two digital solutions that run for at least 18 months, with the Government bearing the costs for a minimum of six months. This scheme has been taken up by more than 4,000 SMEs as of mid-2019.
With travel restrictions, business closures apart from essential services, and strict social distancing measures in place to limit the spread of the coronavirus, companies with the relevant digital tools in place have found them to be effective in helping to maintain some semblance of normality.
Dental Focus Continues to Deliver Essential Services During Disruptive Times
Dental Focus, a network of 18 dental clinics that provides diverse and accessible dental care throughout Singapore, is one such example. Having previously acted on its mission to deliver affordable patient-centric services using technology, the SME finds itself better equipped to help individuals with urgent or emergency dental procedures, such as root canal treatments, during this time.
While the Dental Focus Group was only established quite recently, its founding members have been in the industry since 1984. In the months prior, Dental Focus had acquired new clinics throughout Singapore, and its members quickly found that the disparate systems and processes across its network were functioning inefficiently.
For example, Dental Focus lacked visibility over its entire inventory, which meant it could not accurately track inbound and outbound shipments, item location and stock levels. Financial and customer data was also keyed in and tracked manually using spreadsheets, which was time consuming and often resulted in duplicate work.
Back then, Dental Focus recognised that essential treatment for patients could be more efficiently arranged if a system was in place to track which clinics experience more frequent patient visits – by having a single view of all the payments made at clinics across its network. It also recognised that having an accounting software system to automate data entry and consolidate financial information would provide a single view on revenue, profits and cashflow at any point in time so it could plan for and make optimal purchasing decisions as and when required.
Lastly, the presence of inventory management software could mean more dental equipment or medicine supplies being pre-emptively ordered for clinics with more visits, or under-utilised resources from other parts of the network being proactively redeployed. When there is a need to optimise operational costs, inventory management software helps to avoid a situation where additional supplies are urgently purchased to meet patient needs or that treatment is delayed due to supply chain disruptions, only to realise that the same supplies already existed somewhere else in the local network.
To put all these necessary processes in place, Dental Focus engaged Axxis Consulting, an IT and management consulting firm, to identify the main requirements for an integrated cloud enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution. Based on the clearly defined scope of work, Axxis Consulting was able to provide Dental Focus with a fixed price project cost that included all the critical features required.
Fast-Tracking Digital Transformation During COVID-19
SMEs in other sectors are no doubt experiencing the same pain points previously faced by Dental Focus – inefficiency, effective decision-making hampered by the lack of business insight and oversight, and the lack of flexibility to respond under fluid circumstances.
While a focus should no doubt be retained on meeting immediate or day-to-day business needs during this time, companies that can find the capacity and resources to rethink their business models and fast track digital transformation to keep going could also very well find themselves ahead of their competition and set up for growth when the COVID-19 situation subsides.
Recognising this, major financial institutions, educational institutions and the Singapore Government are stepping up even more to support SMEs’ digital transformation efforts.
DBS Bank, for example, has doubled the quantum of its digital business loan for SMEs to SG$200,000, to give firms access to more substantial working capital.
As another example, Beyond Lab, an academy to equip SME business leaders and their workforce with the relevant skills and knowledge for digital transformation in areas like streamlining financial processes, was launched in March 2020. Beyond Lab is a collaboration between the Singapore Business Federation and V3 Fintech, the financial technologies arm of lifestyle products group V3.
With estimated fees ranging from SG$50 to SG$1,900 per participant after subsidies, courses for the academy will be jointly developed by the Singapore Management University (SMU) Academy and Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s CET Academy for lifelong learning, with consultancy Ernst & Young Advisory (EY) providing input on content and curriculum development.
At the same time, Singapore’s SME Go Digital program has been expanded to include funding support for the adoption of online collaboration tools, virtual meeting and telephony tools, queue management systems and temperature screening solutions, as well as integrated B2B systems to facilitate end-to-end transactions between buyers and sellers.
The latter, by covering e-procurement, e-invoicing, e-payments and inventory management, aims to help businesses adopt technology like cloud-based accounting software and ERP software to transition from paper transactions to electronic transactions.
Many established technology vendors are also offering free software during this period to help businesses with issues like supply chain disruptions and implementing a remote workforce.
Dental Focus’ Cloud ERP and Accounting Software Implementation
In 2019, based on Dental Focus’ requirements, the team at Axxis Consulting determined that SAP Business One was the right fit. SAP Business One’s finance and inventory modules were able to meet Dental Focus’ objectives of streamlining operations, consolidating financial processes, and cutting down on time consuming, redundant activities.
The software was successfully deployed within two months. Since going live, Dental Focus has already experienced significant benefits. The SAP Business One finance module provides Dental Focus with a complete set of tools to help manage and streamline their financial operations. The Group can now manage cash flow and financial statements to see where they stand at a moment’s notice, as well as the visibility and real-time insights needed to make informed decisions.
With SAP’s inventory and distribution module, Dental Focus can now also access accurate information regarding inbound and outbound shipments, inventory, and item location, as well as value inventory using standard costing, moving average, First In, First Out (FIFO), and other methods. The monitoring of stock levels, management of pricing and the tracking of item transfers can now be done in real-time.
Most of the software implementation was done offsite, minimising the disruption of Dental Focus’s day-to-day activities. To ensure users were sufficiently trained before the system went live, workshops were also scheduled to familiarise them with the software and verify that all business requirements were met.
During a period where back-office staff are working from home, cloud ERP software allows them to stay safe and yet continue to remotely manage a company’s day-to-day finances and stock flow.
Following the implementation of SAP Business One across its 18 clinics, as a next step, the Group has plans to integrate the software with their in-house clinic system, thereby allowing them to further consolidate information, streamline business processes and simplify their IT landscape.
Digital Transformation During COVID-19: Enforced Change or Silver Lining?
Dental Focus’ forward-thinking and patient-focused approach to digital transformation has allowed it to continue fulfilling its role as an essential service provider. While the COVID-19 situation has rightfully shifted the healthcare sector’s focus toward being at the frontlines of fighting the coronavirus, there will still be a need to treat individuals with acute dental emergencies, of which, early management would avert hospital admissions.
For years, digital transformation has seemed like something mostly about computers and software and data. It is what companies undertake for the sake of keeping up with ‘buzz phrases’ like “IT agility”, “deriving new value from data”, “model software prototypes of physical goods”, or “improving business processes”. While such endeavours are often critical to a business, Dental Focus is perhaps one example of how digital transformation is, at its core, about serving people better.
Perhaps the silver lining for businesses in the age of COVID-19, is that enforced change can be positive – for employees, partners, and end-customers, and it might just teach us a few lessons for how we should think about technology and work, now and in the future.