The Innovative Edge

21 November 2014, The Business Times

These innovative SMEs share their strategies for boosting productivity at their organisations.

Roundtable participants:
■ Ang, Consultant and CEO, Modem Kitchen Supply;
■ Kelvin Lim Loon Huat, Managing director, Yam Kee Fei Fei Noodle House;
■ Adrian Ang, Director, That's Innovative;
■ Shawn Tan Yeow Siong, CEO, MORE Property

Question: What are some of the productivity initiatives at your company?

Tony Ang: Being productive is one of the biggest assets in every organisation. In our company, we strongly believe in constantly upgrading our skills and knowledge in order to per-form with efficacy. We are well equipped with the latest technology to speed up our work and provide smooth communication among our people and clients. With a team of internal traffic control specialists, deadlines are met with unsurpassed quality on our daily workflow.

Kelvin Lim Loon Huat: We leverage products such as the central kitchen and steamer air-purifier system in the workplace. We also invest 'in a good point of sale (POS) system and a customer-relationship management (CRM) website. For our staff, we plan staggered rest periods and ensure they don their safety shoes to minimise any possible risks. An added benefit of the shoes is that employees are able to move around the kitchen faster.

Adrian Ang: As a service-based business, customer service quality and satisfaction are our utmost priorities. Our company’s policy is to respond to any enquiries promptly within 24 hours. We are efficient in our delivery as we take the initiative to call our clients to find out about their mission, objective and needs of their events. We do our preparative work before meetings to help both parties save time. Our clients also find it more effective to work with us because we guide them through our in-house project management templates to help them stay focused. This allows us to define their true requirements, help them save costs, and manage their project budgets better.

Shawn Tan: A digitised workflow streamlines our property consultants’ workflow to process documents from property agents. We launched our apps to access projects information and presentations, share industry and company news, and provide a platform to encourage discussions and crowdsourcing. MORE also has a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system to provide support for the backend office, so that all data and information can be easily accessed remotely around the clock. We are now adding a cloud storage service provided by one of our partners who owns EWO Labs, a cloud service facility. Internal communications is another area where the company has leveraged on IT. The real estate agency makes use of social networking plat-forms such as Facebook, Twitter and Linkedln. Clients and salespersons also enjoy the convenience of dropping payments and cheques into our quick cheque deposit facility 24/7.

Question: What have been the benefits of these initiatives?

Tony Ang: Our productivity initiatives provide work-life balance for every individual in our organisation. Our work is well planned, and our people are knowledgeable and skilful, thus we are able to reduce overtime and wastage. Our employees are able to leave work on time and enjoy a heart-warming dinner with their loved ones.

Lim: Our central kitchen allows mass production of food in a shorter period of time and is able to cater to the demands from three stalls. As the company aims to expand to 30 outlets by 2016, in shopping centres locally and in Malaysia, our central kitchen is able to support the franchising demands. The automation system also helps reduce the increasing manpower required at each new outlet set up. The steamer air-purifier recycles air throughout the entire hawker centre, while drawing out water in the air. The water drawn can be recycled for washing or cleaning. Our POS System speeds up the flow of our order system, saving time and effort. In turn, our customers are able to receive their orders more quickly. Meanwhile, the CRM website helps to improve our relationships with our customers and helps us build a reputable business.

Adrian Ang: Our project managers are trained to always try to understand our clients' needs better. The project delivery quality is consistently maintained at an excellent standard. The overall customer experience with us is thus always enhanced. To date we have many regular clients coming back to us every year for their family days, team building, dinner and dances as well as launch events.

Shawn Tan: Improving the way we handle administrative tasks and paperwork has helped our company cut down man-power requirements by at least half. All these innovation and productivity initiatives are definitely critical in our commitment to provide relevant insights to meet the expectations of today's changing customers. Furthermore, the use of a centralised data storage that is remotely accessible has made the retrieval of documents and other data more efficient. We strive to continually improve the standards of the company and all these steps are key enablers for our business growth.

Question: What are the challenges in implementing productivity projects and how were they overcome?

Tony Ang: People are often resistant to change. We are very blessed to have good working relationships be-tween employer and employees. Our people are very adaptable to the new changes. To appreciate their support and trust in us, we reward them whenever necessary.

Lim: We experienced no major challenges in setting up these assets and machines with the aim of improving productivity.

Adrian Ang: We allow first time mistakes from our staff, but do not allow repetition of the same mistakes. In such cases, we will review and revise the workflows accordingly. We are constantly improving on our management systems and work flows. Implementing a system is easy, the challenge is to train the staff to perform the tasks efficiently and effectively. We invest a substantial amount of time, money and effort to train our staff to ensure that they attain a good level of competency. One of our successful methods is a "hand-holding" system where senior staff will coach junior staff until they are ready to work on their own. Our senior staff will help to oversee their projects so as to share their experiences and ensure that mistakes are minimised.

Shawn Tan: Time constraints and costs are the main challenges in implementing productivity projects. First, we have to ensure the developers understand the operations flow of our business. From my experience, the real estate business does have a certain unique complexity. It is a cross between a multi-level marketing business, a franchise, and retail. These complexities make it difficult to implement a straightforward system. Thus our systems take a longer time to be built. In view of the complexity of this model, the development cost is much higher than an off-the-shelf CRM solution. The development cost was exceptionally high but we were able to adapt and meet our deadlines. We have also made full use of the government PIC grant and the two years' claim period have enabled us to continue upgrading the system to meet higher standards and rising competitiveness.

Question: How do you foster a culture of innovation at the workplace?

Tony Ang: Today, we live in a world where technology and innovation are commonplace. Inculcating innovation among our people is not a difficult task as they are already very savvy. They are fully aware that technology can help them advance in their careers and improve productivity. Thus, fostering a culture of innovation is about making work more exciting. Our people are dynamic and innovative. They are constantly looking for opportunities to share their new ideas. To feed their eagerness, we have fortnightly meetings to hear their ide-as, and to grow and improve our business and work environment.

Lim: We provide incentives for staff if they are able to come up with creative • and unique ideas to assist the business. We also engaged consultants to look into new ways of enhancing the business. These consultants had introduced us to the steamer air-purifier that we have implemented success-fully.

Adrian Ang: I encourage our team to embrace a quote from Jim Rohn, a well-known business philosopher: "Work harder on yourself than you do on your job". As leaders, we have to set good examples by constantly improving our-selves. To ensure continuous learning and self-development, we engage a business coach to push us to our fullest potential. .

Shawn Tan: The shift from traditional retail to alternative platforms has forced the company and its salespersons to upgrade themselves in order to stay relevant in the market place. The company has taken the lead in this transition by operating through multiple channels such as our MORE Property apps and the consultant services system. We give out incentives whenever MORE officers utilise these new plat-forms. Regular campaigns and encouragement have helped them shift most of their activities to social media sites and online property portals such as PropertyGuru and SRX.

"The shift from traditional retail to alternative platforms has forced the company and its salespersons to upgrade to stay relevant in the market place."
~ Shawn Tan