In recent months, the government has stepped up efforts to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) digitalise processes by adopting the latest technologies in business management and accounting. To learn more about the government’s plans to help companies adapt to the digital economy, Khmer Times’ Sok Chan speaks to His Excellency Kan Channmeta, Secretary of State at the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications.
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KT: Tell us about the most important programmes and initiatives that your ministry has put in place to support tech startups and SMEs.
H.E. Channmeta: Based on talks we had with companies during the recent workshops we’ve been holding, we know that one of the areas in which SMEs struggle the most is paying taxes. To address this, the Ministry of Economy and Finance and the General Department of Taxation have been working together to create a policy framework to support and guide SMEs in tax-related issues.
Likewise, the Ministry of Industry is planning a tech startup and SME centre that will be built within ministry grounds. As of right now, we are waiting for the government to green-light the project. Our vision is to build a 14-floor building near the ministry. Three of those floors will be dedicated to SME development, and will have, among other facilities, an incubator, an accelerator and a co-working space.
We are also shifting the emphasis towards developing good mentorship. We believe that one of the keys to success is having good guidance, and this is often hard to find in the Kingdom, which is one of the reasons many tech startups go bust. With the support of academics, NGOs, and established tech firms, we are working on a mentorship programme that will enhance young entrepreneurs’ access to good guidance.
A cornerstone of our efforts is our entrepreneurship programme. In cooperation with other ministries, as well as the Young Entrepreneurs Association of Cambodia and other institutions, we aim to promote entrepreneurship in the Kingdom by teaching entrepreneurial skills at universities. Some of the universities included in the programme so far include the National Institute of Posts, Telecoms and ICT and the National University of Management. The goal is to help aspiring entrepreneurs understand the risks of starting a company, identify opportunities, assess challenges and learn to approach them.
KT: What ministries and agencies are involved in this push for digitalisation, and how long has it been going on?
H.E. Channmeta: We started in November 2017. Some of the agencies and ministries involved in creating the framework are the ministries of economy and finance, of industry and handicraft, commerce, education, and labour and vocational training, as well as a number of institutions in the private sector.
Our first forum on the subject was held in December last year. It was a workshop on startups and micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, or MSMEs. We chose to focus on these because we believe that tech startups and MSMEs complement each other.
In February this year, we held another workshop called ‘Startup Policy Hack’. After the event, we went around the city visiting tech startups in different co-working spaces. The aim was to hear directly from them what their concerns are, what are their needs and challenges, and how they believe we can help them.
At the beginning of May, we conducted yet another workshop, this one dubbed ‘Tech-Startups and MSMEs Go Digital’. We brought together MSMEs and new tech startups, and we discussed, among other topics, broadband internet and big data, which we know are essential for the success of any tech business in the world.
Later that month, we held one last workshop, which we titled ‘Digital Transformation Workshop: Leveraging the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, Big Data and Cloud Computing. With the advent of broadband internet, demand for services like big data and AI is going to increase remarkably. Our objective with this workshop was to guide Cambodian companies when it comes to producing and providing these services.
KT: Besides workshops, what other actions has your ministry taken, particularly at policy level?
H.E. Channmeta: At the policy level, we are focusing on three priority areas: the promotion of young talent; research, development and innovation; and, finally, the creation of infrastructure and the development of an ecosystem. The goal is to create a sound policy framework that will help us boost the startup and SME sector.
We have also taken some concrete steps when it comes to infrastructure, particularly with the groundbreaking in March of an innovation centre at the National Institute of Posts, Telecoms and ICT. There are many other initiatives and policies, but these are the main ones.
KT: What’s the next step in your plan of action?
H.E. Channmeta: We will hold a follow-up workshop for the Startup Policy Hack. We will also continue our dialogue with MSMEs and tech startups to get them to share with other companies their experience of adopting new technologies.
Likewise, we asked the Cambodia Women Entrepreneurs Association (CWEA) to share their experience and insight in digitalisation with new startups.
KT: According to the Ministry of Industry and Handicraft, just 20,000 SMEs out of the 510,000 that operate in the country have registered with the government. Bringing companies into the regulatory fold is essential to achieve your goal of helping companies go digital. How do you plan to address this issue?
H.E. Channmeta: Getting companies to register is indeed important to guide them in the process of going digital. Fortunately, getting SMEs to register with the government is not a hard thing to do. The Ministry of Economy already has a plan to harmonise the systems used by all the relevant ministries, the GDT and the National Bank of Cambodia, which will streamline the process of registering a business. We will continue to work on this after the national elections in July.
We already have the technology to harmonise our systems and create a simple and efficient registration process. What we need to do now is train our officials in using the system, which means that each ministry has to invest in capacity building.
KT: Why is it so important to help SMEs digitalise?
H.E. Channmeta: Adopting and integrating the latest technology into their processes helps SMEs improve productivity and become more competitive vis-à-vis foreign players. If SMEs fail to integrate these technologies, they will not be able to survive. Our government will continue to work hard to spread awareness of the importance of digitalisation and encourage companies to help each other by sharing their experience.