Cutting costs and waste and improving reporting accuracy were some of the motivations behind Freshening Industries’ move to technology. The Singapore manufacturer of wet towels and wet wipes had been in business for just three years when it realised it had to change.

Emily Sim, its director of administration and production, explained: “We started the first phase in 1997 because the company was doing a lot of manual work on a paper based system. There was a need to cut down cost, wastage, improve accurate reporting and efficiency.”

The decision was made easier with the subsidy given by the government to SMEs, to encourage greater use of technology to boost productivity. While the grant was helpful, it only covered about 70 per cent of the software costs. The company still had to come up with a huge upfront cost to pay for the hardware.

“We invested about S$50-60,000 in the first phase. It was a lot of money since we just started out and were still small,” Ms Sim adds. “But with or without the grant we still would have gone ahead because we needed to improve our operation.”

To find a solution specific to its needs, Freshening Industries enlisted the help of Ker Iui Chong, managing director of Progression consultancy, a Microsoft partner. He advised the group to implement Microsoft Dynamics – a management tool which helps midsize companies to streamline their operation, to deal with teething problems such as sales and cost-control issues.

As the business expanded new challenges prompted the firm to upgrade the system.

“Around 2004, the business had grown about five-fold and the customer base was getting huge,” said Mr Ker. “The system was getting slow and we needed a more powerful solution to manage the volume growth. We were facing a different set of problems in terms of delivery control and managing the order-taking process.”

In the second cycle, Freshening Industries, which distributes its products globally in 33 countries, pumped a further S$70,000 to upgrade Microsoft Dynamics. It received another government grant to help mitigate the costs.

Clearly seeing the value of technology to its business the company is currently fine-tuning the system further to meet its growing needs as it expands regionally.

Ms Sim adds: “We have opened new offices in Hong Kong and Malaysia, and we’re opening a manufacturing plant outside Singapore. So this time, the investment is to use technology to centralise our regional headquarters here with our outside offices for efficient management.”

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