What is possible in 15 minutes? Some would say a quick walk around the block, brewing a fresh jug of black coffee, or reading a chapter in the book you’re excited to dive into. But for citizens in Singapore, it can take as little as 15 minutes to register a new business.

That’s the business-friendly environment that Singapore is creating, according to the country’s Economic Development Board. New technologies such as blockchain and AI are guiding start ups and inexperienced entrepreneurs as they set up shop in the Little Red Dot.

The Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) is responsible for supporting these businesses as they register and file their data with ACRA to ensure corporate transparency. Leaders from the organisation share how they are making this process more convenient.

Information on the blockchain 

ACRA’s new TrustBar platform allows the public, including potential investors, to authenticate information, such as a company’s name, directors, and office address, in real time, in business certificates and profiles.

This information will be kept on the blockchain. The blockchain is a network that ensures information is up to date for all users, making any tampering or inaccuracies very unlikely.

This ensures information is up to date and verified, similar to that of digital Covid-19 vaccination certificates, says Poh Lai Khim, Divisional Director (Information & Technology Division) and Chief Digital Information Officer, ACRA.

The need for verification 

When it comes to business information, “the challenge is how to verify the authenticity and currency of the businesses’ profile”, Poh explains. Currently this information is shared via PDF files that are sent from the business to potential investors, for example.

But with “recent technologies it’s very easy for anyone to just create those PDF formats” and appear as if they’re registered with ACRA, she shares. This will be addressed by the blockchain system to allow the general public and businesses to verify their business certificate and profiles in real time.

This platform will support Singaporean businesses venturing abroad  as they can save time on notarising business profiles or incorporation certificates while overseas. The service will also allow businesses to exchange digital trade documentations easily.

A chatbot assistant for entrepreneurs

Another way to make business admin more user-friendly is through an AI chatbot called ACRA Digital Assistant (Ask Ada). Ask Ada not only answers questions; it can help businesses with log-ins and payments as well.

ACRA is introducing Ask Ada in phases. It will first focus on helping small business owners renew their business registration.

The organisation uses data analytics to continually improve the chatbot. It analyses call conversations from the help desk to identify questions and issues that channels such as Ask Ada can better address, says Ang Siok Hui, Divisional Director (Customer Experience Division), ACRA.

ACRA spoke with customers to design a more intuitive and user-friendly website. Using insights from customer feedback and data analytics, the chatbot was placed at the commonly visited pages on the ACRA website and filing portal to offer users instantaneous response and guidance, 24/7.

Ask Ada guides users on their business renewal through the first step of deciding on a one year or three year renewal period for their business to the final step for payment.

This is more convenient than the previous process, in which inexperienced users often ended up calling ACRA’s help desk for guidance before logging into the filing portal to get their business renewal done, says Ang. Ask Ada provides “far more seamless, approachable, personalised interactions”, she highlights.

Ask Ada is especially useful for customers such as small business owners, Ang explains. “We want to make it simple and easy for them to start a business and file with ACRA so they can focus on the business of doing business”, she shares.

A sandbox for upskilling

The chatbot system was created in-house by ACRA staff, and is a product of the organisation’s upskilling programmes. Staff developed new skills in natural language processing and AI to make this chatbot a reality, explained Poh.

Training focuses on three D’s: data, digital, and design. Staff from different departments come together in groups to learn how to manage data, create digital services and design user-friendly experiences.

One way that the groups build skills is in a “sandbox”, Poh highlights. The sandbox gives staff the freedom to analyse data in new ways, while their work doesn’t affect ACRA’s actual services. Like a children’s sandbox, the goal is to encourage creativity and experimentation.

The organisation aims to have more than 80 per cent of their staff be familiar with RPA, AI, UI/UX and data analytics. “We want all our staff to be digitally confident. With the three D skills, they will be able to co-create solutions using the available digital platforms and tools to offer better service to our customers, Poh shares.

Part of being business-friendly also means being user-friendly. Sharing information on the blockchain and supportive AI services are simplifying business admin for less experienced entrepreneurs, creating a conducive environment for startups to grow in Singapore.