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Postmortem of the Distance Business (D-Biz) Programme

Our clients have finally received their full subsidy. How long do you think it took?

If you have not read my honest review of the Distance Business (D-Biz) Programme, you might want to start there. This is a follow-up on the long battle with the D-Biz Secretariat.

Mildly helpful, but it takes forever

With the aim of helping businesses transform during the pandemic, one would expect things to go faster than usual to help companies stay alive, but D-Biz is definitely not the case. We understand there are a lot of applications and it is important to be thorough with public expenditure. However, the average processing time for our clients, from submitting an application, carrying out the project, handing in project completion proof, to the Government reviewing the documents and asking for a lot more is 16.5 months.

That’s right! The project lead time is four to six months, and you need to wait for about ten months before the final sum is in your bank account. Some would say that it is lucky our clients are all strong entrepreneurs who can keep their businesses afloat while waiting, other businesses would have ceased to exist by then.

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You may wonder if our clients have missed something that delayed the process, to which I admit a small fraction of it might be their own doing, but most of it lies with the Secretariat of D-Biz, TVP, and a dozen more Government’s funding schemes, Hong Kong Productivity Council (HKPC).

What really went wrong?

HKPC is notorious for being a slow and bureaucratic organisation in handling funding, coupled with the large amount of D-Biz applications, it is no surprise that things are not fast, so we will not be focusing on that. The main issue with D-Biz, we have seen as an eligible technology service provider, is that there are a lot of productivity gaps between HKPC and the applicants.

For example, D-Biz had a hotline that applicants could call to follow up on their projects. However, do you know the hotline was allegedly managed by a third-party vendor? The hotline staff did not have the full details of your case due to privacy and security reasons, so how could they really help? All they could do was to leave a note or file a complaint, and honestly, when is the last time you read a “note” on any portal and get things done?

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Another jaw-dropping example is caused by the high turnover rate in HKPC. One of our clients was in touch with Staff A from HKPC, submitting additional supporting documents for the final report as requested. While our client had fulfilled every request, Staff A stopped responding at some point. After numerous calls to the hotline over months and with complaints filed over and over again , Staff B from HKPC replied that Staff A had left the organisation some time ago, but no one had been assigned to follow up on the ongoing cases! Because the final report had not been approved, my client’s project was not considered complete and he had to keep waiting.

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Perfecting your final report — WWHKPCD

As you can see from above, subsidy disbursement hinges on the final report. With thousands of on-going projects, it was almost impossible to keep the promise of paying applicants within 60 days upon final report submission. To rectify this, HKPC came up with all sorts of reasons to buy time for their slow process and delay the payment schedule.

A classic HKPC move would be to challenge your final report, claiming that something was missing even though they had never been explicitly stated in the guidance note. HKPC will ask you to provide additional documents within a couple of days, then they will process that for a couple more weeks. The best you can do to prevent this from happening is WWHKPCD – What Would HKPC Do? Think about what could hold you up and find ways to fill those gaps.

Here are a few pointers to help you stay out of their trap:

  1. Start with a project reference number
    Ask your service providers to provide a reference number for your quotation, and include this number in all of your paperwork (e.g. contracts, invoices, receipts). This is to explicitly indicate that all documents you hand in belong to the same project.
  2. Description, description, description
    HKPC is very traditional, everything needs to tally. Help them check all the boxes by asking your service providers to include the project description as well as detailed line items in the invoices word for word. If possible, include them in the receipts too.
  3. Addresses matter, apparently
    With co-working space, hot desks, and working from home being the new normal, you would be surprised that HKPC actually picks on addresses. Make sure your company’s and your service provider’s full business addresses are shown in the quotations and invoices. The addresses must be exactly the same as those printed on the Business Registration Certificates as well.
  4. Signed, Stamped, Delivered
    “How can one stamp a digital document?”, you ask. This might sound ridiculous, but HKPC is actually expecting people to print a document, stamp it, then scan and submit it digitally. Always ask your service providers to sign their invoices, receipts, and audit reports with a company stamp. This small extra step saves five rounds of back-and-forth emails and you can get your money a month sooner.
  5. Capture everything and litter with descriptions
    Never submit any proof of project completion without descriptive texts. Add the exact project description with a bit more explanations to your screen captures of the system or software before submitting them as the evidence of deliverables.

D-Biz 2.0? Technology Voucher Programme (TVP)?

There are rumours, and we have heard legislators urging the Government to launch a D-Biz 2.0. Some businesses are also applying for TVP as another source of funding.

However, as you have seen by now, D-Biz subsidy has taken at least 12 months to reach your bank; TVP subsidy is a longer story (which we will cover later in a separate article). The real question is: can you survive the red tape and paperwork, while keeping the lights on for another year before transforming your business?

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This is not to say a D-Biz 2.0 or TVP will not be helpful, but if you truly want to keep your business alive by going digital, do so without relying on the Government. You are better off just doing it right away.

I hope the tips above are helpful and as always, we welcome questions and feel free to contact us if you need our advice or help.