NCS looks beyond government, Singapore for 'transformation' growth

Marking its 40th anniversary this year, the Singtel-subsidiary wants a "strategic reset" to become a pan-Asia digital and technology services player, with focus on Australia and Greater China, and grow beyond its stronghold in the local public sector into the enterprise space.

Singtel's wholly-owned subsidiary and systems integrator NCS wants to move beyond its 40-year history that is steeped in government contracts, into the enterprise space, focusing on verticals such as healthcare and finance. It also is looking for a "strategic reset" to become a pan-Asia digital and technology services player, where it eyes further expansion in Australia and Greater China. 

"We want to pivot NCS from a traditional ICT company that's largely based in Singapore, to become a digital and technology services company in Asia-Pacific," NCS CEO Ng Kuo Pin said in a video interview with ZDNet. 

The move was triggered in large by growing customer demand for digital transformation, fuelled by the mass migration online amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, said Ng, who assumed the CEO role in August 2019.  This momentum toward digitalisation was evident not just in Singapore, but also in global markets such as China and Australia, he added. 

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NCS was keen to tap these opportunities and leverage its strengths in the public and telecommunication sectors, the latter of which was thanks to its Singtel parentage, to "redefine and grow". 

The need to do so was further driven by the aspirations of its employees to work on projects that went beyond Singapore's public sector, according to Ng.  

Marking its 40th anniversary this year, NCS was established in 1981 to drive the government's ICT initiatives. It was restructured as a commercial entity and later acquired by Singtel in 1997

Ng said NCS would look to transform its people, too, which was necessary to ensure the company could put forward a strong proposition as a pan-Asia-Pacific player. This would require skills specialisation and transforming its culture to become a "learning organisation", he said. 

He also would be looking to add 2,000 new roles over two years across the organisation, including its core business, global markets such as China and Australia, and its foray in the enterprise space. 

He noted that plans for this already had been in place over the last 18 months and the company was starting to see initial success into several enterprise verticals, including banking, utilities, and telecommunications. 

NCS has earmarked six key sectors to drive its growth into the enterprise space, namely, healthcare, transportation, financial services, industrial, commercial, as well as communications, media, and technology. 

A new services organisation, called NCS Next, also was established internally just under two years ago to drive its new focus on digital, cloud, and platform services. Next complemented NCS' core services, namely, applications, infrastructure, engineering, and cybersecurity, and enabled the company to provide more comprehensive customer offerings, Ng said.

Under the Next business, NCS had launched an innovation centre in Shenzhen and acquired 2359 Media, a Singapore-based mobile app digital consultancy. It also subsumed Singtel's analytics unit, DataSpark.

In addition, two new business groups would be created to further scale its existing business, he added. The first, Gov+, would look to build the company's digital government offerings and boost its footprint in the public sector as well as smart cities across Asia-Pacific. 

The second business group, Telco+, would be a joint initiative between Singtel and NCS that aimed to help telecommunication customers with their digital transformation. In particular, Singtel's 5G capabilities alongside NCS' digital and technology services would enable the group to build up a "full stack" of 5G-enabled service offerings. 

For now, the government sector still accounted for the largest portion of NCS' revenue, which tipped at SG$2.14 billion last year. 

Asked how much of this did he want tilted towards the enterprise sector, Ng declined to share its internal target because the company had just kicked off its transformation journey and plans to expand regionally. "As we pivot into the enterprise space, we'll be looking and adjusting this target over the next year or so," he said, adding that he would then share what this target was. He also noted that it was important for tech vendors to strike a balance between its customers from the private and public sectors. 

Tri-market focus on Singapore, China, and Australia

Ng, though, was specific about focusing the company's regional expansion plans on three key growth markets of Singapore, Australia, and Greater China. 

Last December, NCS Next was launched in Australia through a partnership with Optus Enterprise to service the country's enterprise market and deliver ICT and digital services. 

NCS also was planning to grow its footprint in Australia both organically or inorganically, to build up its cloud and artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities. 

Elaborating on potential acquisitions, Ng said he was keen on two categories, including companies that could provide market access, which would otherwise take too long to build in size and growth organically. Here, he would look to candidates specifically in Australia, Greater China, and Southeast Asia. 

He also would be keen to make acquisitions to gain specific digital capabilities, including niche players that were specialised in specific cloud services or technologies such as AI or blockchain. 

He added that NCS currently was "actively looking" at possibilities in these two categories. 

Ng also pointed to the company's Next "innovation triangle" where its innovation centres in Singapore, Melbourne, and Shenzhen focused on developing digital and cloud capabilities. Each of these facilities was set up to tap the market's respective strengths.  

Its Chinese site, for instance, looked at innovating in three key areas comprising 5G, blockchain, and digital twin, the latter of which was in high demand in China, he said. 5G and blockchain skillsets also were widely available in the Chinese market, which he added could benefit other markets in which NCS operated. 

Its Melbourne innovation centre focused on cloud, he noted. A cloud excellence centre also would be launched in the Australian city next month, leveraging the country's high cloud adoption and strong cloud talent base, he said. 

NCS' Singapore innovation centre focused on AI, analytics, and mobile apps development, he added. 

The company this year also began operations as an autonomous unit within Singtel, which Ng explained meant he now reported directly to the group's CEO Yuen Kuan Moon, instead of its enterprise business unit.

As part of the transformation, NCS also unveiled a rebrand that included a new logo. 

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