Panel: S'pore can be regional IT hub

Industry experts and Singapore's government point out the country's role in an expanding Asia-Pacific infocomm landscape.
Written by Aaron Tan, Contributor

SINGAPORE--The Asia-Pacific infocomm technology (ICT) industry is poised to take bigger strides ahead, with Singapore taking centerstage and focusing on its strongholds.

Lim Swee Say, a minister on Singapore's government cabinet and chairman of the Infocomm International Advisory Panel (IAP), noted that many governments in the region have recently been proactive in driving infocomm development in their countries. These activities include building nationwide broadband networks that connect to every home, he added.

Lim was addressing a roomful of reporters Monday as he sat amongst other IAP members, who have gathered for the first time in Singapore since the panel was unveiled last June. The IAP comprises head-honchos from Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Microsoft, among others.

Underpinning the rapid ICT development is the region's huge potential to innovate, Lim said.

"The population in the Asia-Pacific region is relatively young, compared to other regions of the world," he said. "And out of the top 20 technology universities in the world, seven of them are in Asia."

While the regional ICT industry is set to bloom, Lim acknowledged that there are challenges including the process of setting up shop, intellectual property protection and infrastructure development--conditions which vary across the countries in the region.

Moreover, Lim said the region has to harmonize various regulatory frameworks so that products and services can be offered on a regional level.

To turn potential into reality, he said that each country has a role to play, including Singapore, which could become an innovation hub. The island-state could foster innovation quickly for businesses in the region, and at a cheaper cost compared to Western nations, he explained.

However, Lim stressed that Singapore should only focus on innovating in strongholds such as systems integration.

"It will not be possible for Singapore to be well-versed in every area of infocomm technologies because the scope is too broad," he said. "In hardware manufacturing, it may be hard for Singapore to compete with China, and in software development, it may be difficult to compete with India."

Narayana Murthy, chairman of Indian IT services giant Infosys, concurred. The IAP member said: "I believe Singapore, as the systems integrator, is uniquely placed to leverage the hardware strength of China and the software strength of India."

In addition, Lim suggested, Singapore could also become an export hub. The island-state could expand its current role as a test-bed for emerging technologies toward facilitating the deployment of new applications in the region, he said.

He also put forth Singapore's role as a regional disaster recovery center. "If anything happens around the region, at least [business] operations can be continued," he said.

IAP members generally agreed that Singapore is in a good position to excel in the regional infocomm industry.

William Green, CEO of consulting services company Accenture, said: "Singapore has the reputation as the heart of Asia for many years, and there is no reason why it can't extend that into the infocomm space."

Koh Boon Hwee, chairman of Southeast Asia's largest banking group DBS, revealed that a Japanese bank is intending to relocate its IT headquarters, manned by 100 people, from Japan to Singapore.

"They want to go to place where IT personnel are widely available, and Singapore fits that bill," Koh said. "We are not the cheapest, but we have a lot of talented IT people."

"Most importantly, the telecommunications infrastructure here must allow them to manage their network in Japan remotely. And we fit that bill," he said.

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