Singapore puts 2017 budget focus on digital transformation

Government sets aside S$2.4 billion over four years to execute a nationwide plan to "transform" the local economy and help enterprises "go digital".
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

The Singapore has pledged to invest S$2.4 billion (US$1.7 billion) over four years to execute a nationwide plan that it hopes will future-proof the economy and help local enterprises "go digital".

Unveiled as part of the government's 2017 budget, the investment underscored the government's focus on technology to drive the local economy and transform local businesses.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said in his speech Monday: "Technology is reshaping businesses, jobs, and lifestyles across the world. We must spot the opportunities in the digital economy, and make the most of our strengths as a nimble, well-educated, tech-savvy society."

He said digital technology offered the potential to transform both large and small businesses, noting that SMBs (small and midsize businesses) in particular needed support in adopting digital tools.

"Enterprises are the heart of vibrant economies [and] for our enterprises to stay competitive and grow, they will need to develop deep capabilities," Heng said. "There are three capabilities that many firms will need in common--being able to use digital technology, embrace innovation, and scale up."

To help SMBs build digital capabilities, the government would dish out S$80 million (US$56.43 million) to facilitate several initiatives. Led by key government agencies including Infocommunications Media Development Authority (IMDA) and Spring, these would include providing industry-specific advice to guide these businesses on their technology adoption through each growth phase.

SMBs also would have access to further assistance at SME Centres and a new SME Technology Hub, which would be set up by IMDA, where business advisors would be on-site to offer advice on off-the-shelf IT products that had been pre-approved for funding support. ICT vendors and consultants also would be available at the centres.

SMBs that were ready to trial ICT products and services would receive funding support and industry advice to "help them adopt impactful, interoperable ICT solutions", Heng said.

The minister also pointed to efforts to beef up the country's capabilities in data and cybersecurity, with the Cyber Security Agency (CSA) working alongside professional groups to train professionals in this field.

A nation of sandboxes

To drive innovation, government agencies as well as regulators also would need to play the role of facilitators and help bring new ideas to the fore. They would need to strike a balance between mitigating risk and providing the right environment for new ideas to be tested, Heng said, highlighting the government's use of sandboxes.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore, for instance, unveiled a regulatory framework to offer greater flexibility and a more conducive platform for venture capital investment. This included a sandbox that allowed organisations to experiment with new fintech products and services under less stringent regulatory requirements. These pertained to various legal requirements such as the company's asset maintenance, credit rating, license fees, and minimum liquid assets.

The transport authority also had designated specific areas in which autonomous vehicles could be tested on roads, the finance minister said.

To further drive innovation, the government's research agency A*Star would boost its efforts to support 400 organisations over the next four years to help them identify technology that would enable them to better compete in the market.

A new Tech Access programme also would be established to provide access to advanced tools and equipment for product prototyping and testing.

In addition, a new S$600 million (US$423.22 million) fund would be set up to co-invest with Singapore companies looking to expand into global markets.

Editorial standards