Singapore has established a new digital office comprising 45 employees from three government agencies, with the aim to drive growth opportunities for the local technology sector. Called Digital Industry Singapore (DISG), the new entity also serves as a centralised contact point for the industry and hopes this streamlined approach will allow it to better understand the needs of companies in the local community and cultivate future local talent.
The inter-agency office brings together the Economic Development Board (EDB), Enterprise Singapore, and Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), gathering skillsets in industry development, market access, capability development, and policy formulation.
The integrated team would focus on both the enterprise and consumer technology sectors, including helping companies tap opportunities in the mobile-first Asian market such as e-commerce and fintech as well as build new products and services in segments such as cybersecurity, artificial intelligence (AI), and cloud.
Alongside other government agencies and with industry collaboration, DISG also would establish policies and drive investments in areas such as data, trade, and digital infrastructure.
Such initiatives were targeted to create up to 10,000 new jobs within Singapore's technology industry over the next three years, including roles in software and product development, finance, human resources, and business development. The new office also would work with IMDA, industry players, and local education institutions to roll out training programmes that encompassed areas including AI, data science, network engineering, and user experience design.
DISG's chief digital industry officer Kiren Kumar said: "Singapore today is a vibrant technology hub that is home to 80 of the top 100 global technology companies and more than 4,000 home-grown and international startups from around the world. DISG will seek to achieve our mission to establish Singapore as a global-Asia technology hub with deep capabilities, strong infrastructure, and a vibrant ecosystem of local and global enterprises, from which new products, services, business models, and partnerships are created for Asia and beyond."
During his speech Wednesday at the Smart Nation Summit, Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong underscored the need to build up the country's engineering capabilities to drive its smart nation goals. Lee said: "We need a strong, broad base [and] must be able to attract and recruit engineers to build teams of the calibre of the best tech companies... We also need to attract talent here and bring Singaporeans working abroad home.
"[It's the] right timing because ASEAN technology scene is thriving," he said. "The region is home to a fair number of unicorns and tech startups. Its digital economy is projected to grow to S$240 billion (US$176.94 billion) by 2025."
He added that both the public and private sector needed leaders and managers who understood enough about technology as well as engineers who could make sound judgements on technology development and procurement.
At a Q&A session, Lee also touched on the need for Singapore to continuously reinvent itself or risk losing out on opportunities in the market. Noting that this was a lesson that technology companies such as Microsoft had to learn, he said the software vendor had started out as a maker of DOS before moving on to its Office productivity suite, and its current iteration as an IT company.
It still however, was not able to capture "all the apples in the tree", he quipped, in implied reference to Microsoft's co-founder Bill Gates' recent admission his biggest mistake was missing out on building a "non-Apple" mobile platform, specifically, Google's Android.
Lee noted that it often was challenging for companies to accept new ways of doing things and change their organisational processes to take advantage of what was possible. Succeeding and having a breakthrough once was not sufficient in sustaining growth, he said, reiterating his call for Singaporeans to recognise the need to continuously reinvent themselves.
In his speech, the prime minister pointed to how the government also needed to keep up with new technology and transform the way it developed applications and delivered services, such as tapping cloud computing and centralising its technology development, instead of having each agency build its own bespoke system.
"Partly because, as early adopters, we now have legacy systems that need to be upgraded and rebuilt, patched, while keeping the service running," he explained. "It is not just [about] improving the user experience or software, but rethinking and streamlining the underlying processes to focus on the essential requirements."
He also pointed to significant progress made in Singapore's financial services industry, specifically, fintech where its regulatory sandboxes helped drive technology innovation by temporarily lifting inhibitive regulations. He said the sector had seen interesting experiments such as the use of blockchain to speed up cross-border payments and banks were tapping data analytics and AI to identify fraud and suspicious transactions.
Lee further noted that some countries had created frameworks to license new players that that had no banking parentage, to set up digital banks. He said the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) currently was evaluating the feasibility of following suit, adding that "hopefully, we'll have something to announce soon" regarding this initiative.
The Singapore central bank also was in talks with Facebook regarding the social media's recently-launched cryptocurrency, Libra, to assess how the platform functioned including its security and operations.
Digital tokens or cryptocurrencies are permitted in Singapore, but are regulated if they involve products governed under the country's Securities and Futures Act. MAS in the past year had repeatedly cautioned the public to understand the risks before investing in cryptocurrencies, stressing that these were not recognised as legal tender and functioned in an unregulated environment.
Advanced technological infrastructure and favourable immigration laws are amongst key factors that helped propel Singapore to pole position this year as the world's most competitive economy, displacing the US economy, which was dragged down by weaker hi-tech exports.
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New pilots including a drowning detection system are in the works, as the government continues to push its smart nation goal alongside an open, API-driven framework. But it stresses the importance of security in rolling out new services and acknowledges the country needs to do better, particularly, following the SingHealth data breach.
Singapore government has earmarked S$14 million (US$10.19 million) over three years to fund the development of smart estates and modern technology, such as energy efficient applications.