Singapore's next 50 years in tech will need trust, transparency

Amid its golden jubilee celebrations, the country must figure out how it can remain ahead in the tech industry as its Asian counterparts inches closer.

Today, the country I've called home for 41 years celebrates its 50th year of independence and I join my fellow Singaporeans in soaking up the patriotic revelry that is usually at its highest this time of year.

For a nation that faced an uncertain future after it was expelled from Malaysia in 1965, Singapore certainly has much to be proud of. Despite its lack of natural resources, it has become one of the world's wealthiest countries and among the region's most established financial hubs.

It also has one of the world's highest mobile and broadband penetration rates, boasting among the speediest broadband access at 2Gbps. It also topped the World Economic Forum's 2015 Global Information Technology Report as well as Waseda University Internationale's 2015 Government ranking.

Among the success stories, however, there would inevitably be some missteps. Its S$1.3 billion goal to create a standard operating environment across all government agencies proved to be a long and arduous process. Ironically coined SOEasy, the project was hit with delays and eventually morphed from a single-vendor environment to a multi-vendor model.

More recently, several government websites as well as its e-government system suffered security breaches. And despite investing significant resources to nurture a local startup ecosystem, there has yet to be a Made-in-Singapore product or technology that has gained global recognition.

Singapore may have accomplished much in the last 50 years, but now that it's no longer starting from ground zero, what will it need to do to ensure its success can be sustained for the next 50 years? One thing's for sure: the road ahead will not be easy.

Singapore's Second Minister for Trade and Industry S. Iswaran acknowledged as much. He pointed to China's climb along the value chain despite its slow economic growth, and will increasingly compete with Singapore in high-tech manufacturing markets including the semiconductor sector.

Competition from India also would intensify as the country looked to further develop and drive locally made technology. Furthermore, it was aiming to create smart cities, mirroring Singapore's own smart nation ambition, Iswaran said, adding that India could become a new manufacturing hub in Asia.

The minister underscored the need for Singapore to adopt new technologies more quickly than others as well as seek to create value to stay competitive.

How can it do that? It will need to look toward the cloud and establish a reputation that ensures the highest levels of transparency and trust that neighboring countries are unable to match.

In cloud, Singapore must build trust

China may have an edge in manufacturing, but its shaky cybersecurity standing will potentially deter foreign companies from hosting their data or building data centers in the country. India's infrastructure also lacks reliability and scale.

This is where Singapore's reputation for efficiency and reliability will stand in good stead, with the likes of Google and Equinix already running multiple data centers here. The government last year also integrated "near real-time analytics" to its Cloud Service Provider Registry, providing information on the performance and availability of cloud vendors.

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Such efforts are a step in the right direction. Singapore also must continue to keep local laws and regulations updated to address various cloud requirements, so enterprises are assured their data are safe on local shores.

Furthermore, a reputation built on trust and transparency will be critical as the region's e-commerce hub continues to expand. With China's One Belt, One Road initiative touted to beef up cross-border economic ties between key markets in Asia--specifically Asean--Europe, and Africa, Singapore should have more opportunities to tap this development with its roots as a regional trading hub.

Singapore doesn't have the market size or scale to compete with most of its counterparts in the region, so it must do so by tapping the one thing that its peers have yet to establish--trust. And it needs to realize the need to ensure trust not only within the business community, but also among the wider population.

This could mean a rethink of its approach toward online governance, where its policies would have to balance its desire for control and its people's demand to be able to voice their opinions more freely. Failing to do so could jeopardize the public's trust in its government and, in turn, business trust.