Strong e-govt services, startup support define S'pore IT

Singapore's IT scene characterized by conducive startup environment, availability of e-government services and growing government support for cloud computing, say citizens and businesses.
Written by Kevin Kwang, Contributor

As Singapore gears up to celebrate its 46th birthday, business executives and citizens told ZDNet Asia the nation's conducive environment for startups, usefulness of its many e-government services and strong government support to boost cloud computing uptake are some of its "uniquely Singapore" IT traits.

Swede Johan Stael von Holstein, co-founder and non-executive director of MyCube, a Singapore-based digital life management startup, for one, said he decided to set up his business here because of the combination of "a high standard of living, strong business environment, ability to recruit [top] talent and an emerging technology startup environment".

Easy access to funding, talent
Elaborating, the entrepreneur said in his e-mail that Singapore is a good place for startups to be based in and is "getting better with every passing day". The access to investors, for instance, has helped as a good amount of MyCube's funding originates from local sources. Availability of talent willing to work for startups is another strong factor, he noted.

Equipped for celebration

ZDNet Asia takes a peek behind the scenes to discover how Hewlett-Packard, as the parade's sole technology provider, helps keep this year's birthday bonanza on track.

No downtime
According to Keith Leong, general manager of enterprise services at HP, the National Day Parade requires a "flexible technology infrastructure" that can provide instant response to various scenarios that might crop up in a live show. On parade day, HP will tap its cloud servers to power all computing  requirements, while on-site servers will serve as failover equipment.

Better collaboration
HP's vice president and general manager of personal systems group for Southeast Asia and Taiwan, Dennis Mark, explained that the company brought together a suite of tools that include instant messaging, voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) chat and file sharing, with strict adherence to service level agreements (SLAs), to better enable collaboration between the different members of the organizing committee.

"In general, the percentage of people who are willing to work for startups is relatively small. [The exceptions to this] are in places like Silicon Valley in the U.S., where the ratio of people working in startup companies is very high, and Singapore, where it is possible to find people and grow [the company]," von Holstein added.

Social media monitoring software vendor, JamiQ, also extolled the virtues of basing its business here. The company's co-founder and head of client leadership, Benjamin Koe, said in his e-mail that Singapore is a good place for startups, "especially if their work involves the region", as the big regional markets of China, India and Indonesia can be easily reached. He pointed out that the general infrastructure in the country such as public transport, broadband access and housing is good, too.

In terms of government support, Koe said the company received S$50,000 (US$40,985) under the iJAM initiative during its formative days.

"From a funding point of view, Singapore is one the few countries in which the government gives out so much money [through various government agencies] such as the Economic Development Board and International Enterprise (IE) Singapore," he added.

Enabling public-private sector interaction
Besides fostering a conducive environment for startups to thrive, Singapore is also ranked highly for its e-government services.

According to the Waseda University Institute of e-government's annual world ranking results, which was released in January this year, Singapore topped the list for the third year running, edging out countries such as the United States, Sweden, South Korea and Finland.

The rankings were formulated based on seven indicators, namely network preparedness, required interface-functioning applications, management optimization, national portal, CIO in government, e-government promotion and e-participation. Singapore topped the e-government promotion category and was in the top-tier of countries for the other indicators, the report stated.

The primary beneficiaries of the local government's efforts to promote the use of e-government services are local citizens, and local entrepreneur and grassroots leader, Edwin Tham, told ZDNet Asia that such portals are "definitely helpful" in that it gives small and midsize businesses (SMBs) a "much-needed boost".

Citing as an example the GeBiz Web site, the Singapore government's one-stop e-procurement portal, Tham said the platform helps level the competition to allow SMBs to compete with established vendors whenever an agency issues an invitation to quote, or ITQ.

Furthermore, even if the company eventually fails to secure the job, GeBIZ will publish a list of vendors who placed their quote online, he noted. "With this system, companies get to know who the competition is and know how much they are charging for their services, so there is a fair amount of transparency in the whole process."

Encouraging cloud adoption
The local government is also keen on encouraging the adoption of cloud computing among companies based here with a series of initiatives over the past two years.

One such initiative is providing a cloud computing framework for all stakeholders by 2012, which is headed up by the Information Technology Standards Committee (ITSC) with support from local ICT regulator the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA). The initiative will engage users, local government and cloud service providers to come up with a set of standards for applications and data to be interoperable across different cloud computing platforms.

In terms of infrastructure, the Singapore Internet Exchange (SGIX) was launched in June 2010 with the aim of attracting more Internet service providers (ISPs) to host content in the country as well as getting foreign carriers to use the island-state as a hub for Internet traffic, with the promise of quick and reliable connectivity. This, according to SGIX Chairman Malcolm Rodrigues, meant cloud services are primed to enjoy a boost across the region in the near future.

Such initiatives in laying the groundwork for cloud uptake are already reaping results.

Amazon Web Services' spokeswoman, Regina Tan, noted that the public cloud service provider is seeing "good traction" among enterprises here across a variety of vertical industries adopting cloud computing. These verticals include the financial services, education, retail services and biomedical research, she added.

"The agile, fast-growing companies in Singapore use our services as a cost-effective underlying infrastructure to build their businesses and as in important part of their go-to-market growth strategy to expand beyond the local market," Tan stated in an e-mail.

Corroborating Tan's observations is a Savvis-commissioned survey released in April this year, which revealed how businesses here are adopting a hybrid deployment model for their cloud infrastructure services and are leading the way in cloud adoption ahead of other markets such as the U.S. and Germany.

A Savvis spokesperson, Elizabeth Schumacker, noted in the report that Singapore businesses have been "very open" in experimenting with cloud computing projects.

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