Sunday, Nov 18, 2018
Science & Technology | Asia-Pacific | Singapore

IMDA Singapore

Singapore Agency Oversees Ambitious Digitalization Scheme Both Public and Private


3 weeks ago

Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) Chief Executive Tan Kiat How
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Tan Kiat How

Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) Chief Executive

The Infocomm Media Development Authority is the key player in ensuring that Singapore embraces digitalization and other high-tech methods to meet the challenges faced by government and business in a rapidly-changing world, says Chief Executive Tan Kiat How.

 

Singapore has adopted a position of flexibility, adaptability and forward thinking, always reinventing itself to remain relevant on the international stage. How important is the new digital transformation in all of this?

From day one of our independence we knew we needed to be relevant to the rest of the world, to the global marketplace. So we embraced internationalization and foreign direct investment. When technology advanced, we embraced computerization. The civil service, businesses and schools all embraced technology. And it’s very much the same thing that we're looking at with digital technology and yes, it's going to be quite disruptive.

You talk to our enterprises, for example our big banks, DBS and SIA, they are keenly aware that every job in their organization will be changed and transformed by tech, even business models. Every company, every worker, realizes that they have to embrace this new change or be left behind.

 

What do you see as the specific challenges involved in this transformation?

First, technology like AI and automation are going to disrupt many of our jobs, many of our industry structures. For example, do we think Amazon is a retail company? Is it a service company or is it an IT company? Today, with the next generation of digital champions you cannot easily compare them to any industry structure. For example, Grab in Singapore or Go-Jek in Indonesia, are they ride-hailing companies? Or are they financial companies? Companies are evolving. Industry structures are evolving and there are quite core integrated ecosystems forming. We used to think of industries in a very traditional way. I'm a retailer. I'm a hospitality company. I'm a transportation company. I'm a logistics company. In the future, it's not so clear. The boundaries are blurring across different sectors. That's the challenge that we face. As a small market and small country, we don't have the luxury of a big domestic market to buffer some disruptions. But the opportunities are there. If the trends favor countries and their economies, they can move fast, be nimble and agile. They can adjust regulations, incentives and rules to take advantage of these new trends. In the digital world, traditional constraints like your location, market access and resources are actually quite mitigated. I can sell to any part of the world today over online platforms without being physically in their market. The question is, how do we embrace these opportunities while mitigating the challenges? We are doing it in a few ways and our prime minister has been spearheading this vision of a smart nation and the heart of it all is really about embracing change to remain relevant and continue to thrive and do well in the future economy.

 

How do you define this term, “the smart nation” and what is IMDA doing to foster its development in Singapore?

In the smart nation, there are three important components. Firstly, being a vibrant digital economy. The second component of that is an inclusive and cohesive digital-ready society. Thirdly, a digital government that is responsive to the needs of our citizens, our businesses. These three components form the legs of the stool of a smart nation. IMDA is spearheading the digital economy drive by digitalising every industry and business, supporting a digitally enabled workforce and preparing all segments of society to be digital-ready. We believe that every business must be a digital business, every worker should be empowered by technology and every citizen should be connected by technology.

On the business front we are working with all the government agencies involved and helping companies at all levels to embrace technology. For example, IMDA is responsible for the infocomm and media sector. It accounts for about 9% of our GDP, employs around 200,000 professionals and is growing very well at about 6% a year. Each of our sectors has a digital component. We have a launch plan for retail, logistics, security and environmental services, for example.

 

Can you give us a concrete example of a sector in which digitalization and high-tech solutions are having a real impact?

There’s the security sector, for example. In Singapore, you walk past a condominium, a private estate or a hotel lobby and usually you have a physical human security presence there. It's actually a very manpower intensive industry with very low labor productivity. How do you use technology to overcome these constraints especially when our demographics mean that our birth rate is low so we have manpower shortages.The solution here is that you use technology to transform the security sector by using cameras, video analytics, AI and central mobile command centers for a smaller group of guards to cover a larger group of buildings. We are developing a digital plan for the sector to guide the companies and buyers of services in a step-by- step process to get there.

 

What is the role of digitalization not only in developing Singapore but also the rest of the region?

All member states of ASEAN recognize the opportunities and potential of digital and the ability of transforming economies and societies for a better life and improved opportunities for the people. This belief is manifested in many ways. How the leaders are committed to harmonizing, having more coordinated rules and regulations like customs and e-commerce and how goods actually move between markets as well as data, talent and ideas. Most recently they started a network called the ASEAN Smart Cities Network. But basically it’s a view that all of us can learn from one another while recognizing that each of us is at a different stage of development, a different stage of adopting technology. That doesn't stop us from learning together and progressing together. The commitment from leaders all the way down is very clear.

On the B2B level it is also very clear if you look at the networks and connectivity between enterprises. They no longer just say they’re an Indonesian company or a Singapore company. Every company in this region has linkages to other companies in the region. It's an interconnected regionconnected to the rest of the world.

 


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