Singapore Technology Industry Spotlight
A crucible of innovation, Singapore is a beacon of forward-thinking technology. We take a dive into the industry as the nation endeavours to reach Smart Nation status
Writer: Phoebe Harper | Project Manager: Matt Cole-Wilkin
Boasting one of the most technologically advanced Infocomm and Communication Technology (ICT) markets in the world, Singapore has long been regarded as the tech hub of Asia Pacific. According to the International Trade Administration, Singapore’s wireless broadband penetration rate was recorded at 173.2 percent in December 2020, with mobile penetration at 148.2 percent.
With its reputation for technological prowess expanding to a worldwide reach, multiple global titans of technology, including Google, Microsoft, and Amazon Web Services, have strategically selected the island city-state as an overseas base to expand their footprint. This is largely thanks to Singapore’s enabling and competitive status as an early adopter of new technologies.
Indeed, Singapore is well-established as a playground for trialling and testing new digital solutions, with the country positioning itself as the go-to destination for product testing and development. Significantly, the nation shares a mutual recognition agreement (MRA) with the US for the certification of telecom equipment. Meanwhile, Singapore is also a hub for global data management, hosting 15 active submarine cable systems.
For companies of a smaller scale, the nation is renowned for its dynamic start-up economy, which continues to receive significant attention from venture capitalists as a hotbed for innovation.
Singapore continues to advance its thriving digital economy, with a robust 5G infrastructure as the solid foundation. In this way, Singapore advances an agenda of continual innovation, specifically into the relatively nascent fields of cloud computing, artificial intelligence (AI), quantum computing, data analytics and other technologies spanning healthcare, security, fintech, energy, aviation and defence.
As the nation’s best prospect industry sector, Singapore’s technological development is intrinsically social, harnessing the digital potential for socio-economic progress. This people-centric focus on technology as an enabler for social good is best reflected in Singapore’s journey to become a Smart Nation.
A scheme that began in 2014, the Smart Nation Singapore initiative has been described by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as a means to “create possibilities for ourselves beyond what we imagined possible.”
Encompassing a myriad of initiatives across a host of sectors, from autonomous vehicles (AVs) to telehealth, the vision is centred on three key pillars for the seamless integration of technology – Digital Society, Digital Government, and Digital Economy. As the Smart Nation journey continues, Singapore will create a stronger community with the integration of technology positively transforming the way that people live, work, and play.
Marking its 40th anniversary this year, SGTech is the leading trade association spearheading the technological future of the Smart Nation of Singapore
Since inception, SGTech has evolved in alignment with the ever-transforming tech realm. Keeping pace with the advancement of technology from mainframe computers to personal devices and on to telecommunications, SGTech continues to champion a thriving technological ecosystem for Singapore. Indeed, consolidating over 1,000 member companies, ranging from innovative start-ups to vast multinational corporations (MNCs), SGTech represents the largest technological community in Singapore.
We catch up with Executive Director at SGTech, Ms. Yean Cheong, as the association undergoes its three-year transformation plan to explore its role within the Singapore Green Plan, and the necessity of engendering digital trust.
APAC Outlook (AO): Can you talk us through the origins of SGTech, how it came about, and its initial vision?
Ms. Yean Cheong, Executive Director (YC): SGTech traces our beginnings to 1982 as the Singapore Federation of The Computing Industry (SFCI) when IT was all about mainframe computers. In 1986, another group came together to form the Micro Computer Trade Association of Singapore (MTAS). They represented the power of the personal computer. The two worlds eventually came together in 1999, with the merger between SFCI and MTAS to form the Singapore IT Federation (SITF). The Association was renamed as the Singapore Infocomm Technology Federation (SiTF) in 2012 to include telecommunications.
With technology at the heart of everything - driving industry, driving new business - the Association saw the need to transform once more, to represent companies with tech at their core, into SGTech in 2018.
AO: Since inception, how has SGTech developed and progressed in terms of its key objectives and the messages it tries to get across?
YC: SGTech’s work has correspondingly evolved as the core of our membership shifted, and companies themselves have evolved over the years. What has not changed is the concept of member-centricity in our work - we exist for our members.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought into focus the role of trade associations and chambers (TACs) as the bridge between government and industry, which is in line with our purpose. While SGTech is a TAC for the tech industry, we adopt a horizontal approach to integrating tech in businesses across all industry sectors.
SGTech’s three-year transformation plan announced last year (2021) after extensive discussions within the Council, spells out our strategic thrusts:
• To position Singapore as a global node for digital data, based on trust.
• To lead the tech sector to take collective action and be part of sustainable solutions in Singapore and the world.
The dual strategic thrusts are underpinned by talent for tech, which we will continue to champion.
These priorities are aligned with our mission to catalyse the ecosystem to accelerate tech innovation and pervasive tech adoption, which will realise our vision of a thriving ecosystem that powers Singapore as a global tech powerhouse.
AO: What do you find most exciting about working in Singapore’s technology sector?
YC: First of all, technology is ever-evolving. The constant change in the sector means that we are always exploring new things and new ways of doing things. It is a privilege to work with the brightest, most innovative business leaders across sectors.
Our approach is always to support tech companies in their expansion strategies to integrate vertically and horizontally, thus we get the opportunity to make an impact across a wide spectrum of businesses.
In the shift to leapfrog digitalisation adoption by enterprises in Singapore, we have embarked on more outreach, together with the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) and TACs for other sectors, to steer and support the digital transformation of industries.
We support our members in their digital transformation journey by ensuring there is a steady pipeline of talent to fulfil the needs of the tech sector through the workforce initiatives in partnership with government agencies, such as the Career Conversion Programmes and Global Ready Talent Programme.
AO: On the flip side, what are its biggest challenges?
YC: As a small country, we are a price taker and not a price setter. This means that we are very exposed to global trends and phenomena, and our ability to influence and set the global agenda is limited. This comes with other associated challenges of not having direct access to bigger economies, hence we need to leverage FTA networks to achieve the same level of access.
However, our size and hyper-connectedness give us the advantage to be a testbed for new technologies and ideas. We think this can allow companies big and small to springboard into the region.
“Singapore’s tech sector has the opportunity to gain momentum over the next five years, and Singapore can become a global node for digital and data within the next decade”
AO: What trends are currently transforming the sector in your region? How are you responding to them?
YC: The increasing importance of data privacy and data protection of consumers cannot be ignored. With businesses relying on data to create personalised products and services in the battle for the customer’s favour, the industry as a whole must engender trust. This digital trust is something that companies must be able to win from users, not simply in themselves, but also in the intricate digital value chain of suppliers and partners.
To steer the thinking of the industry as a whole and to help our companies understand the intricacies and take the relevant actions to tap the opportunities in this space, SGTech formed a Digital Trust Committee in 2021. The Committee will be the trailblazers who find the way forward for the industry and the region.
Sustainability is another important area, as the whole world races to meet our commitments in the Paris Agreement, and more importantly, to save planet Earth. Our Sustainability Committee is helping to shape the thinking and activities of all our Chapters and Committees and define a programme of work that can help Singapore meet the objectives of the Singapore Green Plan.
AO: Has SGTech got any projects in the pipeline you wish to highlight?
Digital Trust - SGTech is taking the lead in putting together a landscape study on digital trust and a major event that will take place in Q3 this year. We will be organising a forum to provide global thought leadership in this space to inspire a generation of thinkers who can help build a trusted ecosystem for consumers and businesses to connect.
Digital Transformation Centre (DTC) - SGTech DTC will be the underlying platform that galvanises the ecosystem to deliver an integrated experience of digital transformation for local SMEs. The services are categorised into a ‘3S’ Framework, comprising the three key pillars of Strategy, Solutions and Skills, that outline a holistic approach to the digital transformation process. Digital transformation is only meaningful in the broader context of a business’ overall transformation. It starts from clear business objectives – why the organisation needs to transform, and how they want to change their business model to meet evolving customer needs and the challenges of the macro environment. With the objectives defined, digital transformation becomes the enabler to allow the business to move smoothly and swiftly to execute what it has to do, to meet the desired outcomes. SGTech will also directly partner with other industry associations to deliver a contextualised, sector-specific application of the 3S framework. By combining SGTech’s resources in technology with domain expertise, we can significantly increase the likelihood of success.
Sustainability - We are poised to do our part to reduce Singapore’s electronic waste by concurrently focusing on businesses and consumers: first, by getting Singapore SMEs started on mounting their internal campaigns to reduce their e-waste, and second, by scaling up efforts to grow consumer demand for extending the lives of electronic devices and appliances. We have plans in the works to mobilise industry and the public to help reduce Singapore’s packaging waste or packaging sustainability, beginning with packaging surrounding ICT devices. Our passionate members in the specialised domain of ICT devices are working closely with us to identify addressable problems whose solutions could be innovatively crowdsourced. We are also preparing to mount a small but ambitious pilot to encourage and ease SMEs into taking their first steps towards Environmental Social Governance (ESG) compliance, which in the long run will increase their competitiveness at home and abroad as they prepare themselves to compete in large procurement calls.
Talent for Tech - SGTech will be playing a key role in the Government’s initiative to nurture a future-ready workforce, working closely with the polytechnics, ITE and IMDA, as announced in Minister of State Tan Kiat How’s speech at the Committee of Supply debate. This initiative aims to enhance the quality of internship opportunities for Polytechnic and ITE students by allowing them to apply their knowledge outside of the classroom. For a start, we are looking at 1,000 polytechnic and ITE students participating in this enhanced internship initiative over the next three years. Upon graduation, students will also have the opportunity to take up apprenticeships at participating companies to learn the ropes of ICT roles and for those who are interested in further studies, they will be supported through Work-Study Diploma or Degree programmes related to growth areas such as AI, cloud and cybersecurity.
AO: How do you see Singapore’s technology sector developing over the next five years?
YC: Singapore is well-positioned to take advantage of the opportunities and challenges that may come our way. Although COVID-19 has accelerated digitalisation or digital transformation across all sectors, the Russia-Ukraine conflict will further amplify supply chain disruption, making things even more challenging. Adding to that are the adverse effects of climate change, creating an overhang and threatening all of humanity.
Against this backdrop, we observe that Web 3.0 is coming on fast and furious. It is disrupting and threatening existing business models and also challenging the sovereignty of current monetary, fiscal and regulatory frameworks. Singapore’s tech sector has the opportunity to gain momentum over the next five years, and Singapore can become a global node for digital and data within the next decade.