29 February 2008 - Speech By Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister For Community Development, Youth & Sports and Second Minister For Information, Communications & The Arts At COS Debate (MICA) In Parliament.

Speech By Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister For Community Development, Youth & Sports and Second Minister For Information, Communications & The Arts on 29 February 2008 At COS Debate (MICA) In Parliament.

Introduction

1. Mr Chairman, Sir. I thank Mrs Penny Low and Mr Zaqy Mohamad for their relevant comments and advice.

2. Let me start by saying that the infocomm sector has seen good growth. For 2007, our preliminary estimates indicate that growth of between 6% to 8%, in Value-Add was achieved and in terms of total revenues, we saw growth of between 7% to 10%. These are reasonable indices for progress.

3. Let me update you on the status of the iN2015 masterplan. Infrastructure wise we have completed the roll out of the Wireless@SG programme. Members will remember that this is a pervasive public wireless network and it now consists of 6,900 hotspots distributed island-wide in public areas. As far as the Next Generation National Broadband Network project is concerned, the Request for Proposal is underway, and we target to award the first RFP by the third quarter of this year.

4. The various cluster development programmes under the masterplan include things such as FutureSchools@Singapore, iGov2010, TradeXchange and Integrated Clinic Management Systems. All these cluster development programmes are underway and making good progess.

5. Specifically on the e-government programme, we are achieving a greater integration of government e-services, under the igov 2010 plans, specifically I think members would remember that last week, 150 goverment services will be available online through the mobile phone. The main government website, www.gov.sg website, will also be transformed in order to meet the increasingly sophisticated demands of our people.

Promoting Infocomm Manpower and Talent Development

6. Sir, you will see improvements in these package of services and products, as they interface with government and people. But I agree with Ms Penny Low and Mr Zaqy Mohamad that for our local infocomm industry to flourish, the key ingredient is talent. IDA’s 2007 Annual Infocomm Manpower Survey showed that our infocomm manpower pool grew by 8.9% between 2006 and 2007. We now have approximately 130,400 people in this sector. More than 80% of these people are tertiary-educated 1.

7. But we really need to develop a full complement of infocomm manpower that stretches from maintenance personnel to cutting-edge researcher and development. And to achieve this, the key is to attract and retain top talent in this sector and to ensure that this talent continues to have relevant and up-to-date infocomm skills as this is such a quickly progressing sector.

8. IDA will be increasing the pool of scholars in this sector through the National Infocomm Scholarships programme. These scholarships are offered in partnership with companies from the private sector and include a diverse range of sectors such as banking, finance, telecoms, media. Scholars of the National Infocomm Scholorship programme are assured of a wide selection of exciting job prospects when they graduate. Since its launch of this programme in 2004, we have attracted a total of 107 top students, and  in the next few years, we will increase the number of scholarships available.

9. IDA together with the local universities and companies will  also roll out the Enhanced Learning in Infocomm Technology Programme. This is a programme which targets the top 20% of our infocomm students at NUS, NTU and SMU. They will have the opportunity to be mentored by key industry leaders, they will be exposed to project work as well as internships both locally and overseas; and they will also receive training in new technology areas. This is to ensure that top talent is excited, is stimulated and sees that there are real prospects for interesting challenges in the years ahead and that addresses your point about keeping top talent within this sector...

10. The National Infocomm Competency Framework (or “NICF”) was initiated last year. This is a framework which will help professionals upgrade and equip themselves with skillsets which we anticipate will be in high demand in the future. A new NICF portal will be launched at the end of this month. The portal will enable users to assess manpower capability gaps, develop career development plans, as well as to identify relevant training programmes.

11. Complementing this framework is the Techno-Strategist Programme, which will aim to equip some 1,000 middle-tier infocomm professionals, with deeper domain knowledge specifically in three sectors. These three sectors are healthcare, finance and banking. Why did we choose these three sectors? Because we believe that these three sectors will have significant growth prospects in the years ahead. Obviously as we identify other sectors we will also expand this programme accordingly.

12. Over the next 5 years, IDA will be investing a further $70 million into these infocomm manpower development programmes. So the resources are available.

13. Besides addressing talent, IDA and MDA will work with other government agencies, including the EDB, to continue with industry efforts to land high-value ICT activities and Research and Development to Singapore. We will also be increasing our assistance for our local start-ups so that they will be able to create and market their IP both locally and internationally.

Promoting the Development of SMEs

14. Ms Penny Low also asked how we are helping the SMEs to adopt infocomm. Let me just highlight three key programmes.

15. The first is the SME Infocomm Resource Centre@Singapore Polytechnic. This provides SMEs with consultancy services at very low rates. I understand the lowest charge is only $5. Another example is the SME Domain-Name Reservation service. When a local company registers its name with ACRA, it is also given an option for free reservation of its domain name. It has three months to decide if it wishes to register that domain name and if it wishes to, we offer it at a subsidised rate initially. The third example, is the SME Infocomm Package, which by May this year will offer infocomm service and support packages from a list of pre-qualified suppliers. This is a scheme which will enable SMEs to reap cost savings, or as Ms Penny Low has referred to it as almost a utility model, when they invest in basic infocomm equipment and services. And to add as an additional sweetener, IDA will co-fund the first 5,000 SMEs who take advantage of these packages. Resources are available. We can bring the horse to the water, but we cannot force it to drink.

Building an All-Inclusive Digital Society

16. Ms Penny Low was concerned about a potential digital divide. We are aware of this and we do not intend to let a digital divide exist in Singapore. In the next 5 years, we will invest $43 million into these efforts. And let me give you a few examples.

17. The IDA will accelerate its enhanced NEU-PC Plus programme. This is a programme which was launched in 2006 which provides highly-subsidised Personal Computers and Internet access to low-income families, and I may add it’s broadband Internet access, to these low-income families. To date, some 4,200 families have taken advantage of this programme and in total, we are aiming for 38,000 families to benefit from this programme by 2015. Last year, the IDA also set up the iNSPIRE Fund which will allow needy students to perform community service in lieu of co-payment. So in theory, some families can get these services for a “princely” sum of $0.

18. I launched the first Silver Infocomm Junction last November. This is a centre targeted at senior citizens so that they’d get better access and exposure to personal computers and the Internet. The IDA will be setting up another seven centres in the heartlands by 2010. IDA will also work with MCYS and the Society for the Physically Disabled to launch the Infocomm Accessibility Centre in the middle of this year. And this will provide infocomm skills training to the disabled so that they can enhance their employability and stay connected.

19. To ensure that there’s convenient online access to government services, there are 28 CitizenConnect Centres around Singapore with trained officers on hand to render assistance to those currently without computer access or need someone to hold their hand while they click on the mouse.

20. Yesterday, we announced the results of the tender for the Standard Operating Environment. This is a $1.3 billion project, over 8 years, and we estimate that it’ll save the Government around $500 million over the next 8 years, and these savings are derived principally from economies of scale, from the standardisation, from the ease of deployment and the ease of maintenance that results from the standardised operating environment.

21. I take the point that we’re also aware of risks with outsourcing such a large chunk of government IT infrastructure to the private sector. And we have taken adequate precautions. For example, we will ensure that for every essential component of this project, there are at least 2 suppliers within that consortium, who can provide that essential component. Operationally, we also intend to ensure that at least 30% of the people involved in this project are government civil servants or people within  our statutory boards. They will be integrated and embedded into the manpower manning this project so that we’re never held hostage to any company or any consortium or sub-consortium within this project.

22. We will also have internal audit teams to maintain security  and resilience of this system. And it also gives us an opportunity, therefore, to upscale and retask our existing IT manpower into higher value and more significant jobs. So all in all our IT infocomm sector is doing well, is growing, we’re making resources available, there’re great opportunities both in the private sector and in the government sector, greater efficiencies. And we’ll also make sure no digital divides emerge.

Note:

1i.e. having at least diploma qualifications.

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LAST UPDATED: 13 MAR 2023