Our 2021 In Review: Building a globally competitive digital economy, one success at a time

Last updated: 15 March 2023

Published on: 30 December 2021


IMDA's 2021 In Review: An employee is creating company reports on his laptop
Over the last year, IMDA has ramped up efforts to advance the digital skills, partnerships, resources, technologies and regulations required for businesses to thrive in Singapore’s digital economy.

By Jill Arul

Over the last two years, much of our lives have gone digital—from grocery shopping to office meetings. However, outside of our homes, many businesses recognised the benefits of embracing technology and began making the switch long before the pandemic. Singapore's digitalisation journey has been gaining momentum in recent years. Since the launch of IMDA’s SMEs Go Digital programme in 2017, more than 70,000 SMEs have benefitted from the initiative and have since embraced going digital.  

Committed to building a vibrant tech ecosystem that supports the growth of local businesses, the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) launched several initiatives and technologies that set companies on the path of digitalisation and success. From easy-to-use data analytics tools to a robust 5G infrastructure, IMDA not only benefits local companies, but also strengthens the Singapore’s position as a regional node—attracting partners from all over the world to grow the nation’s digital transformation efforts, businesses and talents.

Find out how each of IMDA’s initiatives and resources in 2021 continue to contribute to building a flourishing tech ecosystem for local businesses to remain globally competitive, one success at a time. 

Forging ahead with 5G

Announced in January 2021, a $30 million fund was dedicated to accelerate the adoption and commercialisation of 5G in Singapore. Over the course of the year, IMDA and a slew of partners, from M1 to the MPA, worked at improving infrastructure and launching trials with 5G, an important enabler for the nation’s digital future.

One other breakthrough in 5G efforts was the launch of four open 5G testbeds at Maritime Drone Estate, Singapore Science Park, PIXEL and Sentosa. With businesses now having access to 5G experimentation, networks, and development of solutions in sectors like drone deliveries, maritime operations, smart cities solutions and content production, this enables businesses to innovate, testbed and develop cutting-edge industry plans and digital solutions quicker than before. 

Take for example Volocopter – the German startup leveraged the testbed at MPA’s Maritime Drone Estate to explore potential 5G applications with their ‘eVTOL’ aircraft, which is the world’s first fully electric aircraft designed to transport passengers safely and quietly within cities. With the power of 5G, we unlock a hotbed of opportunities for companies of all sizes looking to bring their product development to greater heights.

As more companies embrace the network slicing, ultra-reliable and low latency communication capabilities of 5G technology, IMDA’s targeted trials and funding unlock the possibilities to sustain the implementation of 5G in all industries. 


Supporting Singapore’s businesses 

While some companies look to embrace frontier technology like 5G, IMDA also ensures that businesses across the spectrum can benefit from digitalisation. Accounting for almost half of Singapore’s GDP and employing two thirds of our workforce, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are a significant part of the economy and stand to benefit from digitalisation. To help our SMEs stay competitive and ahead in the digital economy, IMDA provides support with a host of initiatives and resources to make going digital simple and easy for all. 

One such resource is the Industry Digital Plans (IDPs). These industry-specific, step-by-step guides to digitalisation come equipped with valuable recommendations for digital solutions, skills and resources. With regular launches like this year’s Precision Engineering and Food Manufacturing IDP, IMDA - together with partner agencies and industry associations - keep SMEs abreast of the latest technologies and provides them with tools for digitalisation. 

Another initiative is the nationwide e-invoicing platform InvoiceNow pioneered by IMDA, which has further gained greater traction in 2021. With transacting and payment processes being a significant bulk of a business’ workflows, InvoiceNow enables businesses to digitalise the way they transact, saving time and reducing cost. With more businesses recognising the benefits of digitalising their transaction processes, IMDA recently welcomed the Housing and Development Board (HDB), JTC and Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) onboard the InvoiceNow platform – with these three agencies now able to issue direct e-invoices through InvoiceNow, offering digital transactions to their 25,000 business customers with more than 49,000 invoices issued each month.

Finally, another new resource available to SMEs is the Better Data Driven Business (BDDB) Business Intelligence (BI) tool. Launched earlier this year, the tool helps SMEs gain deeper insights by converting business data into visual dashboards for easier data analysis. The tool also offers clear instructions and recommendations that SMEs can draw on after receiving the relevant insights, thus equipping them further to act on these insights to innovate, improve and drive growth.

While ensuring that going digital is kept simple for businesses of all sizes, new types of partnerships were also unlocked. In 2021, IMDA launched the Singapore Trade Data Exchange (SGTraDex)—a neutral and open digital infrastructure that facilitates trusted sharing of data between supply chain ecosystem partners. Set to anchor public-private partnerships, three use-cases were then developed to demonstrate the benefits of SGTraDex by strengthening financing integrity of trade flows, improving end-to-end visibility of container logistics and digitalising the bunkering industry. This project provides a glimpse into the new and innovative business possibilities in the digital age, promising new areas of growth for our businesses.

Building on Singapore’s reputation as a trusted digital transformation hub, IMDA and the National Research Foundation will also invest S$50million over the next five years to develop digital trust capabilities. These efforts will address industry needs and unlock opportunities enabled by emerging digital trust technologies, ensuring that the growth of our nation’s digital economy is built on a secure trusted digital environment. This will support the growth of businesses operating in the digital domain, and further cement Singapore’s position as an attractive global node for business. 


From Singapore to the world 

Interconnected with the global space in the digital domain, the growth of Singapore’s digital economy is further driven by international partnerships and opportunities.  As such, IMDA has also made strides internationally this year with global partnerships and frameworks that shape the norms for this emerging sector—benefitting both local business and Singapore’s digital economy as a whole. 

This year, making great headway in international and digital trade, IMDA saw three major successes for TradeTrust—a set of globally-accepted standards and frameworks that support the exchange of electronic trade documents. Each was a successful trial and collaboration with three global partners—the Australian Border Force, Singapore-China Smart City Initiative Joint Implementation Committee and Abu Dhabi Global Markets. From verifying documents across borders to the world’s first digitalised trade transaction across two Model Law on Electronic Transferable Records (MLETR) compliant jurisdictions, all three trials proved the benefits of frameworks such as TradeTrust and the potential of technology in cross-border business. 

To accelerate digital economy collaborations, the second Singapore-China Smart City Initiative Joint Implementation Committee Meeting saw four new Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) signed, which is poised to benefit businesses in both countries with quicker and more secure transactions. IMDA also accomplished continued cooperation between Western China and Singapore through the China-Singapore Chongqing Connectivity Initiative, advancing digital trade between both nations. 

Extending across continents, progress was made with the United Kingdom-Singapore Digital Economy Agreement (UKSDEA).This is the third agreement of which Singapore has pioneered, following a DEA with Chile and New Zealand as well as the Singapore-Australia DEA. The DEAs are set to advance digital trade, data flows and enable a more trusted and secure digital environment to benefit all economies involved. 

From individual SMEs to international ties, IMDA initiatives and resources like SMEs Go Digital support the development of a thriving digital economy with new technologies, digitalisation opportunities, and fruitful partnerships. The strides made in 2021 help our businesses stay ahead, while advancing our international footprint has helped to position Singapore as a bigger digital red dot – in turn growing opportunities in the digital space for our businesses and people. 

Find out more about our year in 2021: Here's how we are nurturing our tech talent to grasp the opportunities in the digital domain, and how we are ensuring no one is left behind in the digital age.

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