4 March 2008 - Keynote Address By Mr Lam Chuan Leong, Chairman, Competition Commission of Singapore, Ambassador-at-Large, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Former Chairman, Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore At the Regional Innovation Forum 2008, Conrad Hotel.

Keynote Address By Mr Lam Chuan Leong, Chairman, Competition Commission of Singapore, Ambassador-at-Large, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Former Chairman, Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore At the Regional Innovation Forum 2008 on 4 March 2008, Conrad Hotel.

In his book, "Innovation Nation", the well known innovation guru, John Kao, asked:

"If innovation is the answer, what is the question?"

His answer:

"At a national level, it might well be the vehicle for fulfilling a society's dreams for itself."

That is a bold and lofty answer. Let me talk about one part of those dreams, namely the management of innovation in aid of economic growth. Managing economic growth may be compared to managing a portfolio of investments.

First, the investor has to follow the market. He cannot go against the wisdom of the market.

Second, a good investor cannot afford to be partial to any favourite sector or stock. Each sector or stock has to be carefully chosen for its growth.

Third, the investor has to choose between being a purely passive investor or play some active role.

The IT sector in Singapore has been a strong sector from the innovation and growth points of view. Its rise is the result of market forces not just in Singapore but globally as well. It is a strategic sector like one of those so called "blue-chips" that no portfolio can be without.

In promoting the growth of the IT sector, the IDA has taken the approach of allowing the market to lead, to encourage foreign investment as well as developing local talent and companies under a strong and robust legal regime and rule of law.

The key underlying principle is to encourage companies to be more efficient and competitive in the global market place.

One remarkable example of how a competitive environment helps lower costs to many businesses is the liberalisation of telecom sector. The influx of more players and more competition results in more choices and lower prices and thus brought about a net gain to the economy as a whole.

The government's role in the promotion of this IT sector can be grouped under four major areas:

1. As a user itself,
2. As a provider of education and manpower training,
3. Support and facilitation of Industry development, and
4. Standards setting and facilitating inter-operability.

As a User Itself

1. As a user itself, the government has an enormous catalytic effect on IT adoption and also the development of private sector support functions.

The Government has consistently maintained a high level of investment in infocomm. Over the last five years, its direct expenditure on IT services has been about $600 to $800 million per annum. One of the upcoming key government projects is the Standard ICT Operating Environment (SOE) tender for the Public Sector, with an estimated tender value of S$1.5 billion. The SOE project aims to create a common government infocomm infrastructure to enhance operational. It will involve the standardisation of desktop, messaging and network environment across almost all public sector agencies in Singapore.

As a Provider of Education and Manpower Training

2. IDA plays a developmental role as a provider of education and manpower training for the sector.

IDA's manpower development strategies can be broadly categorised into three areas. Firstly, to develop, attract and retain infocomm talent to ensure that the infocomm sector continues to attract a fair share of talent to drive the growth of the industry. It is also important that our young people, who will become the leaders and workforce of the future, be motivated to make technology innovation a part of their everyday life. Secondly, IDA aims to develop infocomm competencies in key economic sectors. Here, IDA is working to develop a technology-receptive mindset among business leaders. Thirdly, to develop globally competitive infocomm professionals, we need to build a pool of infocomm professionals who have the breadth of technology know-how; good understanding of business and the capability to create intellectual property.

To ensure a good pipeline of talent to create and capitalise on the digital opportunities ahead, even as we continue to build on our current capabilities, over the next three to five years, IDA, together with the industry, will be investing a further $70 million in infocomm manpower development programmes. These programmes will target students as well as professionals working in the infocomm sector and other sectors of the economy. This investment is over and above the $120 million funding for the Infocomm Manpower Roadmap launched in November 2005. Some examples of IDA's work in the area of manpower and training are:

i) The National Infocomm Competency Framework (NICF) which is a national framework to develop infocomm professionals to better respond to the needs of the industry. The NICF benefits employers by enhancing staff training and development programmes based on industry standards. The NICF also benefits infocomm professionals as it allows them to plan their personal skills upgrading and career development while training providers can make use of the NICF to develop high-quality courses and certification programmes required by the industry.

ii) Since the launch of the National Infocomm Scholarship (NIS) three years ago, IDA has attracted a total of 107 top infocomm students. We are looking to award some 200 scholarships by 2010.

iii) For the 2008 academic year, university undergraduates can look forward to the Enhanced Learning in Infocomm Technology Programme or in short, "ELITe". This programme will target the top 20% of infocomm students at the three local universities - NUS, NTU and SMU, and aims to enhance their infocomm capabilities through the acquisition of practical infocomm skills and business domain knowledge. This will be achieved by involving companies from the industry who will offer industry attachment and project work opportunities to students.

Support and Facilitation of Industry Development

3. IDA also plays the role of supporting industry development through partial funding support, convening and facilitation.


a. infocomm Local Upgrading Programme (iLIUP)
In 1996, the then National Computer Board (NCB) established the IT LIUP to serve as a one-stop shop for all IT LIUP projects. Each IT MNC partnered a local IT enterprise, providing guidance and training to bring local developers up to speed with the latest innovations and developments. In December 1999 when the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) was formed and IT LIUP was officially renamed Infocomm LIUP (iLIUP). iLIUP's objective was to develop a vibrant infocomm industry by cultivating win-win collaborations between iLIUP local partners and iLIUP MNC partners. Over the last few years, iLIUP has evolved with the infocomm industry and has grown to 17 iLIUP MNC partners. This partnership programme has brought many benefits to both the MNC and its infocomm local enterprise (iLE) partner. Over the last 3 years, iLIUP has helped iLEs generate S$75.3 million in revenue, and develop 231 new or enhanced products and services, and train 931 infocomm manpower.

b. BackPack.NET initiative
Through BackPack.NET initiative, IDA and Microsoft Singapore helped to transform the way Singapore's students learn in school. IDA supported the research, development and testing of the use of innovative infocomm technologies, such as tablet PC-based software applications and services, in education. Following the success of BackPack.Net in Singapore, three Singapore companies iCell, Heulab and Amdon Consulting have launched the pilot phase of the eSchoolBag project in Qatar.

c. Wireless@SG
Wireless@SG is the Government's wireless broadband programme that aims to extend broadband access beyond the homes, schools and offices, to public places. Under this initiative which was launched in March 2006, users can enjoy free, both in-door and outdoor seamless wireless broadband access with speeds of up to 512kbps at almost 6,500 public areas or hotspots.

Singapore's Wireless@SG programme recently earned an international award, which recognises the efforts of governments and supporting organisations who have implemented broadband-wireless solutions for their respective cities, counties and regions. In the Wireless Internet Institute's third annual Wireless Communities Best Practices Award, the Wireless@SG project won in the new category of Economic Development for utilising broadband wireless technology to meet social and economic challenges. Offering free Wi-Fi in more than 6,200 hot spots around Singapore, the Wireless@SG initiative impressed the jury with its comprehensive plan that aims to grow Singapore's economy through infocomm technology.

d. National Healthcare Network
In 2006, IDA launched a $15 million programme to accelerate infocomm adoption in the primary healthcare sector by developing an integrated clinic management system (CMS) for General Practitioners to seamlessly update and retrieve their patients' health records, hence providing more personalised healthcare to patients. The CMS, which will be completed in 2010, will also help GPs in Singapore to plug into the national healthcare network to achieve the Ministry of Health's "One Singaporean, One Electronic Medical Records" vision.

Standards Setting and Facilitating Inter-Operability

4. As a standards setter facilitating inter-operability and protecting legitimate intellectual property rights.

An example is the launch of the Singapore Standard for Contactless ePurse Application, SS 518 CEPAS. The launch was made possible as a result of a collaboration spearheaded by IDA working closely with the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and the industry. Gazetted and published by SPRING Singapore as SS 518 CEPAS, the other key organisations in this collaboration are the Cards & Personal Identification Technical Committee (CPTIC) under the Singapore IT Standards Committee (ITSC), Network for Electronic Transfers Singapore Pte Ltd (NETS), and EZ-Link Pte Ltd.

Available for industry use, SS CEPAS is a world's first in creating a nationwide interoperable micro-payment platform that bridges multiple sectors - in particular the transit and retail e-payment space. This standard also levels the playing field for more card issuers such as banks and merchants to participate in this e-payment space.

We may ask how successful have these measures been in promotion the health of the IT sector in Singapore. One way of looking at this is to use the country rankings taken from a report by the Economist Intelligence Unit recently. A summary of the country rankings are shown in Table 1. There will be another detailed presentation on this report later. I have taken some of the key figures to illustrate Singapore's performance.

In terms of Human Capital and Support for IT industry development, we have done very well. Singapore occupies 2nd and 3rd position out of 20 countries ranked. Moreover, in terms of absolute score, we are only a few points away from the top scorers which is the US and Denmark respectively.

Table 1
  Top 20th Singapore
Infrastructure Switzerland (88) Israel (46) 12th (58)
Human Capital US (96) Germany (59) 2nd (85)
Support for IT Denmark (89) Korea (75) 3rd (88)
Legal Env US (92) Israel (75) 15th (81)
R&D Japan (84) Ireland (14) 17th (16)
Overall Business Environment Hong Kong (100) France (83) 10th (91)
Overall Competitive Index US (77.4) Israel (54.5) 11th (63.1)
Notes: Figures in brackets refer to the actual score of the countries.

In the Legal Environment, we have also done well. Although we are in 15th position, our score of 81 is just 11 points behind that of the top ranked country, the US. The differences in this category are very narrow.

However, Singapore fares less well in respect of Infrastructure and R&D.

In Infrastructure, Singapore ranks 12th place just below the median.

For the IT infrastructure category, four indicators are used to benchmark this item, specifically:

i) Market spending on hardware, software, and IT services (US$ per 100 people);
ii) Desktop and laptop computers per 100 people;
iii) Broadband connections (xDSL, ISDN, PRI, FWB, cable, FTx) per 100 people; and
iv) Secure Internet servers per 100,000 people.

Our relatively poorer performance for all four indicators accounted for our 12th ranking in the EIU's IT Infrastructure factor. In addition, the EIU analysis indicated that Singapore's low broadband penetration among the population and high broadband charges had negative effects on our ranking.

In R&D, we are ranked 17th and a low score of 16 relative to 85 for the top ranked Japan. The sub-categories in this index consist of:

  Rank in 2004 Rank in 2005
Government Expenditure on R&D 5th 2th
Private Sector Expenditure on R&D 7th 2nd
License Fees 15th 9th
Number of Patents 19th 22nd

It may be seen therefore that our performance in terms on R&D expenditure is amongst the top nations. However, we need to improve in terms of the licence fees and the number of patents. Perhaps we are still in the initial investment phase in R&D. With time, we hope that the licence fees and number of patents will improve in their rankings.

In conclusion we can say that Singapore is quite at the forefront in the IT sector and that government's efforts in facilitation and support have been a positive factor. We ranked high on the EIU analysis and most other international rankings on most counts except in some aspects of infrastructure and R&D. I am optimistic that we shall be able to overcome our relative weakness in these two areas in the near future.

Thank you.

Last updated on: 13 Mar 2023