22 November 2008 - Speech By RADM(NS) Ronnie Tay, Chief Executive Officer, Infocomm Development Authority Of Singapore, At "IIT Everywhere - Asia 2020 (Leadership 2020 Track)", Shangri-La Hotel, Tower Ballroom, Singapore

Speech By RADM(NS) Ronnie Tay, Chief Executive Officer, Infocomm Development Authority Of Singapore, At "IIT Everywhere - Asia 2020 (Leadership 2020 Track)" On 22 November 2008, Shangri-La Hotel, Tower Ballroom, Singapore

Mr Supriyo Sircar, President, IIT Alumni Association, Singapore
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen


1. I would like to first thank the IIT Alumni Association Singapore for inviting me to speak at the Leadership 2020 track.

2. I am sure all of us in this room believe that government leadership plays a key role in fostering a vibrant infocomm ecosystem that can help drive economic and social growth. My presentation will be based on a Singapore perspective, should I say, the “Singapore Experience”.

Infocomm - A Critical Ingredient for Economic Growth

3. Governments around the world recognise that infocomm is a critical ingredient for economic and social growth, helping to drive innovation and create new business models. They have each in their own way taken the lead and provided the resources to reap the potential of infocomm for increased competitiveness of their respective countries. This leadership role entails charting directions and putting in place factors that foster a conducive ecosystem for infocomm innovation and advancement.

4. Earlier this year, reports released by the World Information Technology and Services Alliance or WITSTA and Global Insight, an international research company, indicated that ICT investments are poised to rise and governments are leading the way in the spending. These reports estimated that the global marketplace will top $4 trillion by 2011. While these projections were made prior to the current economic downturn, the point remains that ICT investments are set to increase, in line with economic growth and development.

5. In Singapore, the Government is expected to call S$1.14 billion worth of new infocomm tenders to meet its requirements in an ever-changing infocomm landscape by the end of Financial Year 2008, that is, by 31 March 2009.

Reaping the Benefits of Infocomm Adoption

6. The Government’s spending in the infocomm has reaped tremendous benefits for the economy over the years. In the area of e-Government for instance, the ubiquity of the Internet has permitted us to provide one-stop services to both citizens and businesses. For citizens, there are currently over 1,600 e-Government services available online, ranging from registration and renewal of passports to filing of income tax returns. For businesses, the Online Business Licensing Service or OBLS, is a portal that offers an integrated single form application for multiple licences from over 30 different government agencies in Singapore. As a result of OBLS, the company incorporation fee has been reduced from approximately S$31,000 to just S$270. The average approval processing time has also been reduced from 21 days to only 8 days. Over 22,000 businesses have used OBLS since its launch in 2004.

7. Another example is TradeNet, which is a system that allowed the logistics community to submit its trade documents electronically to principal government bodies, using electronic data interchange (EDI) technology. With this system, the turnaround time for processing trade documents was cut down from 1 to 4 days to just 10 to 15 minutes. The system has now evolved into the TradeXchange project, which facilitates seamless Business-to-Business trade with the provision of Value-Added Services, complementing the Business-to-Government transactions. Some Value-Added Services that are connected to TradeXchange include trade document preparation, supply chain management, logistics and freight management, and trade finance and insurance.

Harnessing the Potential of Infocomm - the Singapore Experience

8. These benefits from the adoption of infocomm have come about as a result of strategic planning over the years. Singapore has long recognised the potential of harnessing infocomm to accelerate development. As early as the late 70s and early 80s, the Government had decided that we had to systematically plan ahead and move quickly in this direction. In 1981, the National Computer Board or NCB was set up. Together with various government agencies and private sector bodies, NCB embarked on and led our national efforts to use infocomm to transform the way we live, work and play. The working population was familiarised with computers and a pool of infocomm professionals was trained. School children were also exposed to infocomm so that they would grow up at ease with using computer.

9. Our first infocomm masterplan promulgated in 1980, the National Computerisation Plan, focused on improving public administration through the effective use of IT by automating work functions, reducing paperwork and escalating the deployment of IT in the Public Service. Over time, NCB and its successor organisation IDA have envisioned and implemented successive ICT masterplans to guide the growth of the infocomm industry. By the early 90s, we had envisioned Singapore to be a global IT hub, leveraging infocomm to link communities internationally with the world’s first nationwide broadband network and integrating computing resources in the public service. By our fifth masterplan for 2003-2006 Connected Singapore, we had envisioned infocomm as a key enabler that brought together the power of computing, communications and content to create new business opportunities, consumer value and cultural experiences.

10. We are now into our sixth masterplan, entitled Intelligent Nation 2015 or iN2015. This overarching blueprint aims to transform Singapore into a global city, an intelligent nation that is powered by infocomm. The iN2015 masterplan is a multi-agency effort that is a result of the public, private and people sector co-creation. One key aspect of the masterplan is to build a vibrant infocomm ecosystem that serves to catalyse innovation and foster collaboration between the people, public and private sectors.

Fostering a Vibrant Infocomm Ecosystem

11. Infocomm as an industry has multiple groups of activities that affect and are affected by other groups. Collectively these groups form what we call the infocomm ecosystem. There are many ways to represent the infocomm ecosystem, but we have described the ecosystem in this fashion to better illustrate how our activities and programmes help to foster its growth.

12. Looking at the slide of the ecosystem, we can see a value chain of activities. Starting at the left is the research and innovation activities. The creative spark by luminaries, infocomm forerunners in the universities and research institutes pave the way for an environment of innovation necessary to drive our infocomm ecosystem. As we move towards the right of the value chain, we have Government agencies, technology transfer offices, venture capitalists, and even industry analysts, who help to transform these innovative ideas into viable market products and applications to be used by the infocomm industry.

13. The products and applications in turn, have an impact on how end-users, including non-infocomm industry sectors, governments, and consumers, function. Oftentimes, end-users also provide feedback that will in turn enhance current products and applications. This then leads to a new cycle of innovation.

14. Underpinning this chain of activities and cycle of innovation are both the hard and soft infrastructure. The hard infrastructure is made up of essentials like utilities and connectivity, without which infocomm will come to a standstill. The soft infrastructure is the framework that drives the ecosystem - for example, infocomm policies, manpower development, and grid computing.

15. Allow me to now share with you some of our key initiatives and programmes, to highlight how we can drive growth through fostering a vibrant infocomm ecosystem.

Investment in Infocomm Infrastructure

16. Let me first talk about the hard infrastructure. For Singapore to remain competitive in the globalised and digital economy, we need to make careful and timely investments in key economic infrastructure. In this regard, connectivity is the impetus in driving growth. In an increasingly interconnected world, pervasive connection at ultra-high speeds must be made accessible and affordable to individuals and businesses.

17. We are therefore building our Next Generation National Infocomm Infrastructure, which comprises two components. The first is the wireless network programme, Wireless@SG. The programme has seen over 7,400 hotspots rolled out and currently has more than one million subscribers to this free service enjoying wireless broadband access island wide. Besides being an innovative idea in itself, the Wireless@SG programme has also sparked innovative and workable concepts from both the public and private sectors. For instance, security can now be boosted with the use of Wi-Fi-enabled surveillance cameras. Businesses are also enjoying “cashless convenience” via wireless point-of-sale devices. With a Wi-Fi enabled mobile phone, people today can also access Wireless@SG to check on road tax payable and even "live" traffic conditions.

18. The second component of the NGNII is the Next Generation National Broadband Network. The Next Gen NBN is a nationwide ultra-high speed broadband network capable of speeds of up to 1Gbps and beyond. IDA has adopted the policy of requiring the passive infrastructure layer, the active infrastructure layer and the retail services provider or RSP layer of the NGNBN to be separated. This will ensure effective Open Access to the NGNBN, which we see to be key in promoting competitive and vibrant retail services market.

19. This model offers the opportunity for Singapore to fully realise the economic benefits of our broadband infrastructure. Today, we are a step closer towards having such an open access network. The OpenNet Consortium was recently selected to be the Network Company or NetCo, to design, build and operate the passive infrastructure for the Next Gen NBN. Existing ducts and other underlying infrastructure will be used, minimising disruption to the public and enabling the network to reach homes and buildings nationwide by 2012. Attractive wholesale prices of $15 per month per residential fibre connection, and $50 per month per non-residential fibre connection will be offered to the Operating Companies or OpCos that will build and operate the active layer. Such wholesale prices are expected to lead to competitive retail prices in the ultra-high speed broadband market.

20. Besides investing in the hard infrastructure by providing pervasive connectivity, the correct soft infrastructure must also be in place. In this regard, an aspect of our investment in soft infrastructure is the National Grid. Singapore is one of the first in the world to embark on such a national effort that draws together commercial grid service providers to offer pay-per-use access to compute, storage and software facilities.

21. The National Grid seeks to equip industry and consumers with on-demand and pay-as-you-use access to high performance computing capabilities, software, and immense data storage capacity. What this means is that businesses, whether large or small, will enjoy cost savings since they no longer need to fork out upfront hefty investments in IT servers or software, or pay subsequent maintenance costs. This in turn translates into better utilisation of infocomm resources and increased competitiveness for businesses as they buy only what they need and they can focus on their business competencies instead of IT infrastructure.

22. As of 1st November 2008, the three National Grid Service Providers, Alatum led by SCS Limited, nGrid led by NewMEdia Pte Ltd and PTC Systems, have begun to offer commercial grid services, providing high performance computing of 2,400 compute cores at the start, and immense storage capacity of up to 30 terabytes. Apart from Compute-as-a-service and Software-as-a-service, SaaS enablement has also become a reality. By 2011, we will see the SaaS ecosystem flourishing with more than 80 SaaS Independent Software Providers or ISVs provisioning their software via the National Grid. Businesses can look forward to choosing their software and obtaining them through on-demand pricing from SaaS providers on the National Grid. They will offer services such as productivity and desktop publishing tools on a pay-per-use basis.

Capability Development to Ensure a Ready Pool of Highly Skilled Infocomm Professionals

23. Another key aspect of the soft infrastructure is manpower development. To help drive growth, it is important to have a constant pool of highly skilled infocomm professionals who can innovatively use infocomm to enable the growth of our economy.

24. In Singapore, the pool of infocomm professionals is growing year on year. According to the IDA Annual Infocomm Manpower Survey 2007, the infocomm employment rate achieved a new high last year. The number of infocomm manpower employed grew by 8.9 per cent to reach 130,400 in 2007.

25. As alumni of the IIT and having gone through an exceptional education in such a prestigious institution, members of the audience can I’m sure appreciate the necessity of an environment that nurtures infocomm talent.

26. Our National Infocomm Scholarship or NIS is one of the key initiatives to develop infocomm leaders for the local industry.  Jointly offered by the IDA and 27 industry partners including MNCs, local companies and organisations, the NIS aims to nurture talented students to become industry-ready infocomm professionals.  Scholars are attached to sponsoring companies during their course of study.  Through early industry exposure, they are able to combine the infocomm knowledge learnt in the companies and the classroom to address real work-related issues while enhancing and accelerating their industry-readiness.

27. Since the inception of the NIS in 2004, 155 top students from local institutions have been awarded the scholarship, including 48 awarded this year. 38 of them have joined the workforce since 2005, with some working overseas in USA, Europe and China. These scholars are hired by top global and local industry players. They hold rewarding jobs, developing cutting-edge infocomm solutions to meet current industry demands.

28. Another key initiative in grooming a pipeline of infocomm talent is the Infocomm Clubs. Together with 12 partners from industry and Institutes of Higher Learning, we aim to excite students about infocomm in a fun and meaningful way by helping them to learn new skills and cultivate leadership and entrepreneurship capabilities at an early age. Some of the Infocomm Club activities include training, project work, mentorship, competitions and collaboration with other schools. Today, we have Infocomm Clubs in 200 out of the approximately 350 schools in Singapore, with more than 8,000 members. We are still growing this and aim to establish another 50 Infocomm Clubs by next year.

29. In addition to our strategies and programmes to attract and nurture a pipeline of future infocomm talent, we are also mindful that current infocomm professionals need to constantly upgrade their skills and capabilities to remain relevant. In this regard, IDA together with the Singapore Workforce Development Agency have developed the National Infocomm Competency Framework or NICF. The NICF is a national infocomm roadmap which articulates the competency requirements of key infocomm jobs. NICF will help employers put in place staff training and development programmes, based on industry standards. Infocomm professionals can also look to the NICF to plan their personal skills upgrading and career development, and training providers can use the NICF to develop high-quality courses and certification programmes required by the industry.

Conducive Environment for Innovation

30. Let me now describe some of Singapore’s efforts in the other parts of the infocomm value chain. In the area of research and development or R&D, we are committed to building up our R&D capabilities and R&D talent to support our future growth and development. In 2007, Singapore recorded a Gross Domestic Expenditure in R&D of S$6.3 billion, an increase of 26% from 2006. Collaboration across government agencies, academia and industry for R&D is imperative for any innovative economy, and we continue to encourage top scientific and research talent to set up and base their research activities in Singapore.

31. Having a stable of innovative ideas or intellectual assets is insufficient. There is a need for catalysts to transform these valuable intangibles into actual products and applications that the industry could use. In this instance, government agencies and the capital markets can play the roles of such catalysts. For IDA, we have initiatives to fund pilot projects for small and medium sized enterprises or SMEs. We have also recently partnered with SPRING to incorporate infocomm as one of the technology areas for funding under the Technology Enterprise Commercialisation Scheme or TECS. TECS is aimed at supporting SMEs in overcoming their resource constraints in going past the state of idea generation into product development.

32. Other than funding, another means of helping companies who develop innovative products and applications to gain mindshare is through awards. Just last month, we celebrated the development and innovative use of infocomm technology by government agencies and businesses through the National Infocomm Awards or NIA. The NIA award winners exemplify the innovative spirit, which is an essential trait needed for them to be able to compete in the globalised marketplace.

Supporting Enterprise Development

33. At the heart of the infocomm ecosystem is the infocomm industry where we have MNCs and local companies of various sizes who co-exist as the engine that drives the industry growth with cutting edge innovation, products and services.

34. IDA supports initiatives to create opportunities for infocomm local enterprises or iLEs, and leading industry companies to collaborate and innovate. The Overseas Development Programme, or ODP and the infocomm Local Industry Upgrading Programme or iLIUP are examples. Under these programmes, MNCs partner iLEs to develop solutions and build up new capabilities in innovative emerging technologies quickly. They also allow iLEs to access their global marketing and distribution networks.

35. These partnerships have helped iLEs generate their own intellectual property which they can bring to the world market. Currently there are 14 MNCs participating in these two programmes. Over the past three years, the ODP recorded a compound annual growth rate of 33.8 per cent for iLEs export revenue, mainly in the software and IT services industry segments. iLIUP has also helped iLEs to develop 219 new or enhanced products and services and train more than 900 infocomm professionals.

Infocomm Transforms Key Economic Sectors

36. Besides helping companies to expand overseas, IDA also actively engages the private sector through various Call-For-Collaboration (CFCs) to refine competitive dialogue, further innovation as well as encourage pilot programme and trials to transform key economic sectors. One such example is the WISEPORT project. With WISEPORT, Singapore is now the world’s first mobile WiMAX ready seaport. WISEPORT is one of the initial projects under the Infocomm@SeaPort programme, which aims to provide a mobile wireless broadband network within 15km from Singapore’s southern coastline. The development and implementation of industry-wide ICT systems will enhance the connectivity and communications between players in the seaport community, promote operational and service excellence, and increase opportunities for the seaport community to attract new businesses.

37. We have also used infocomm to help transform learning in our schools. Under the FutureSchools@SG initiative, four consortia were selected earlier this year to design and deploy next generation-enabled solutions for five FutureSchools. The various consortia will develop different interactive 3D learning environments, educational games with simulations, interactive digital media and mobile learning applications - all customised according to the institution’s curricular needs. The learning experience for students will now be further enriched and will extend beyond their classrooms.

38. WISEPORT and FutureSchools@SG are but two projects among IDA’s efforts to achieve sectoral transformation using infocomm. IDA has also used infocomm to enhance e-government services. Earlier, I talked about OBLS and TradeNet as examples. It is through such projects that IDA helps different sectors use infocomm to provide differential advantages to the end-users. This will spur end-users to articulate their demand for more sophisticated infocomm services, or what we term as Next Gen services. The demand for Next Gen services would in turn spark off a new round of innovation creation within the infocomm ecosystem.


39. I have spoken about how growth can be driven through the active cultivation of a vibrant infocomm ecosystem, based on the Singapore experience. Going forward, we see that Governments will continue to play a key leadership role in the enablement of infocomm to drive socio-economic growth. The ingredient to successful leadership lies in strong partnership with the industry and the people sectors. It is through such collaborative effort that a robust and conducive environment that harnesses infocomm capabilities is built.

40. Thank you again for your kind attention. It has been a pleasure to be with you and I hope that this conference will be stimulating and productive for all of you.

Last updated on: 13 Mar 2023