Minister for Communications and Information Dr Yaacob Ibrahim sharing about Singapore's direction towards a Digital Economy at the Ministerial Forum.
By Francis Kan
Stay ahead, stay upgraded. That was the key message from Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for Communications and Information, as he shared Singapore’s strategy to deal with technology-fuelled disruptions affecting the global economy at the opening of this year’s Ministerial Forum on ICM held on the eve of CommunicAsia 2017.
"Convergence and disruption are transforming the way we operate. Ever so often, we see another Airbnb or Uber coming along, up-ending the way our economies function. The digital economy of the future brings exciting opportunities. But it has also caused significant upheaval," said Minister Yaacob in a short welcome address at the Ministerial Forum, held on 22 May at the Marina Bay Sands Convention Centre.
"As ministers and policy-makers, we have been looking at the policies to prepare our country, so that we are digitally ready to thrive in the future economy," he added.
He laid out the foundation for how Singapore’s policies would do just that: First, upgrade manpower to be equipped with the right skills and talents. Secondly, foster digital literacy across the nation. Thirdly, provide regulatory sandboxes to encourage innovation within a safe and confined location. And finally, upgrade solutions, practices and sectors to the digital age.
On the manpower front, he gave an overview of the TechSkills Accelerator (TeSA), a programme aimed at deepening skills and capabilities among Singaporeans. Launched last year, TeSA has benefited over 10,000 ICT professionals. To carry on the effort, the Government will also be training another 10,000 public servants in data science to improve capabilities in the public service.
To help local enterprises, the Government has also rolled out an initiative called SMEs Go Digital that will help small businesses scale up and boost their productivity through technology.
Beyond this, Minister Yaacob said the Government also wanted to foster a culture of collaborating, sharing and experimenting in Singapore.
"One way we are doing this is to provide dedicated spaces and tools for people to tinker around with innovative projects, and exchange ideas with others in the community," he said
One such space is the PIXEL Lab at the Jurong Regional Library, where tools and equipment such as 3D printers and microcontrollers are available for anyone who wants to play around with them.
Regulating without stifling innovation
To encourage companies to experiment without the fear of overstepping boundaries, the Government has used a regulatory sandbox approach. Last year, the Monetary Authority of Singapore launched a regulatory sandbox for financial institutions and fintech players.
“The idea is to provide a conducive space where certain regulatory requirements are relaxed for a period of time, to encourage firms to test their solutions. If the experiment fails – and some of them will – it does so within a confined space, without major impact on our financial system," explained Minister Yaacob.
He revealed that one of the latest innovations to enter the fintech sandbox is a start-up solution called PolicyPal, which helps users to organise and find gaps in their insurance coverage. The start-up will stay in the sandbox for six months for testing and improvements.
Minister Yaacob also noted that the Government is looking into harnessing the benefits of digital to transform older, analogue processes and sectors.
He said, "This is one way to ensure a more inclusive and equitable distribution of benefits that we gain from technology."