Last updated: 10 January 2020

Published on: 10 January 2020

By Billy Teo

Tech giant Microsoft is betting big on AI being an enabler for all of us.

Mr Richard Koh, Chief Technology Officer of Microsoft Singapore, says Singapore’s ability to nurture a future-ready workforce will be key to thriving in the digital economy -- where digital products and services will make up 60 per cent of our economy. 

He added: “To enable our workforce to thrive in today’s economy and prepare for tomorrow’s, we must help them gain skills that are relevant in the changing workplace. And that important skill today is AI.”

At a strategic level, company is sparing no effort to spread its vision, working with AI Singapore and Skillsfuture Singapore on that front.

Richard Koh Microsoft Singapore CTO
Richard Koh is the Chief Technology Officer of Microsoft Singapore and a passionate believer in technology as an empowering tool for the community.

At a personal and team level, volunteers like Central Marketing Lead Raymond Tai do their part to help the community. No surprise then, that Microsoft was one of the recipients of the inaugural Digital Participation Pledge Awards.

Mr Tai said: “There is so much potential waiting to be unlocked in the communities we belong to, and I feel extremely fortunate to be working for Microsoft, an employer that empowers its employees to do good. While I personally volunteer my time and donate to non-profits, the opportunity to give as a team helps reinforce both our corporate mission as well as personal values.” 

In helping to build a more inclusive Singapore, the company has also focused investments and efforts in enabling digital transformation for the non-profit sector, bridging the digital divide for people with disabilities, and increasing access to computer science education and opportunities for youths to acquire skills for the future.

To Mr Koh, it boils down to empowerment.

He said: “Not only does the notion of empowerment drive everything that we do, we truly believe that when we empower people with the right tools, this can help them to achieve more and become anything that they want to be."

Q: What can you share about your collaboration with AI Singapore?

Together with AI Singapore (AI.SG) and industry partners, we are contributing to empowering 12,000 Singaporeans to acquire AI know-how through two new initiatives launched at AI Singapore’s first anniversary – AI for Everyone and AI for Industry.

Subsequently, we also announced our collaborations with AI.SG to foster a greater aptitude in AI among Singapore’s workforce, and National University of Singapore (NUS) aimed at applying artificial intelligence (AI) to enhance research.

SkillsFuture Singapore MicrosoftTech Intensity Roadmap
Students using the Microsoft HoloLens technology, which offers mixed reality computing using holograms that blend with the real world environment.

Specifically, the Microsoft-AISG Joint Innovation Program, a three-year initiative that focuses on upskilling Professionals, Managers, Executives and Technicians (PMETs) with AI expertise. The program also intends to develop AI-powered projects that will positively impact society.

We have three key programs detailed under this MoU.

The AI Immersion Programme aims to equip PMETs with new AI skills using the Microsoft Professional Program curriculum and provide support in placing them in new jobs through the AI for Real program.

The AI for Real initiative intends to provide real-life, first-hand AI deployment experience and training to PMETs. They will help implement 100 AI pilot projects that run on the Azure platform across multiple organisation.

Finally, the AI for Research programme will have both organisations conduct a series of workshops on Microsoft’s AI for Good initiatives, which comprise AI for Earth and AI for Accessibility. It will also identify socially beneficial projects powered by AI.

Q: What about your collaboration with Skillsfuture Singapore?

SSG and Microsoft launched the Tech Intensity Training Roadmap, a three-year plan to help Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) accelerate their adoption of technology, and to help individuals build their digital capabilities.

The collaboration aims to benefit 5,000 individuals and 100 SMEs, and there are several components.

First, as a start, we will work with the Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) to develop industry-relevant curriculum for relevant SkillsFuture programmes, such as the SkillsFuture Work-Study programmes. This will help build a talent pipeline for jobs of the future, and cater to the needs of the wider industry.

Students using Microsoft Hololens
Microsoft also partnered Skillsfuture Singapore last August to launch the Tech Intensity Training Roadmap, which helps SMEs to accelerate their tech adoption and also helps individuals to build digital capabilities.

Second, we will work with SSG to enhance workplace learning practices among our network of SME partners. We will also co-develop a training blueprint to help SMEs build a strong workplace learning culture to accelerate technology and skills adoption for workplace transformation, and enhance employee engagement and retention.

Third, we will provide a curated list of free online Microsoft courses on SSG’s MySkillsFuture portal on topics such as Data Analytics and Artificial Intelligence. Participants will receive Microsoft certification upon successful completion of selected programmes.

SSG will also incorporate the materials provided by Microsoft on CyberSecurity, Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence into the curriculum for the SkillsFuture for Digital Workplace programme.

Lastly, Microsoft’s PowerApps Platform will be incorporated into SkillsFuture initiatives, including SkillsFuture for Digital Workplace. This enables Singaporeans to learn how to build and customise business applications according to their business needs.

Q: Microsoft has a target is to help over 15,000 individuals, 100 Singapore SMEs, 350 school leaders and educators, and 6,000 intellectually disabled athletes across Asia build digital capabilities. How has the progress been so far?

A year later, based on the demand and participation at various activities, starting with AI for Everyone, the response has been very positive and we are confident that we will overachieve on our earlier target of 15,000 individuals!

Work has also began on use case analysis and proof of concepts for a number of very good AI projects, and we hope to see these developed into solutions that will soon be deployed in the market.

At the end of the day, all the efforts that we put into building skills and achieving the right tech intensity is to ensure that we have the right talents to progress the nation in an AI-enabled digital economy.

At the same time, we want to ensure that we enhance the employability of our citizens by empowering them with the right skills for jobs of the future.

In April this year, we launched SPROUT (an inclusive fitness app that uses gamification to encourage exercise) with our partners. It was a year-long project that included fund-raising, UI-design and testing with the Special Olympics community.

Our focus now is to improve the app and ensure that more people with intellectual disabilities and their caregivers are able to able to benefit from it.

Q: How do you think AI will change the scope of digital inclusion in Singapore?

AI will enter the mainstream, transforming lives in a meaningful way not thought possible just a few years ago; and it is only getting started.

A recent study conducted by Microsoft and IDC Asia-Pacific estimated that AI will nearly double the rate of innovation and employee productivity improvements in Singapore by 2021, and the majority of people in Singapore believe that AI will either help to do their existing jobs better or reduce repetitive tasks.

At Microsoft, we are optimistic about the opportunities that AI provides to create a better future for all.

To ensure that we future-proof Singapore, the government, businesses, academics and society will need to work together to ensure that citizens are embracing digital skills and creating trustworthy AI systems that are human-centered!