By Sheryl Lee
As 2020 saw the pandemic rattle countries worldwide, with Singapore’s broader economy shrinking by 5.4 percent, one industry remained undeterred and unshaken. The infocomm media sector bucked the trend by growing 4.8 percent last year—sustained by employees working from home, institutions going online and businesses taking the digital leap.
Speaking separately at the inaugural Asia Tech x Singapore (ATxSG) Summit on 13 July 2021, Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies, Mr Heng Swee Keat and Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) Chief Executive Mr Lew Chuen Hong referenced this positive development and highlighted Singapore’s digitalisation plans moving forward.
“The digital revolution was well underway even before COVID-19, but the pandemic has turbocharged the pace of digital change,” DPM Heng said at the virtual event which brought together thought leaders from government, business and technology sectors, and attracted more than 1,000 attendees from over 30 countries.
“COVID-19 [has] unwittingly catalysed a structural shift to the digital domain,” Mr Lew agreed, and not just in Singapore. Throughout Asia, digital economies have also grown rapidly, with 40 million people in Southeast Asia coming online in 2020 alone, he said.
With Singapore home to the largest number of technology start-ups and unicorns in the region, IMDA has been collaborating with industry partners to create an environment conducive to continual growth, Mr Lew highlighted.
To this end, various investments have been kickstarted to help Singapore unlock the full potential of digitalisation. These include the plug-and-play trade data digital infrastructure Singapore Trade Data Exchange (SGTraDex), which is set to digitalise the supply chain ecosystem. In collaboration with the National Research Foundation (NRF), IMDA will also be investing to grow the Republic’s Communications & Connectivity and Digital Trust capabilities.
Sharing trade data across systems securely
While Singapore is known globally as a top trading hub, supply chain data flow remains fragmented. Logistics players do not have an overview of where cargo is at different points in time, making it challenging to plan and optimise the flow of goods to and from manufacturing sites, warehouses and ports.
To facilitate greater transparency and help logistics companies better identify inefficiencies in operations, the common data infrastructure SGTraDex will allow businesses in the supply chain industry to share data on trade flows easily. SGTraDex was developed by the Alliance for Action (AfA) for Supply Chain Digitalisation in collaboration with IMDA in a public-private partnership by bringing together over 50 supply chain players to identify opportunities and solutions across the end-to-end supply chain journey.
In addition, SGTraDeX is expected to help the bunkering industry, which provides marine fuel to ships, digitalise documentation and processes. All in all, three initial use cases have the potential to unlock over S$200 million in value annually when fully developed.
In his speech, DPM Heng lauded the joint effort and called for greater cooperation.
As digital trade drives economic recovery and a next wave of global growth, we will need greater collaboration to harmonise standards and enable the trusted flow of data across borders.
Mr Heng Swee Keat
Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore
Funding future communications research
Beyond the industry-led SGTraDex, IMDA and the NRF are also investing close to S$70 million in communications research under the Future Comms R&D Programme (FCP)—a move that will involve setting up new testbeds in 5G and beyond 5G, giving out research grants as well as supporting local communications talent.
Hosted by the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), the FCP will jumpstart state-of-the-art communications and connectivity research, with an aim to translate research into innovative products, services and companies.
But even as the country ramps up efforts to come up with novel technologies and tools, Mr Lew said he hopes these developments should ultimately place the human experience at its heart.
Tech needs to be informed by human experience, by a connection with emotions.
Mr Lew Chuen Hong
IMDA Chief Executive
Investing in digital trust capabilities
True enough, one fundamental human emotion that needs to be considered in the digital realm is trust, noted Minister for Communications and Information Mrs Josephine Teo in her keynote address at the ATxAI conference on 14 July 2021.
“The digital realm carries the promise of many opportunities…many of [which] are unlocked by artificial intelligence (AI),” explained Minister Teo. “However, the digital world is not governed the same way the analogue world is. Data breaches, cyber hacks and identity theft have become commonplace...having fallen prey, it is hard to know who or what to trust.”
This erosion of trust will eventually impede confidence and growth in even the most promising of technologies, she added. “This is why Singapore will invest to build our capabilities in developing trust products and technologies,” she said. To this end, the government will invest S$50 million over the next five years to drive innovative research that supports digital trust principles such as privacy and accountability.
The programme, which will bring together industry players, research institutions and institutes of higher learning, will focus on three areas: privacy-preserving technologies, where businesses can derive insights while preserving data privacy; trusted identity, where identity can be verified and authenticated even as new decentralised architectures emerge; and trusted accreditation, where products and services are tested and audited to provide peace of mind to consumers.
We want to foster an environment where businesses and consumers feel safe and confident about using digital technologies.
Mrs Josephine Teo
Minister for Communications and Information of Singapore
Through these three key investments, Singapore is ultimately on track to achieve a safer, more connected and more innovative digital economy.
Held from 13th to 16th July 2021, Asia Tech x Singapore brought together thought leaders in business, tech and government to discuss the trends, challenges and growth opportunities of the digital economy and how to shape the digital future.