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Media Launch of ec.Think and eAwards

Mr Michael Yap, Chief Executive National Computer Board Speech - Media Launch of ec.Think and eAwards

Mr Michael Yap, Chief Executive
National Computer Board
Speech - Media Launch of ec.Think and eAwards
Singapore, 25 August 1999

Mr Willie Cheng, Chairman, ec.Think,
Assoc Prof Toh See Kiat, Chairman, CommerceNet Singapore,
Partners of ec.Think, Members of the media, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Good afternoon.

Singapore's Goals in E-Commerce Masterplan

1. The e-commerce masterplan established two top-level goals. The first was to develop Singapore into a vital hub for international e-commerce activities. The second was to bring about the strategic adoption of e-commerce by Singapore's industry. The aim is to have 20 per cent of Singapore companies use some form of e-commerce in the next two years, and 50 per cent by the year 2003.

2. We have taken concrete steps to achieve these goals, such as

a) various initiatives to encourage companies to base their e-commerce hub activities in Singapore. International companies such as Citibank, Sterling Commerce, Hewlett Packard, Compaq; as well as home-grown companies such as GES, Linbert Travel, and Advanced Manufacturing Online, have committed to anchor their key e-commerce activities in Singapore;

b) key infrastructure services to support online business processes such as online payment systems, trust management services, e-commerce enabling services are in place;

c) the basic framework for a trusted, clear and predictable regulatory environment to support e-commerce is in place, with the enactment of the Electronic Transactions Act, and amendments to the Computer Misuse Act. An E-Commerce Business Policy Helpdesk has been set up to help businesses clarify policies relating to e-commerce;

d) the Technopreneurship21 programme to create a business and intellectual environment that encourages the development and growth of start-up technology-based companies;

e) the eCitizen and PS Online projects, to deliver government services to the public electronically;

f) the Local Enterprise Computerisation Programme for E-commerce, or LECP(EC), to help companies defray part of their e-commerce start-up and operational costs;

We will be doing more to strengthen our support for e-commerce development in Singapore.

3. According to a recent survey by the Department of Statistics, the revenue for business-to-business e-commerce reached S$1.2 billion in 1998. This is projected to grow to S$1.4 billion (Internet and VAN) by the end of this year. The revenue from e-commerce supporting services was S$267 million in 1998, and is expected to reach S$359 million this year.

4. However, to become an e-commerce hub will take more than infrastructure and sound legal frameworks. It also takes "buzz". Let me explain what I mean by "buzz", and why we need it.

What Is Buzz and Why Is It Necessary

5. "Buzz" is a concentration of talent, activity, debate, research and experimentation about a particular topic. It is about the velocity and volume with which quality information and ideas are being shared and exchanged, where intellectual capital, original thoughts, ideas and concepts are being generated. This exchange is felt not only in one small area, but will cross-fertilise and impact the whole value chain. In summary, "buzz" is the presence of a pulsating excitement in the air about the topic, and a spirit of experimentation. Such a "buzz" in e-commerce is essential if Singapore is to become an international centre of e-commerce activities.

6. In the US, e-commerce has taken off in a big way. It has a large, more ready and relatively homogenous market. These factors have played a big part in allowing companies to experiment with various Internet business models. Significantly, the American experience in e-commerce has been characterised by the commitment of major resources in early stages to capture market share. Further, companies adapt their strategies quickly and constantly to create new value propositions and build mission critical capabilities. These characteristics can also be attributed to the "buzz" factor generated by the media, vendors and participants.

7. The Asian market, however, is fragmented by language, geography, customs and regulatory systems. As a result, it is more difficult to execute e-commerce in a pan-Asian way than in the US. While business-to-consumer preceded business-to-business e-commerce in the US, the situation in Asia might be the reverse. For example, lifestyle differences such as the widespread use of handheld devices including mobile phones, pagers and organisers mean that the Internet could take off more readily through such devices rather than a traditional PC interface.

8. Although it is much talked about, e-commerce has not yet caught on across Asia. The fundamental differences between the US and Asian paths of e-commerce development mean that there is definitely an opportunity to be the first mover with a business model that overcomes or even exploits the nature of the Asian markets.

9. The Singapore market is small. On its own it is probably not sufficient to trigger enough Internet business experimentation. We need to force the pace of change and experimentation. We need to provide the conditions that are conducive to e-commerce experimentation by incumbent businesses and new startups. For Singapore to be a hub, the seeds, ideas and discussions for new Asian Internet business models need to be here. We need Singapore to be the "buzz" centre of Asia.

10. So it is really important to create a buzz, a lively and interactive exchange, among the business and professional community - engineers, academia, entrepreneurs, managers, investors, lawyers and accountants - to regularly share ideas and market information, and experiment with starting new business. We need debate among business leaders, managers and researchers on key business concepts in e-commerce, such as active management, psychological re-orientation, and self-cannibalization, to hasten the pace of e-commerce literacy and also overcome fear and skepticism.

11. This exchange need not stop within Singapore. We should extend the community to include our Asian counterparts. To discover pan-Asian Internet business, we need first to allow for easy meeting and partnerships of Asian entrepreneurs who understand the individual Asian markets better and can leverage on their own local networks for market penetration. The key to a pan-Asian e-commerce market strategy could lie in a concentration of Asian techno-entrepreneurs that share market information, create the network-effect amongst Asian cities and leverage on Asian business networks and competitive advantages.

An Action Plan

12. We are moving to create the e-commerce buzz in four thrusts:

a) Firstly, by encouraging academia, consultants and businesses to take up thought leadership projects on Singapore and the region. We have already established a research agenda, and will provide seed funding for work in these areas. Topics include business models, market research, e-commerce law, impediments to international e-commerce such as taxation, tariffs and even non-tariff barriers to services, implications of electronic payments and titles, metrics and the evaluation of companies, measurement of e-commerce and multiplier effects.

b) Secondly, we will build our research capability by encouraging leading e-commerce research companies to be based in Singapore. We will also encourage local establishments to link up with international research centres in order for us to learn from others and to share our expertise. We are particularly interested in cross fertilisation of ideas for Asian e-commerce markets. Schools should actively write local and Asian case studies and use them for teaching. They can also invite Asian e-commerce entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and technologists to anchor class discussions. These activities will help groom a new generation of talent to contribute to the buzz.

c) Thirdly, we aim to facilitate and generate forums for discussion on the latest thinking. For example, a conference on e-commerce measurement is being co-organised together with the Department of Statistics and the National University of Singapore. We will also organise an Asian E-commerce Festival in Singapore next year. It will have a forum for debate among the e-commerce stakeholders, academia, venture capitalists and engineers.

d) Finally, we will continue to excel and take greater leadership at international policy fora. Past efforts such as co-chairing the APEC E-Commerce TaskForce last year, drafting the APEC E-Commerce Blueprint and chairing the ASEAN Information Infrastructure have placed us on the international map. Our Electronic Transactions Act was the world's first implementation of the UNCITRAL Model Law and has drawn the eyes of world to Singapore.

About ec.Think and eAwards

13. The Government cannot generate and sustain the buzz by itself. Indeed, the environment can only be as lively as the stakeholders participating in it make it. The players must take the lead to bring about the active sharing and exchange of ideas. Groupings such as the Online Technologies Consortium and CommerceNet are examples of such efforts.

14. This is why I am particularly pleased to be here today at the launch of the ec.Think. It is an industry-led initiative. Its partners are major players in the e-commerce landscape.

15. There are two initiatives which Willie and See Kiat will elaborate. The research programme under ec.Think will focus on business models and how local companies can evolve themselves into players in the digital economy. The eAwards that is being organised by ec.Think and CommerceNet, will recognise the innovation and success in e-commerce. It will identify and highlight e-commerce companies that can inspire and serve as role models to other companies. Both the research and awards programmes will contribute directly to the buzz factor in Singapore.

16. I would like to congratulate all the ec.Think and eAwards partners for your foresight in coming together in a project that would make a significant contribution to Singapore's digital economy. I wish you all every success.

17. Thank you.