Introducing IDA - Overview of Roles & Strategies

Yong Ying-I, Chief Executive Officer, IDA Singapore - Speech Searcc '99, Raffles City Convention Centre

Yong Ying-I, Chief Executive Officer, IDA Singapore - Speech
Searcc '99, Raffles City Convention Centre

Singapore, 2 December 1999

1. Good morning. May I begin by thanking the organisers for inviting me to give this keynote address at SEARCC '99. As a newcomer to the gathering, may I also thank you for the warm welcome. I am honoured to be asked to speak today and I hope that I will be able to get to know more of you over time.

2. The Infocommunication Development Authority of Singapore was officially created yesterday and DPM Lee will be launching it publicly tomorrow. I wanted to use this opportunity to explain why the government has decided to merge the National Computer Board and the Telecommunications Authority of Singapore to create this new entity, and to elaborate a little on how the Singapore government sees the development of infocomm in Singapore.

3. We stand at the threshold of a new era, one which heralds profound changes and exciting challenges. In the connected society, all businesses and individuals will be plugged in to a broadband communications network that allows the digital transmission of voice, data and rich images to anyone, anywhere and at anytime. We believe this vision to be reachable in a few short years. Connectivity to the Net is spreading rapidly into our offices, our homes, and even on our very person. We now have mobile phones that can send e-mail, PDAs that can surf the web, and other new devices that will perform a startling range of services limited only by our own imagination. I am personally waiting for the Palm Pilot to be integrated with a mobile phone! I believe that being reachable will be a matter of choice. You will not be reachable only if you don't wish to be. We also believe that the Info revolution will be a leveller for countries, that it provides opportunities for Asia to rapidly raise its capabilities and income levels to first-world standards.

4. So where does Singapore stand with regard to these developments? I believe we have done well to-date. Our IT sector was one sector that escaped the recession despite the regional difficulties. Local stars like Pacific Internet, MediaRing, Silkroute Ventures and Third Voice, have all made inroads into the international arena. The level of awareness, acceptance and adoption of IT among the general public is also among the highest in the world. Our PC and Internet Access penetration rates are on par with technology leaders like the US and Sweden. In terms of infrastructure, we have an island-wide high-speed digital network - Singapore ONE - which provides virtually all homes with broadband connection to the Net through both ADSL and cable.

5. But the converging technologies and businesses in the information and communications technology sector, or ICT sector, have profoundly changed the environment. There is now much overlap across the IT, media, electronics, communications and entertainment industries. Connectivity to the Net means that all companies operating in the other parts of the value chain - content creators, content packagers or aggregators, content delivery and content hosting entities, appliances manufacturers - all need to be concerned with communications issues. Indeed, the trend is towards vertical integration across businesses to provide end-to-end services to customers and to control access to the last-mile and to eye-balls. In this context, we found it no longer possible to really distinguish IT from telecommunications. The government thus decided to merge NCB and TAS to form an agency that would integrate promotion and regulation, one that would have a perspective on business and developmental issues across the entire infocomm arena.

6. IDA thinks that our role will evolve in line with environmental developments. I highlight 2 environmental trends: globalisation and going online. The phrase "globalisation" is so obvious that I ought to perhaps explain what I mean. Until recently, telecoms was an essentially domestic-oriented business. Around the world, telecom services were provided by state-owned entities, usually monopolies. It is only in the last few years that we have seen global telcos dominate the industry. We believe that competition in communications will become global and that communications companies, including our local companies, will need a global footprint to survive and prosper. This means that our communications companies must consider strategic alliances with global partners. On the IT-side, our Intelligent Island focus was still domestic in nature. We focused on wiring up the entire island. Going forward, we need to link up to the region and the world. The issue according to most companies is regional connectivity and regional bandwidth, and we must address this. Accordingly, our promotion and regulatory approach will need to adapt to global competition. This would include sharing insights with other national regulators, and encouraging cross-border business alliances such as between the companies that you represent, that will help grow competition and connectivity.

7. The second environmental development that we need to take cognisance of is going on-line. I would argue that our IT efforts traditionally focused on IT-enablement. The focus was on enterprise computing. We need to make a mental shift from IT-enabling Singapore to online-enabling Singapore and Singaporeans. The Singapore Government's strategy is to dot-com the 3 Ps in Singapore - the public sector, the private sector and the people sector. This means Singaporean businesses going online, the Singapore government going online, and Singaporeans going online. It is important for the public sector to lead by example in the dot-com process and become the best e-Government in the world. We will actively push the provision of public services through the Internet. Government will grow its volume of electronic procurement substantially, and this will provide a boost for e-commerce in Singapore.

8. To achieve this, IDA will pursue 3 key strategic directions. First, we should aggressively promote and develop the ICT industry, be it in positioning Singapore as a key node in the regional and global information economy, encouraging and helping investors to grow their operations here, attracting and developing competent manpower, or maintaining a transparent, pro-business and pro-consumer regulatory environment.

9. Second, IDA should encourage businesses, whatever sector they are in, to adopt ICT as a competitive lever whether in improving internal business processes or providing external ICT-enabled online service delivery and electronic commerce.

10. Third, IDA should promote ICT as a means to enhancing the quality of life for our citizens, whatever income group they belong to. It is important that ICT be able to benefit all in our society, that it helps society level up and not be a dividing force between the haves and have-nots

11. Anticipating the interest of the audience, I would like to expand on the first thrust of developing the ICT industry. First, we aim to grow Singapore's position as a vital node in the global communications network by attracting more players to base their regional business out of Singapore. We will consider how to improve the competitiveness and reach of our communications sector. The growth of bandwidth to countries in the regional has been explosive in recent months, and we intend to sustain the trend. Singapore will make sure bandwidth is always available ahead of the demand. We will also leverage on our broadband National Information Infrastructure - Singapore ONE - to build up a regional and globally linked broadband connectivity.

12. We will promote and develop the wide spectrum of value-added services, which can be offered over such a broadband communications network. These include content hosting, the development of interactive broadband multi-media content and e-commerce transactions. IDA will support and, where appropriate, partner innovative and promising local companies to grow their businesses. We will provide stronger support to our companies to venture out and do business in the region. We will also work with the EDB to attract international players to build up their services hub in Singapore. We believe that the value-added services business is a large business area that Singapore can be competitive in. Singapore can be the base to customise ICT products and solutions for the Asian market. Our quality pool of IT professionals suggests that we would be an attractive location for projects with complex solutions. We will also compete for businesses which value our legal framework and want fulfilment to take place in Singapore. Global ICT companies can also tap on Singapore ONE as a quick-to-market test-bed for their innovative services and applications.

13. Knowledge businesses is about talent. The availability of an innovative and skilled manpower pool will be a key determinant of whether we are able to develop as a major communications hub or have content hosting services and so on. We hope that Singapore will be an attractive place for talent, local or international to live and work. This is because the gathering place for talent will naturally develop buzz and energy. And the excitement of exchanging ideas will spark innovation. We cannot mandate innovation but IDA can support it by working with our universities, polytechnics and schools to develop local talent through updated and broader-based IT education. We will be encouraging closer industry collaboration in the development of academic curriculum to help ensure relevance.

14. One of the questions that comes up in the merger is whether IDA will now focus more heavily on regulation than on promotion. The answer is no. Actually, the purpose is to regulate in order to develop the industry and the market. For example, we will continue to promote free and fair competition across multiple technology platforms. We will work at the same time towards greater market access and more competition, and the rapid deployment of innovative services. We will actively tackle policy, legal and implementation issues with a view to building up an investor-friendly business environment that will be attractive to companies across the digital value chain to base their operations here and hub out of Singapore. Some of the substance may be regulatory but the mindset is developmental.

15. However, our role vis a vis the industry should change. We believe that Government can no longer take the development lead with industry to follow. Indeed, the on-going ICT21 masterplanning effort may be misnamed in that "masterplanning" may be an old-fashioned concept. We cannot realistically expect to draw up a 5-year plan and implement this systematically as we had done previously. The marketspace and business environment is evolving so rapidly that any plan will be outdated within 2 years and any plan that aims to be valid 5 years from now is likely to totally mislead people. What IDA can hope to do is to set out government's intended strategies and directions, as an explanation and guide to industry, and then evolve this in close collaboration with industry going forward. Co-creation of the future is the catch-phrase. IDA believes strongly - and my Chairman was quoted in the newspapers yesterday on this - that industry must take the lead going forward. Industry players will be much closer to leading-edge developments, and have a far better feel for how businesses are evolving. IDA will focus on providing support and facilitation to help you grow. We will not compete with you in projects or in business.

16. That industry collaboration need not be and should not be limited to industry players in Singapore. In a global world and global businesses alliances, Singapore's frame of reference cannot be just what is happening in the island. We hope our companies will venture out of Singapore and likewise that you will have business in Singapore. Thus, SEARCC is a valuable forum because it brings together people with a broader range of industry perspectives. I am pleased to be here today to share some of our developments in Singapore with you. In turn, we will gain many insights from hearing industry perspectives from other countries in the region. This is win-win for all.

17. In closing, may I wish you a successful convention. Thank you