Yong Ying-I, Chief Executive Officer, IDA Singapore - Speech Computerworld Annual Awards 2000, Ritz-Carlton Millenia

Yong Ying-I, Chief Executive Officer, IDA Singapore - Speech
Computerworld Annual Awards 2000, Ritz-Carlton Millenia
Singapore, 25 August 2000


1. Good evening, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. I am delighted to be here this evening in celebration, to honour the best of Singapore IT.

Developments In The Infocomm Industry

2. Much has happened during the 9 months since IDA was formed in December last year. The industry and the market have moved rapidly this year and we have many achievements to celebrate. Let me cite a few.

3. First, broadband. Singapore ONE, NCB's flagship project for a number of years, is taking off rapidly. Now that the infrastructure is fully laid and with over 200 applications on S-One, we are making a strong push for higher quality of applications for our users. The Government will continue to actively support - with funding, with industry facilitation and with cross-border content exchange - the development of a strong interactive broadband multimedia industry.

4. Second, Singapore is making a strong play to be a leader in the wireless business. The world's attention has been caught by the huge sums paid for 3G licenses in auctions in Europe. The attention is also on Asia where the market potential for wireless is believed to be huge. Well, you may be interested to know that since July this year, the number of mobile phone subscribers in Singapore has exceeded the number of fixed line subscribers. We have some 1.97 million mobile subscribers to 1.9 million fixed line subscribers. Singapore is clearly positioned to be a leading reference and test market for Asia for new software, applications and technologies, as well as the conversion of existing wired solutions for wireless delivery.

5. Third, IDA has seen many Singapore companies leverage our iLIUP or Infocomm Local Industry Upgrading Programme, to go from start-up to regional player within just 12 months. These companies are now competing outside South East Asia in countries such as Japan, Hong Kong, China, Korea, India and even as far as Scandinavia. What is more encouraging is they are in high value-added areas like content aggregation, e-commerce technologies and ASP for vertical channels. We have noticed that they have also not been particularly hit by the stock market correction or the VC pull-back as they are founded on strong technology foundations. Indeed, while we do not have figures for start-ups fueled by the e-commerce revolution, the numbers of start-up grants that IDA has approved under the LECP(EC) scheme shows that our entrepreneurial base is flourishing. Some 125 companies received these grants in the last 6 months alone, for businesses serving a wide range of industries from the IT industry itself, through retail and tourism, education and healthcare, manufacturing and logistics.

6. The question is how the computer industry can leverage this rapid development of the broader infocomm industry? The e-commerce growth clearly impacts the IT industry as the major developmental expenditure was for hardware, software and IT consultancy. As for mobile growth, while it may be seen as impacting handset makers more, there are also implications for computer companies. Take for example the well-known example of how Dell revolutionised the computer industry with its internet-oriented, configure-to-order business model. We have typically analysed it from the point of view of supply-chain advances, but all this is still caged in a wired world. What could it mean when wireless becomes more dominant? At first sight, it will have implications on ordering mechanisms. While the current wireless offerings are still very much B2C-oriented, how can you use these technical advances to make these wireless offerings work for you in a B2B environment?

IDA's Role In Co-Creating The Future With Industry

7. This leads me to IDA's role in working with the industry. IDA has been briefing the industry on our Infocomm 21 plan and we will hold more industry seminars in September. But Infocomm 21 is a different kind of plan because we acknowledge that we cannot see even 3 years out in this rapidly changing environment far less try to produce a 10 year masterplan. The Infocomm 21 framework therefore focuses on sharing with the industry government's best-guess at this time of future developments and the direction that we intend to take. But we recognise that we need to operate with a new approach of speed and flexibility - what the e-commerce world calls sense-and-respond. Try it out, learn from the experience and take in new developments, make changes, and move on. So Infocomm 21 is not prescriptive, but a set of strategies and initiatives that we hope will be useful to you in making your own plans. Government sees its role as catalyst and facilitator, to bring parties together and to offer a framework of possibilities for action.

8. This is also a call for a new model of collaboration with you, the industry. The catchphrase is for the private sector and public sector to "co-create the future together". What IDA has consciously done this year is to provide platforms for industry members to share their views on the latest trends and technology developments, as well as to provide feedback on various policy, regulatory and business development issues. For instance, the technology roadmap, the first instalment of which has been published, was created with the close and active involvement of industry.

How Do We Move On?

9. How do we go on from here? The Prime Minister explained this well in the National Day Rally last week: we have to innovate, to differentiate ourselves by finding fresh approaches to doing things that set us apart from the competition. We have to be insurgents not incumbents, because future wealth will come from non-linear innovation, not just productivity increases from doing the same things better.

10. For its part, the government is trying to be bold. One public example is the bold decision to liberalise the telecommunications market ahead of schedule once we realised clearly that this was necessary if Singapore wanted to compete in the infocomm space. This has paid dividends to the whole economy, with IDD rates falling an average of 20% and in some cases as much as 59%.

11. What about the private sector? The challenge from other players in the region is strong. NE Asia, with China, Taiwan, S Korea and Hong Kong all moving rapidly, is a big challenge. The rates at which S Korea and key cities in China are rolling out broadband networks is quite stunning. I urge the industry leaders here tonight to consider how to leapfrog our competitors through innovation. We can do it because we have strong capabilities here. HP's Jornada is an excellent example of a cutting-edge product that was designed and developed in Singapore. The strength of our research institutes such as the Centre for Wireless Communications has been recognised by many of the world's leaders which are putting R&D efforts here. The bottomline is that to make money in the computer industry, we have to continually come up with new ideas, so that users are prepared to pay the premium for these. In the mobile world, a lot has been spoken about killer applications that will move the business forward; I raise as food for thought tonight, "what is the equivalent killer-app for computing"?

12. The second area that Singapore must leapfrog our competitors is in the global war for talent. From the government's perspective, we are fighting this battle on every front. The educational institutions are upgrading and updating their curricula, and expanding their pool of students. IDA has programmes for training in important and emerging areas of skills and to convert non-infocomm trained manpower for infocomm work. PM has mentioned a National IT literacy programme to make the whole workforce and community IT-literate. Ministry of Manpower is taking the lead on this. Last and perhaps most importantly of all, we must make Singapore a welcoming place for international talent. On IDA's part, we are helping to speed up the processing of entry permits and making it more convenient for talent to come in. For instance, IDA has staff managing a queue at Ministry of Manpower that gives special attention to work pass applications for the infocomm sector.

13. We also need the industry to be bold on their human resource practices. The argument is essentially this. Because good talent is mobile and sophisticated, top talent wants to work for companies which provide them the environment that challenges them, and that enables them to grow. They want to work for bosses who are mentors who nurture and empower them. And as PM pointed out, if you don't do this, your competitors will take your best employees. And if they take your best employees, they will eventually also take your customers and your assets. So the question is whether our companies are places where the top 23 year olds, the top 30 year olds want to work in?

14. While international surveys on the business climate in Singapore ranks us at the top in the traditional areas like infrastructure, we still have some way to go before we can claim world-class HR practices are the norm in industry. I recently facilitated a seminar where the IT industry discussed this issue and my reading from that is that our industry does not yet fully buy the argument that we must update our approach to people-management and -development. Tomorrow is coincidentally the launch of the first Singapore Learning Festival which aims to explore this important area. Two nights ago at a private dinner, I was privileged to hear the opening speaker for the Festival, management guru Benjamin Zander, argue with our Businessman of the Year Sim Wong Hoo about the relationship between technology, machines, creativity and the human spirit. At the risk of shocking you all tonight, I would like to argue that technology is not about machines. Technology is about intellectual capital; it is about people. Innovation is about what motivates and inspires people to create extraordinary things. Therefore, our corporate HR practices must now begin to explore new ground such as what makes people passionate about trying new things, about what moves the human spirit. I would like to use this opportunity tonight to urge you to think insurgency and not incumbency on corporate HR practices. I truly believe that we must excel in this area if we are to make the breakthroughs on innovation.

15. In closing, may I take this opportunity to congratulate the winners of tonight's awards. Your example of the Best in IT in Singapore will be an inspiration and a spur to the rest of the industry to achieve more.

16. Thank you.