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Equipping Our Infocomm Workforce for the Future

Mrs Tan Ching Yee, Chief Executive Officer Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore Keynote Address - ITMA's 9th Best Practices Seminar 2003, Marriot Hotel

Mrs Tan Ching Yee, Chief Executive Officer
Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore
Keynote Address - ITMA's 9th Best Practices Seminar 2003, Marriot Hotel
Singapore, 14 November 2003

Ms Vivienne Tan, President of ITMA
Dr Chong Yoke Sin, Chairman of the ITBP Seminar's Organising Committee
ITMA Members
Ladies and Gentlemen

1. I am happy to be here today.

2. Within my first month of joining IDA, I was invited to a CIO workshop organized by ITMA and Accenture. Then, almost everyone was a stranger to me. Today, I am glad to say that many are now friends. I thank you for accepting me into your fraternity. Indeed, just to complete the picture, I am a member of the Singapore Computer Society.

Creating Competitive Advantage

3. I was asked to speak on how IT can survive in difficult times. While this may describe the sentiments of some in the industry, and indeed in the country at large. But it is too dark a picture to paint.

4. Yes, growth rates have moderated significantly. We achieved 5% revenue growth in the infocomm sector last year, nothing like the 13%1 annual average growth we saw in the late 1980s. But the industry as a whole has remained resilient. Revenues have grown steadily in each of the last 3 years.

5. Yes, competition from large countries like China and India, with their vast talent pools, is real. Today, CIOs are asked why they are not doing offshore outsourcing, so reminiscent of the days when you were asked about your strategy. But Singapore possesses some strengths for which wise companies will pay a premium for.

6. Citibank is one such company. It has consolidated its Data Centres across 14 Asia-Pacific countries in Singapore. The reasons? Singapore has a pool of Infocomm talent with relevant domain knowledge in banking. Citibank employs more than 1,200 Infocomm professionals who are highly valued for their performance in IT project management, design and architecture. Singapore is also a telecommunications hub, with ready connectivity to the world, reliable infrastructure, and competitive prices.

7. We need many more of such stories being repeated across the entire economy. We cannot expect companies, whether local or international, to do us a favour. We must ensure that our infocomm workforce remains relevant and valuable to capture these opportunities.

Equipping Infocomm Manpower for the Future

8. Over the past few months, the IDA has been in intense discussions with members of the infocomm industry and professional organizations on what more can be done. Today, I am pleased to share with you the initial ideas which we will be implementing. These will address the needs of (a) existing infocomm professionals, (b) aspiring infocomm professionals and (c) displaced infocomm professionals. More will be unveiled in due course.

The Ambidextrous Infocomm Professional

9. Today, our Infocomm workforce is almost 104,000-strong2. More than 75% of them are under 40 years old and six in ten have had at least a basic degree. At least 70% are engaged at the professional or management level.

10. Unlike the early pioneers who converted from disciplines like Mathematics and Statistics to IT, the newer entrants hold specialized qualifications and enter the industry a lot more technically well-equipped. The challenge is to remain as well-equipped 5, 10, 15, 20 years after entry.

11. Since 1996, 15,000 training places have been created under IDA's Critical Infocomm Technology Resource Programme (or CITREP). CITREP enables infocomm professionals to acquire new skills in critical or emerging areas, including Networking, Wireless Technology and Web Services.

12. IDA will be injecting another $13.5 million into CITREP to train another 5,000 Infocomm professionals until March 2005. This will help ensure relevance for our infocomm workforce.

13. Beyond that, we need infocomm professionals who are, for want of a better word, "ambidextrous". An ambidextrous infocomm professional is one who has solid grounding in infocomm knowledge and skills, and also has a good understanding of the business environment in which he or she works. For example, the CIO and IT staff in a bank must be familiar with the banking industry, its work processes, business rules and business logic. Feedback from numerous industry roundtable sessions and agencies suggests that companies are crying out for Infocomm manpower who have "domain knowledge".

14. This possession of domain knowledge brings home a hard truth. IT is not about technology, but about the innovative use of technology to solve business problems or to create a brand-new business opportunity.

15. So, to produce this ambidexterity, IDA is working with various academic institutions and professional organisations to develop new courses that will deepen Infocomm professionals' domain knowledge in five user industries: finance and banking, logistics, business services, wholesale and retail, and manufacturing. 50% of the course content will focus on augmenting knowledge of the specific industry in areas like vocabulary of industry terminology, business issues, information and resource flows, the industry value chain and its players. The remaining 50% will comprise specific case studies of best practices and examples of IT systems and infrastructures implemented by the user industries.

16. IDA has collaborated with Nanyang Polytechnic(NYP) and the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport Singapore(CILT) to develop two hybrid or cross-disciplinary courses on supply chain management. Infocomm professionals working in the logistics, manufacturing, and wholesale and retail will benefit from the courses. They will learn about the flow of information and products from a point of supply to a point of consumption, managerial practices, economic characteristics and business environment involving inter- and intra-enterprise interactions.

17. IDA has also partnered with the Singapore Management University to develop a course for Infocomm professionals working in the finance and banking environment. The training programme will equip them with knowledge about different types of banking products and the operational environment.

Grooming Next Generation Talent

18. Equipping the current infocomm manpower is only the first step. We need to ensure that there are many bright, young people who aspire to join you and bring the industry to greater heights.

19. In the current environment, there is naturally a lot of interest in the life sciences. This promises to be pioneering new area, with vast growth opportunities, and the satisfaction of saving and improving lives.

20. Does the growth of big BIO threaten the existence of old INFO? Emphatically no! Big BIO is not the Biology that many of us remember from school. The new life sciences are as much advancements in biology as they are of computation and computing. Bio-informatics, and the application of grid and other distributed computing techniques to solve problems in life sciences are but two examples of how ICT will continue to remain relevant.

21. IDA will therefore work with our partners in industry and the institutions of higher learning to ensure that new courses are available to capture new growth opportunities such as those created by the use of IT in the life sciences. Existing courses will be continually renewed to retain currency and relevance.

22. Given the special place that scholarships play in the local scene in attracting top talent into various fields and organizations, IDA would like to invite our partners in professional orgnisations such as ITMA and industry partners to join us in offering up to 10 scholarships to top students in junior colleges and polytechnics to pursue infocomm-related degree courses. The partnership with professional organizations and industry is critical. Industry partners can offer exciting overseas and local attachments to these scholars, thus providing them with early exposure to life as infocomm professionals. The active involvement of professional organizations gives our aspiring infocomm professionals a strong sense of welcome and support by the fraternity.

23. If we can sustain such efforts for, say, 5 years, we will have helped nurture a pool of 50 high-caliber Infocomm professionals. In time to come, they can take on leadership positions in the profession, industry and IDA!

24. If you show your strong support of this, it will give IDA added impetus to work harder over the next few months to secure support from others. Can I hear it from you please?

Helping Displaced Workers

25. Let me now turn to the third area - helping displaced workers. While the size of the infocomm manpower pool has continued to grow modestly in 2002, with no net reduction of jobs, displacements have occurred. New graduates are finding it harder to land that first job.

26. To help improve the efficiency in the labour market through more up-to-date information, IDA has worked with our partners to flush out a list of some 750 infocomm jobs available. We will be making the information available in The Straits Times tomorrow.

27. I hope that this small step will help contribute to the larger national effort in improving labour market efficiency and in helping to match jobs to people.


28. The competition we face as a country, as an industry, as a profession, is fierce and unrelenting. It is right to be paranoid. But it is not right to retreat into self-pity and declare the end of Singapore's infocomm future.

29. As professionals, we need to be pro-active in ensuring that we deliver a value proposition. IDA is committed to a close partnership with you to tackle common challenges and to formulate strategies to rise above these challenges.

30. I have touched on perhaps a fraction of what we can do together. But let this be a start. I look forward to continued collaboration with ITMA for the greater good of the infocomm industry and community.

31. Thank you.


1 Economic Review Committee - ICT Working Group, Singapore 2012: The Living Digital Hub, September 2002.
2 IDA Infocomm Manpower Survey 2002