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Response by Minister for Communications and Information Dr Yaacob Ibrahim

MCI's digital economy strategy for jobs and growth opportunities

06 Mar 2017

MCI's digital economy strategy for jobs and growth opportunities

Madam Speaker, with your permission, I would like to show a short video summarising the work of my ministry over the past year. 

Changing the way we live, work and play

2          As you can see, MCI has been working hard to improve Singaporeans’ lives. Ours continues to be an important role moving forward. This is an exciting time for Singapore. The CFE laid out the opportunities and challenges in the next phase of our economic development, and the Budget detailed how we can thrive in this exciting future. One way is to harness technology to seize the opportunities in the digital economy.

3          This is not new to Singapore. We have always leveraged technology to overcome our constraints.

4          For instance, several years ago we decided to lay fibre optic cables and improve mobile speeds across the island. Our huge investments in infrastructure now gives us vast connectivity across the nation and beyond. That connectivity has opened up a new space for Singaporeans, presenting many opportunities for businesses and work, for research and learning, for social interactions and self-expression. It enables us to leverage infocomm media (ICM) technologies to transform the way we live, work and play. 

5          MCI has also contributed to the use of technology in other sectors. Take public transport for example. In the video, you saw a GovTech Technology Associate share how his team used data science to identify the cause of the Circle Line breakdowns last year. There are many more examples of how GovTech supports national objectives through technology, such as in developing smarter government digital services, or developing platforms such as a National Digital ID system.

6          We thus have the building blocks for Singapore to thrive in a much more technologically-enabled world. Yet for all their possibilities, these new spaces and technologies have also raised concerns – concerns about their impact on jobs and equality, and concerns about their potential to dehumanise society and corrode our values. As a society, we need to apply a critical eye to the implementation and use of new technologies. Together, we need to define the rules by which this new space works so that it optimises opportunities, fosters innovation, ingenuity and creativity. But most importantly, to do so in a way that will strengthen our communities and improve our lives.

7          Cognizant of these challenges and concerns, MCI undertook three key steps in 2016 to help Singapore better prepare for the digital economy. First, we restructured our statutory boards, IDA and MDA, to form two new entities: IMDA and GovTech. This allows us to better utilise our resources and allowed convergence on changes necessary for our digital transformation.

8          Secondly, MCI has strengthened our standards of cybersecurity, as a fundamental pre-requisite for the digital economy. We cannot be a Smart Nation if we remain open and vulnerable to cyber-attacks. Hence in October, PM Lee launched the Singapore’s Cybersecurity Strategy to build a resilient and trusted cyber environment. The Cyber Security Agency (CSA) will also take steps to elucidate cybersecurity so that everyone understands the importance of cybersecurity and how they too can play a role in securing our IT systems from cyber-attacks.

9          Thirdly, MCI is building and developing an ecosystem that enables our businesses and people to thrive in a digital economy. Last year, IMDA launched the TechSkills Accelerator initiative or TeSA to help our workforce acquire new ICT skills such as cybersecurity so that they can secure better paying jobs and grow in their careers. In chairing the TeSA Governing Council, IMDA leads a diverse range of stakeholders to realise this vision, including companies, trade associations, and Government partners such as SkillsFuture Singapore and Workforce Singapore. In tandem with this focus on training, we also created physical spaces, like Pixel Labs, to help our young and start-up community gain a foothold in the digital economy. And we will continue to consult and partner our trade associations and businesses to help companies adopt ICM technologies.

10       These three steps have taken us further along our journey to be a Smart Nation. But this is a journey without end. We will build on these foundations in 2017 and beyond. In line with CFE to keep Singapore’s economy competitive and position our country for the future, we plan to:

  • Help companies transform and build strong digital capabilities;
  • Deepen our workers’ technical expertise; and
  • Continue to digitalise the government to better serve Singapore.

Helping companies transform

Digitalisation of companies across sectors

11       MCI will help our companies thrive in the digital economy, especially our SMEs. A number of Members have asked how we plan to help SMEs transform themselves digitally and prepare for the future. We strongly believe that digital technology can help companies across all sectors drive productivity, create growth, catalyse innovation and boost competitiveness.

12       Let me elaborate on two examples that illustrate how companies have used digital solutions to improve their business under IMDA’s iSPRINT programme.

Firstly, through the adoption of a School Management System, TwinkleKidz Academy reduced their pre-school teachers’ administrative duties by 70%. The system allows teachers to take attendance via iPad, instantly generate students’ progress reports with an e-portfolio, and keeps parents updated on students’ activities. This not only helped free up teachers to devote more time on their students’ development and well-being, but also improved communication between parents and the school.

Secondly, Old Tea Hut, a beverage takeaway shop, deployed a mobile ordering system for its customers to place advance orders and make payment through their smartphones. Due to the increased convenience that its customers experience, 25% of the company’s daily sales are made via this system. This has allowed Old Tea Hut to increase its overall sales by 15% and more quickly open new outlets.

13       Since its inception in 2010, iSPRINT has helped more than 8,000 SMEs improve their business through tech solutions. Thus building on iSPRINT, IMDA and CSA will work with agencies such as SPRING on a “SMEs Go Digital” programme. It will help raise SMEs’ overall level of digital readiness by giving them step-by-step advice on the technologies to use at each stage of their digital journey.

14       Firstly, SMEs can approach SME Centres for basic advice on off-the-shelf digital solutions pre-qualified by IMDA. For those with more advanced needs, such as data analytics and cybersecurity, experts at a new SME Digital Tech Hub will provide dedicated assistance. Besides advice, the Hub will also help connect SMEs to ICT vendors and consultants, as well as conduct workshops and seminars to help build SMEs’ digital capabilities. And for any progressive SMEs interested in experimenting with emerging digital technologies, they can pilot co-creation projects with IMDA. IMDA can also connect SMEs to experts to help them in their innovation efforts. At each stage, SMEs will continue benefiting from funding support to defray the cost of technology deployment 

15       Secondly, IMDA will work with sector leads to develop sector-specific Industry Digital Plans which are aligned to their respective Industry Transformation Maps. Playing the role of Chief Information Officer, IMDA will synergise these plans across different sectors, including ensuring interoperability. Hence ICT companies can not only identify areas their solutions can potentially value-add. But also whether they can be deployed to other sectors with similar needs. Similarly SMEs can be guided on how different solutions such as cybersecurity, data analytics and e-Payment can be integrated together to meet their requirements.

16       Finally, to accelerate the pace of transformation, we are adopting a sectorial approach to help more SMEs adopt more impactful, pioneer solutions so as to help pave way for more of their peers. For a start, we will focus on sectors where technology can uplift productivity, such as retail, logistics, food services and cleaning.  

17       Through SMEs Go Digital, IMDA will collaborate with big corporations who can play an influential role in helping to digitalise the SMEs they work with. These large companies are well-placed to help uplift their entire sectors, by pushing the mass adoption of impactful digital solutions to SMEs. One example is Robinsons, a big retailer which uses an e-procurement platform to transact electronically with their 200 SME suppliers. By integrating on the same system, Robinsons saved 85% of the time used to manually process their numerous transactions with suppliers, whilst each SME on average, was able to redeploy 2 admin headcounts to other tasks. Furthermore, as Robinsons could provide suppliers with their daily sales data, the system allowed both parties to benefit from better planning and inventory management.

 18       Market leaders such as telcos and banks can also work with ICT companies to expand their traditional services, and provide more value-added solutions to their SME customers. StarHub will partner IMDA and various vendors to provide F&B and Retail SMEs with a comprehensive digital solution package. This includes bundling existing broadband and Wi-Fi connectivity with a suite of complementary solutions such as digital ordering and payment, digital advertising, cybersecurity and retail analytics. I understand StarHub is working with Tampines Merchant Association and ICT company, Getz Group, to offer mobile ordering and payment solutions to F&B merchants in the Tampines N2 cluster. Sandwich outlet Toasties has already adopted Getz’ solution, while another four merchants, including the popular Al-Azhar Restaurant, are being engaged as well. 

19       Recognising that SMEs’ digital needs vary widely across and within sectors, we will invite TACs, other key industry players and SMEs themselves to feedback, create awareness, and help improve SMEs Go Digital. Our main aim is to ensure it meets the needs of SMEs and remains “user-friendly”.

Championing ICM companies

20       IMDA plans to continue building locally grown ICM enterprises who can break new grounds for Singapore. This means rolling out an integrated approach to groom local ICM companies, by expanding Accreditation@IMDA and introducing other schemes to grow these companies and build an innovative ecosystem.

21       Accreditation@IMDA is a key initiative for promising local tech start-ups, as it provides resources and investments to help them build a track record and accelerate growth. As of end February, the programme has accredited 17 companies in areas like video and data analytics, robotics and energy management, helping them generate government projects opportunities worth over $60m. One such company is AeroLion Technologies. Accredited in December 2015, it is now working with agencies such as SLA, BCA and PUB to explore using its unmanned aerial vehicles in maintenance and inspection work. In urbanised Singapore, AeroLion’s technology assist agencies in navigating challenging environments to better detect problems like building cracks and debris. The results gathered from AeroLion’s analytical data also helps staff devise potential preventive measures and run our main infrastructure systems more efficiently. 

22       Accreditation@IMDA was initially launched to leverage government demand to identify and establish the credentials of promising start-ups. Due to these accredited companies’ success, IMDA will now be expanding the programme’s focus beyond the public sector to enterprise sectors such as real estate and finance. It will also expand beyond accrediting start-ups to include small high-growth SMEs.

23       The CFE had recommended focusing help for high-growth SMEs, large local enterprises (LLEs) and MNCs to seize global opportunities. Thus for larger high-growth ICM SMEs who require targeted intervention to scale overseas, we plan to help them partner LLEs and MNCs, such as CapitaLand, Mediacorp and Sentosa Development Corporation, for product innovation, capability building and export into overseas markets. For example in the area of Internet-of-Things, IMDA will work with CapitaLand to develop the smart building capabilities of these Singapore tech companies. CapitaLand’s global network of over 500 properties offers these companies a living lab for ideas and prototypes to be field tested and validated - supporting the co-development of globally competitive breakthrough technology solutions.

Helping working population/people

24       As we prepare companies for the digital economy, we also need to equip Singaporeans with the relevant skills. This applies to both the ICM sector and digital-related work across all industries. At last year’s COS, I announced TeSA would pioneer new ways of enabling Singaporeans to acquire ICT expertise and skills.

25       I am pleased to report the progress TeSA has made. As of mid-February 2017, TeSA has enabled over 10,000 professionals to benefit from up-skilling and re-skilling opportunities.

Hakim Ariffin, 26, whom you saw earlier, came from a finance background and has since successfully converted into a programmer employed with American healthcare firm, Merck, Sharpe & Dohme.

Lim Yi-Min, 23, is now a Data Scientist at NCS. Through TeSA’s company-led training (CLT) programme, she was able to better transition from school and a degree in engineering, to a working environment and a new, exciting world of data analytics.

Finally I would like to speak about Alvin Koh, 54. A seasoned veteran with 30 years’ experience in systems administration and technical support, Alvin challenged himself to pursue a new career in cybersecurity after being laid off. Having completed his on-the-job training, Alvin is now enjoying his work as a Security Consultant with ST Electronics.

26       I am delighted to announce that TeSA’s CLT programmes continue to have high placement rates, and pleased to add that our number of industry partners continues to grow. TeSA has partnered over 15 CLT companies including SingTel, Accel, Quann and Optimum Solutions. Two new partners are SAS Institute, and Deloitte and Touche Enterprise Risk Services, who will offer training in data analytics and cybersecurity respectively. Going forward, we will continually expand TeSA’s range of training partners and courses, as well as look at new initiatives to drive Singapore’s ICT skills landscape.

27       Beyond ICT professionals, it is important for the workforce of other sectors to start digitalising. The SkillsFuture Leadership Development Initiative (LDI) aims to develop the next generation of business leaders, helping aspiring Singaporeans acquire leadership competencies and critical experiences. TeSA will work with LDI and other partners to implement on-the-job training leadership programmes with a focus in developing tech management skills. This complements other programmes supported by TeSA such as Squared Online for Singapore SMEs. A digital leadership and marketing course, it was developed in partnership with Google to help SME leaders and employees who are keen to digitalise their businesses and navigate the evolving digital landscape.

28       We will continue to develop a capable, future-ready workforce in other ways. IMDA has developed a Media Manpower Plan, which MOS Chee Hong Tat will share later. We will also continue working closely with tertiary and pre-tertiary institutions to boost our pipeline of talent. One programme is Industry Preparation for Pre-graduates (“iPREP”) which equips pre-graduates with relevant industry-ready skillsets and work experience. About 800 students have enrolled since its launch last year. 

One beneficiary is Jaren Lim, an undergraduate from SMU’s School of Information Systems. Jaren is passionate about information and technology, and interested in how organisations function. Through iPREP, he now better understands how technical expertise marries with business acumen, before he enters the workforce.

The government also has a role to play

GovTech’s digital transformation of public sector

29       We want Singapore to be the place to create and internationalise digital solutions and businesses. This means our businesses, people and Government must all play a part. Singapore has always embraced technology to serve our needs. I recall we formed the National Computer Board in the 80s to computerise the Civil Service and improve public administration services through the use of ICT. In a similar vein, Government will take the lead in Singapore’s whole-of-nation initiative to develop into a Smart Nation, with GovTech helping to lead digital transformation within the public sector. 

30       In the past year, GovTech has been developing national-level digital platforms and infrastructure to help catalyse the digital economy. GovTech has also partnered other agencies to use technology to enhance and transform the way government services are delivered to citizens. MOS Janil will elaborate more on their work.

Taking the lead in cybersecurity

31       Cybersecurity is becoming increasingly important. Cybersecurity was identified as an emerging growth sector as it is projected to grow at 9.3% CAGR to ~$900m and could potentially provide over 5000 additional job openings by 2020. Also as Singapore transitions into a digital economy, more and more aspects of everyday life will be made digital. In today’s landscape, we recognise that cyber-threats have been increasing in frequency, scale and sophistication as governments, businesses and consumers have become more reliant on information systems. No one is immune. And the Government is aware that it is a potential target. Thus as Singapore’s Cybersecurity Strategy coordinates our efforts to build a resilient and trusted cyber environment, the Government has already taken necessary steps within the Public Service to strengthen our systems.

32       The Internet Surfing Separation policy is meant to protect government systems and citizens’ data by removing one avenue which cyber-attackers can use to steal information. Besides setting up necessary infrastructure to ensure officers can still easily access the Internet for work, we are adjusting and adapting our work processes, and introducing productivity solutions and tools to help maintain an efficient and productive Public Service. There has been no impact to our public service delivery. Members of the public are still able to send and receive e-mails from government officers. Government digital services and transactions by the public and businesses have also been unaffected. We are working to ensure a smooth transition for public officers to meet our target May 2017 implementation date. This separation is necessary and we will continue to review and calibrate our security measures to ensure our systems remain resilient and trusted.

33       Protecting Singapore’s cyberspace and Critical Information Infrastructure (CII) remains a core mandate of CSA. Cyber defence is now part of Total Defence so the NS cyber vocation announcement by MINDEF is timely. It is an important part of the overall national strategy to build up a skilled workforce, with NSFs being deployed to CSA to augment capacities in protecting our CIIs. We are already growing our talent pipeline through up-skilling and re-skilling programmes under TeSA and the Cyber Security Associates and Technologists (CSAT) programme. Armed with their NS cybersecurity experience, some NSFs may choose to take up careers in government agencies such as CSA, MINDEF, and GovTech, while others will enter the industry. They will not only strengthen the wider cybersecurity ecosystem, but also become future cybersecurity entrepreneurs - creating jobs and economic growth. 

34       To complement these manpower development efforts, the Government will introduce a Cybersecurity Professional Scheme to attract, develop and retain cybersecurity practitioners in the public sector. Centrally managed by CSA, the scheme will develop a core of cybersecurity specialists to be deployed across agencies to support Singapore’s cyber defences. As part of the on-going efforts to professionalise the wider cyber workforce, the scheme will also provide a framework to catalyse growth and uplift the overall industry. I am likewise pleased to see the industry playing their part in growing the industry. Singtel for instance, is reaching out to students through an interactive online portal called the Cyber Security Experience (CSX). This portal will be launched soon and hopefully such efforts will interest students to explore cybersecurity further and eventually join this exciting field. 

Updating our regulations

35       I had previously spoken about our plans to update the Films Act, which was enacted back when screening a film required a physical copy on a reel. Today, films can be directly streamed from overseas. We will be updating the Films Act for this digital age. We have started consulting some key stakeholders and will do a wider public consultation very soon.

36       We will also update the Broadcasting Act (BA) this year. Singaporeans now have access to a wide variety of content on the Internet, and are no longer limited to services offered by Mediacorp or our subscription TV operators. When overseas content providers are directly targeting Singaporeans, we need to ensure that their content is in line with our community values, including the need to uphold racial and religious harmony. We are studying this carefully, to make sure that any changes we make will not add undue burden to businesses.

37       In reviewing our amendments to the BA, we will rationalise some of the changes made in past years. One example is the 2013 Online News Licensing Scheme for accountability and responsibility in news reporting. Many members have spoken about the increase in and dangers of “fake news”. The Internet is vast and open, but if an entity reports news about Singapore regularly to inform Singaporeans on matters of public interest, we expect them to do so responsibly. I am heartened that industry giants like Facebook and Google have realised that some control is necessary in this environment where misinformation can spread so easily. Google has prohibited advertisements on sites with deliberate misinformation, while Facebook is mobilising users to call out misinformation in their news feeds.

38       More details about the BA amendments will be announced soon and we look forward to engaging businesses and the public on this. Amending the BA is the first step. For the longer term, we remain committed to harmonising our legislation for a converged infocomm and media environment.

39       Yet, even as we update our legislation and regulations, it is even more important that those who use, create and share content on the Internet do so safely and responsibly, while being discerning on any information they find online. To this end, we will continue to promote information and media literacy to all Singaporeans, particularly our young and those who may be vulnerable.

Conclusion 

40       To summarise, the digital economy is coming. It will create growth, jobs and higher wages for Singaporeans, but will also require us to adapt and be open to many changes.

41       My colleagues will continue to share MCI’s plans to help Singaporeans prepare for the future. Amongst others, MOS Janil Puthucheary will elaborate how we will enable Singapore for the digital age, capitalising on data and technology, while MOS Chee will share on our initiatives to support the media sector. However it is our businesses and people who must be willing to take advantage of these opportunities, making the effort to re-learn, up-skill and keep pace with technology. The opportunities for economic success are here and waiting. We just need to have the initiative to seize it.

42       Thank you.

Source: MCI

 

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