Update on the CFE: 'Leverage the Digital Economy'

Minister Chan spoke on how Singapore can better leverage the Digital Economy, and shared some ideas being explored by the Committee.

On 24 Sep 2016, Mr Chan Chun Sing, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and Deputy Chairman for the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE), engaged more than one hundred tertiary students as part of the finals of the annual Public Policy Challenge.

Minister Chan spoke on one of the major themes of the on-going CFE discussions – how Singapore can better leverage the Digital Economy – and shared some of the ideas that are being explored by the Committee in this area.

These include:

1. Becoming a key player in the global digital economy
2. Transforming our industries, enterprises and people to be digital-ready

Opportunities in the Digital Economy[1]

The CFE recognises how digital technologies are changing the way we live, work, consume and create. Rapid digitalisation of industries[2] is also disrupting value chains, altering industry structures and redefining the rules of competition globally.

We can expect increasing digitalisation to bring with it serious challenges – such as the disruption of existing business models, job displacement due to automation, and digital exclusion, where those with less access to technology risk being left behind. These are issues that we need to confront and mitigate.   

At the same time, our ability to adapt to and embrace the rapid rise of the digital economy will open up many new jobs and opportunities for businesses and individuals. The digital economy is growing at an exponential speed. Studies show that it could  contribute US$2 trillion of additional economic output by 2020[3]. Cross-border digital flows of data (e.g. information, searches, communications, videos) have grown 45 times larger since 2005.[4]

Digital Opportunities in ASEAN

The outlook for ASEAN economies is promising, with a collective market of 600 million consumers and a rising middle class.

• ASEAN’s GDP growth, projected at an annual average of 5.2 per cent between 2016 and 2020[5], is expected to outpace global growth (projected at around 3 per cent in 2016 and 2017[6]).

• In particular, the digital economy in ASEAN alone has the potential to grow to US$200 billion by 2025, with e-Commerce accounting for US$88 billion.[7]  It has been estimated that the digital economy can add a total of US$1 trillion to regional economies between 2015 and 2025[8].

• In recognition of these trends, ASEAN Member States have collectively drawn up the ASEAN ICT Master Plan (AIM), in order to move towards a digitally-enabled, inclusive and integrated ASEAN community.[9]

Singapore has certain key advantages that position us well to leverage the growth of the global digital economy, including:

1. Our proximity and access to the key markets of ASEAN, and beyond;
2. Reliable and resilient IT infrastructure and high adoption of digital technology;
3. Existing capabilities in areas such as logistics, cybersecurity, digital payments and electronic payment methods, and data analytics; and
4. Strong Government support for greater digitalisation, including the Smart Nation
5. A well-educated workforce and Singapore’s strong reputation of trustworthiness.

Our response

The digital economy in Singapore has good potential for growth. Based on a projection by Mckinsey, Singapore is expected to see a growth for the infocomm media sector’s value-add from S$25 billion in 2009 to about S$45 billion in 2020. On the demand side, Mckinsey also projected an upside from S$20 billion to $45 billion in value-add a year by 2020 from infocomm and media enablement to different sectors of the economy.

The CFE has been looking into strategies to respond to disruption and capture these growth opportunities in the future digital economy.

Becoming a key player in the global digital economy

The growth of the digital economy will bring significant opportunities in specific segments and markets. For example, the cybersecurity market is estimated to grow to US$170 billion by 2020. We could strengthen our capabilities and establish a leading position in fields such as cybersecurity, advanced analytics, 5G communications and e-commerce solutions.

We could also do more to collect, share, and analyse data. The data generated in a more digitalised economy is a valuable asset that can help our companies become more competitive.

Case Studies: Companies growing digital capabilities in Singapore

Infineon Technologies

Singapore is home to Infineon Technologies’ largest R&D facility in Asia, and serves as its Asia-Pacific headquarters. Infineon opened its first Business Analytics Centre of Competence in Singapore in 2014 to strengthen its data analytics capabilities and support decision-making in complex business scenarios. The Centre also serves as an incubator for the development of data analytics capabilities by investing in data management technologies and developing analytics techniques.


Singtel opened its Cybersecurity Institute in April this year, which will provide cyber skills development and education for company boards, C-suite management, and technology and operational staff. According to Mr Bill Chang, Singtel CEO (Group Enterprise) and co-chair of the CFE’s Subcommittee on Future Jobs and Skills, more than 85 per cent of companies in Singapore do not have robust cyber response plans or the opportunity to conduct realistic cyber-attack drills. The CSI aims to arm enterprises and public agencies with the ability to counter cyber threats holistically. 

We can also continue to attract and invest in digital firms, and continue to partner and support digital start-ups. This will catalyse the creation of innovative digital services, especially in areas where Singapore has existing strengths – for instance, in Fintech, e-commerce, and software-as-a-service.

Case studies: Capturing opportunities in digital is a team effort

Five years ago, Singapore started Block 71 in Ayer Rajah Crescent as a place where start-ups can incubate. It now houses 250 start-ups and 30 incubators, accelerators and venture capitalists, over 175,000 square feet. A number of digital start-ups which had their start there have since flourished – such as Carousell (see below).

As Carousell’s story suggests, support for digital start-ups goes beyond providing work spaces, and includes partnering companies to train digital talent, strengthening partnerships within the start-up ecosystem, improving access to funding, and supporting internationalisation (for instance, through trade facilitation for e-commerce companies).


Carousell is a peer-to-peer mobile marketplace started in 2012 by three young founders. Today, Carousell has become a top lifestyle application in Singapore and has a presence in Taiwan, Indonesia and Malaysia. The success of Carousell required the hard work of the team, but was also the result of many players coming together.

They received guidance and funding from academic institutions. The founders were alumni of NUS Overseas College in Silicon Valley, where a one-year immersion programme inspired them to use technology to solve problems at a larger scale. They also received a $7,000 NUS Grant which kick-started their product development. NUS also linked them up with experts who advised them on how to build their user community.

They were part of a start-up ecosystem supported by the government. Key to their success was being part of the ecosystem of Block 71, a start-up incubator run by JTC and SPRING. Their founders share that being close to other startups helped them with scaling challenges.

The private sector had a part too. Carousell raised a $6 million financing round led by Sequoia Capital, the firm that has backed companies like Apple and Google.

Transforming our industries, enterprises and people to be ready for the digital economy

Wider adoption of digital technologies (e.g. increased application of data science) can help businesses identify new markets, improve efficiency, and develop new products. Such transformation is necessary for companies to meet the challenges of disruption, and capture new opportunities.

Case study: Singtel's transformation

According to research firm Ovum, global telcos will lose a combined US$386 billion in revenues between 2012 and 2018 due to the rise of over-the-top (OTT) applications such as Skype, Whatsapp and WeChat.

To respond to the disruptive threat of OTT players, Singtel has responded by transforming itself from a traditional telcomunnications company into a global communications company. It has done so by investing $1 billion into its next-generation growth engines, in cyber security, analytics, content and digital advertising, to capture new digital businesses while optimising existing networks.


What we can achieve

1 For businesses, this would mean greater support to embrace technological disruption, and to transform

a. We can create an ecosystem that supports the development of cutting edge and leading technologies.

Singapore – where new ideas come to be tested

Regulatory Sandboxes for Fintech Experiments

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) is seeking public feedback on guidelines for “regulatory sandboxes” for financial technology (FinTech) innovations. The “regulatory sandbox” refers to a regulatory environment in which products and services are provided to customers, but within a well-defined space and duration, during which some requirements will be relaxed. This will allow companies to test their innovations without being overly burdened by issues such as regulatory compliance costs, giving them a better chance of taking root.  

Trial of Self-Driving Vehicles

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) is partnering with Delphi and nuTonomy to test their shared, on-demand, door-to-door self-driving transportation concepts. Trials of a fleet of Self-Driving Vehicles (SDV) will start in the one-north area this year. If these trials prove successful, the projects will be developed into full-scale mobility solutions for towns in Singapore, and commuters will be able to summon SDVs using their smartphones, to bring them, for instance, from their doorsteps to the train stations.


b. Businesses and industries can benefit from greater adoption of technologies that help them improve productivity and transform business models.

For instance, the Automation Support Package introduced in Budget 2016 will help companies adopt robotic solutions that will improve their productivity and change their processes.  The government could also collaborate with industry partners to develop digital platforms and solutions that empower our businesses to serve more international markets. This could include platforms to manage trade information (e.g. leveraging the National Trade Platform[10] currently being developed), and ubiquitous e-payment solutions.

Case study: Using automation to improve productivity

Denka Singapore, which uses steam to manufacture polystyrene resins, engaged Emerson Process Management to use a “pervasive sensing service” to monitor and analyse data from its facility. 

The pervasive sensing service is enabled by data analytics and sensors, which helps process manufacturing industries perform data collection, analysis and consulting to help companies increase energy efficiency and productivity. 

Instead of having workers walk through the facility and gather data using portable testers, Emerson uses sensors to send streams of continuous data to be analysed remotely by equipment experts. 

The first successful pilot with Denka’s chemical plant on Jurong Island resulted in a 7% reduction in steam consumption.

2 For workers seeking new opportunities in the digital economy, this could mean more jobs and greater support to develop deep technological skills and key capabilities.

a. The demand for infocomm or digital workers is high, due to structural change in demand for digital innovation by almost every industry.

i. Infocomm or digital workers account for about 5% of the total labour force, serving different sectors including the infocomm sector itself. In 2015, the total infocomm employment stood at about 173,000, with another 20,000 vacancies unfilled.

ii. About 7 in 10 infocomm job roles are in IT specialist roles, which are technical roles such as those in software development, network and infrastructure, cyber security and data analytics.

b. Over the next three years, from 2016 to 2018, enterprises are expected to grow about 53,000 new jobs in all infocomm roles, of which about 41,000 are in IT specialist roles[11].

We can support our people to be ready to take on these new job roles (see box story). This will require not only effort from the Government, but collaboration with other stakeholders to develop digital talent, e.g. between education institutions and industry to develop relevant curriculum

Pathways to Success in the Digital Economy

TechSkills Accelerator

[See Annex B for more information on TeSA]

The TechSkills Accelerator (TeSA) programme, under the SkillsFuture umbrella, helps fresh and mid-career ICT professionals to get better jobs and grow in their careers by helping to develop core ICT skills and business sector-specific skills.

One TeSA programme is the Company-Led Training programme for both fresh professionals and mid-career professionals, where individuals undergo a training plan led by the company to fit into in-demand infocomm job roles. We have seen a 100% success rate in placing individuals into jobs as an outcome at the end of the training.

Another example is TeSA’s Tech Immersion and Placement programme, which partners coding schools to convert non-ICT individuals to join the infocomm profession. Successful job placements through this programme have seen non-ICT professionals ranging from an executive admin personnel, to a CFO, and who came from various non-ICT industries such as arts and entertainment, retail and HR, to finance and healthcare too, with their age ranging from 18 to 49 years old.

From Continuous Improvement Specialist to Software Engineer

Mr Thong Yong Jun underwent a twelve-week full-time Web Development Immersive course with General Assembly, which turned out to be an excellent platform for his career transformation and move into data science.

He worked on four projects during his 12-week course, two of which are data science-related. His current role as a software engineer in GovTech’s Data Science Division enables him to continue applying his web development skills and integrating them with data science.  


3. For all of us, this means greater convenience and better products, services from both the private and public sectors.

a. For instance, with more products and services available through online platforms, consumers get greater transparency in pricing and access to a wider range of products, at our convenience.

b. When government uses and gathers data more effectively, public services can be improved. For instance, hospital emergency departments can analyse patient arrival data, and the patterns observed (e.g. when peak periods are) can be used to plan manpower deployment to match arrival patterns and reduce waiting times.

Data Analytics Improves Transport Planning

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) has used data analytics to improve the commuting experience by analysing commuter travel patterns, and identifying commuter hotspots to manage bus fleets. Arrival times of buses are tracked using sensors installed in over 5,000 vehicles, and the real-time location data of buses helps facilitate transport planning to better meet commuters' demands.

The result of the use of data analytics is a 92% reduction in the number of bus services with crowding issues despite year-on-year increase in average daily bus ridership, and average waiting time on popular services shortened by about 3 to 7 minutes.

Source: Smart Nation Singapore website


Driven by strong partnerships

The global economy will increasingly be defined by digital flows and technologies. We must not only be ready to respond and adapt, but also to seize new opportunities. Stronger collaborations between stakeholders – businesses, talent/workforce, government – will be key to our future success. Our collective response to rapid technology change and a data-driven world will help us to thrive in an increasingly digitalised world.


About the Committee on the Future Economy

The Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) was formed in January 2016 to develop economic strategies to position Singapore well for the future – to be a vibrant and resilient economy with sustainable growth that creates value and opportunities for all.

The 30-member CFE is co-chaired by Minister for Finance Mr Heng Swee Keat and Minister for Trade and Industry Mr S Iswaran. Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Mr Chan Chun Sing serves as Deputy Chairman. The CFE and its five subcommittees draw on a wide range of expertise across both the public and private sectors, and engage the public and other stakeholders for a good representation of views that they will consider in their deliberations.



What does the Digital Economy mean for Singaporeans?



Messages / Examples


Businesses (SMEs)

Businesses will face disruption from digital technology, but there will also be many new opportunities to grow

For existing businesses, including SMEs, digital technology can help to strengthen capabilities, to provide better products and services in a more competitive way. This will help them to grow their businesses both locally and abroad.

• Government has been supporting providers of ICT solutions to partner with SMEs to develop and pilot new technology solutions that have the potential to transform entire industries. Success stories include Sypher Labs’ VersaFleet system, with uses a cloud-based app to help logistics companies to manage their fleet of land vehicles. This helped traditional logistics companies to get a larger share of the eCommerce market.

By helping us to transcend geographical boundaries, digital technology will also support a generation of start-ups that are “born global”

• For example, V-Key, which was founded in 2011, now provides technology for virtual security authentication smart cards to not only DBS and UOB, but also to international players like Alipay International.

Our push to strengthen our position in the digital economy will be built on Singapore’s reputation for stability, trust and openness. Businesses will be able to leverage this position, and help to contribute to our growing statute in the digital economy of the future.

• For example, the upcoming National Trade Platform will not only serve as a trusted, one-stop digital trade informational management system. It will also be developed as an open innovation platform that will allow private sector providers to tap on the rich data to develop value-added services in logistics and supply chain management.



Our future generations will need a good grounding in technology to do well in the digital economy of the future.

We should expose our children to technology early, and build a foundation of interest in digital and tech skills.

• IDA’s PlayMaker programme, piloted at the Preschool Learning Academy @ Temasek Polytechnic (Play@TP), has introduced robotic toys, coding and circuitry into the pre-school syllabus. Starting from January 2016, this programme is being rolled out to 160 preschool centres, including Yuhua PCF centre in the Jurong Lake District Smart Nation test bed area.

IDA’s Lab on Wheels have been bringing activities such as coding games, robotics, programming of drones and experimenting with wearable tech to primary schools. As of Jun 2016, the fleet of four buses has visited 90 primary schools and conducted workshops for more than 25,000 students.



We are grooming a new generation that is IT savvy, ready to seize opportunities in the digital economy

New programmes are being offered to impart in-demand skills such as design and technology, robotics, and cybersecurity

MOE will launch a new O-level subject in computing in 19 secondary schools for next year’s Secondary 3 cohort. The subject focuses on programming, algorithm, data management and computer architecture, with an emphasis on hands-on learning and the application of concepts and skills to solve real-world problems.

We can give those who are entering the workforce better exposure to good opportunities in the digital economy, while ensuring that they are industry ready.

IDA’s Industry Preparation for Pre-graduate (iPREP) programme help students pursuing ICT subjects in Post Secondary Education Institutions to gain relevant industry experience through industry certification courses, mentorships with experience tech professionals and internship programmes both in Singapore and abroad. iPREP participants also get the opportunity to showcase their internship projects at networking sessions and events.


Working adults

We recognise that digital disruption may cause existing jobs to change dramatically or disappear altogether. However, it will also bring new and exciting opportunities for workers.

We are exposing Singaporeans to a range of good jobs and careers in the digital economy

• Complementing physical job fairs offering opportunities in the ICT space, e2i recently conducted a month long Software DEV e-Career Fair for software/application developer and IT business/system analysts positions in companies like Certis Cisco, RedMart and Rakuten.

We are supporting working adults to pick up new skills and gain mastery to help them seize opportunities in growing fields

• The SkillsFuture Study Award for ICT provides support for courses in computer science, computer engineering, and business analytics.

• NRF and IDA have jointly introduced a Cybersecurity Specialist Postgraduate Scheme (CSPS) for working professionals to pursue Masters and PhD programmes in cybersecurity while remaining employed.

• IDA piloted a programme to provide funding for 200 Singaporeans to develop data science skills. The pilot tapped on the Data Sciences specialisation track on Coursera (a leading Massive Open Online Courses provider)


Mature workers

Older workers will also be able to benefit from the growing digital economy.

Through support for upskilling and reskilling, they too can seize the opportunities in these areas

• Mid-career professionals looking to switch to the ICT field can tap on the Tech Immersion and Placement Programme under the new TechSkills Accelerator initiative (announced at COS 2016). The Programme provides funding support for Singaporeans to participate in course such as digital marketing, user experience design and web development.

• They can also take up a range of Professional Conversion Programmes (PCPs) in areas cybersecurity, network administration and software development.

• Existing ICT professionals can benefit from programmes such as the Critical Infocomm Technology Resource Programme Plus (CITREP+) and the Company Led Training Programme to receive classroom and on-the-job training to gain greater mastery in skills which are required for in-demand jobs such as in cyber security, data analytics, and the Internet of Things (IoT)


International Partners

• Increasing connectivity, and the growth of the digital economy in Singapore and around the world will result in the opening up of new markets and new opportunities for collaboration.

Singapore will remain an open and even more globally connected economy. We continue to welcome global talent and investments to sustain our vibrant and dynamic economy – especially for international partners who are able to help our companies and workers develop digital expertise, and support the growth of our digital companies.

Singapore will be a good place for international partners to develop and scale digital innovations, due to:

• Our proximity and access to the key markets of ASEAN, which has great potential for growth in digital sectors;
• Reliable and resilient IT infrastructure and high adoption of digital technology;
• Existing capabilities in areas such as logistics, cybersecurity, digital payments and electronic payment methods, and data analytics;
• Strong Government support for greater digitalisation, including the Smart Nation initiative
• A well-educated workforce and Singapore’s strong reputation of trustworthiness.





Further information on the Tech Skills Accelerator Initiative

In view of the continued robust demand for infocomm manpower, MCI announced in April 2016, at its Committee of Supply speech, a new manpower development plan to develop infocomm professionals. The $120 million plan will also work with key hirers through the TechSkills Accelerator or TeSA initiative.

There are three key thrusts in the TeSA effort.

• Firstly, to develop a national skills framework for ICT so as to guide both demand and supply interventions on key ICT skills for current and future needs.

• Secondly, to avail to individuals and employers various manpower training and job placement programmes to help individuals progress into infocomm job roles and to meet employers’ needs for digital workers.

• Thirdly, to provide career facilitation services that serve to lubricate the labour flows so that individuals may be better guided into the infocomm profession or have mentorship to progress in their careers.

The TeSA effort is jointly executed with key industry and trade associations such as Singapore Computer Society, Singapore IT Federation, IT Management Association, Singapore National Employer Federation, NTUC, as well as various government agencies. It also involves different sector leads, such as in ICT, Finance and Healthcare sectors, with leading hiring companies in each of these sectors.



[1]The Digital Economy refers to the production and consumption of digital products (e.g. sensors, data), services (e.g. Uber, PayLah), and platforms (e.g. Netflix, Carousell), and any business activity that is enabled by such technologies.

[2] This refers to the adoption of digital technologies, such as analytics and cloud computing, within industries such as manufacturing, healthcare and transport to increase productivity, yield and topline growth.

[3] Accenture Strategy. “Digital Disruption: The Growth Multiplier”. 2015.

[4] Mckinsey Global Institute. “Digital Globalization: The new era of global flows.” March 2016.

[5] OECD Development Centre. “Economic Outlook for Southeast Asia, China and India 2016”. 2016.

[6] OECD. “OECD Economic Outlook, Volume 2016 Issue 1.” 2016.

[7] Temasek Holdings and Google. “e-conomy SEA: Unlocking the $200 billion digital opportunity in Southeast Asia”. 2016.

[8] A.T. Kearney. “The ASEAN Digital Revolution.” 2016.

[9] This masterplan aims to: create an inclusive digital economy through digital education and the extension of ICT to underserved communities, embrace next-generation ICT as a horizontal enabler in the public and private sectors, build interconnected Smart Cities, enable an interconnected and interoperable digital economy within the AEC; and finally, to develop trusted online market places, buttressed by strong security measures, to promote inter and intra-regional trade.

[10] https://www.customs.gov.sg/about-us/national-single-window/national-trade-platform/potential-new-value-added-services

[11] Based on IDA’s annual infocomm manpower survey across the economy