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Singapore seeks digital innovations to bring a stronger economy

Article, Lilia Guan , CIO Tech Asia

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Heng Swee Keat Deputy Prime Minister, Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies and Minister for Finance of Singapore delivered the country’s budget for 2021 financial year.
Budget 2021: Emerging Stronger Together sets out the Government’s plans to continue to tackle our immediate challenges, and build a stronger Singapore that is economically vibrant, socially cohesive, and a sustainable home for all.

The Government will commit a total of S$107 billion in Financial Year (FY) 2021 to support these plans, stated the Deputy PM.

According to Minister Keat, the country will head into a more technologically-intensive and innovation-driven economy, we must also groom leaders in innovation and enterprise, especially in deep technology areas.

“Technology is one such game changer and will open new possibilities,” he stated. “We harnessed technology to overcome our water and land constraints, and will do the same for climate change. a. For example, under the Cities of Tomorrow R&D programme, researchers from A*STAR and HDB led the development of the Integrated Environmental Modeller.”

This is a tool incorporating wind, solar irradiance, shading, and environmental noise, to forecast how these factors can affect the thermal comfort for residents.

It has been used by Singapore’s urban planners in the planning of Tengah Housing Estate, to maximise thermal comfort for residents. Urban Solutions and Sustainability will 32 be a focus area under RIE2025, with investments going towards research to help us build a more sustainable and liveable environment.

One promising story of innovation by our entrepreneur is the Aquaculture Centre of Excellence, which has innovated and patented “Eco-Ark” with funding support from the Agriculture Productivity Fund. With advanced aquaculture technologies, Eco-Ark is able to produce 20 times more output than the average in coastal fish farms. This improves our food resilience, as part of the 30-by-30 goal.

“To continue supporting technology adoption in the agri-food sector, I will set aside $60 million for a new Agri-Food Cluster Transformation Fund,” stated the Deputy PM. “This will replace the Agriculture Productivity Fund. The Minister for Sustainability and the Environment will elaborate at the COS.”

Innovation for businesses

According to the Singapore Government, businesses will need to innovate and collaborate on a global scale.

“To support our businesses, I will invest in three key platforms,” he said. “The first platform is the Corporate Venture Launchpad, which will be piloted this year to drive new innovative ventures.

This Launchpad will provide co-funding for corporates to build new ventures through pre-qualified venture studios.”

According to Minister Kean, this is especially useful for larger businesses which want to rekindle a startup mindset within their organisations.

The second platform is the Open Innovation Platform, or OIP. The OIP facilitates the matching of problems faced by companies and public agencies, with solution providers, and co-funds prototyping and deployment.

For example, through the platform, the Building and Construction Authority, was matched with three solution providers, TraceSafe, TagBox and Nervotec, to develop solutions for safe re-opening of worksites. The firms developed real-time systems that helped construction site owners conduct contact tracing and health monitoring of their workers.

“I will enhance the OIP with new features such as a cloud-based Digital Bench for accelerated virtual prototyping and testing,” he said. “The third platform I will enhance is the Global Innovation Alliance, or GIA.”

The GIA serves to catalyse cross-border collaboration between Singapore and major innovation hubs globally. Since its inception in 2017, over 650 students and about 780 Singapore businesses have taken part in innovation launchpads overseas. About 40 per cent of these were in Southeast Asia. Last year, despite the pandemic, there were over 100 potential business matches between Indonesian and Singapore-based companies. WaveScan, a Singapore startup specialising in sensor technology, tapped on GIA and formed a partnership with A.L.I. Technologies, a company in Japan specialising in unmanned miniature aircrafts.

WaveScan also attracted 13 investments from Leave a Nest, a GIA operating partner in Tokyo. The GIA network currently has 15 city links, including four Southeast Asian cities – Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, Jakarta, and Manila.

“I will expand it to more than 25 cities around the globe over the next five years,” said Minister Kean. “The GIA will also be enhanced through the inclusion of the Co-Innovation Programme. The Programme will support up to 70 per cent of qualifying costs for cross-border innovation and partnership projects.”

In 2019, 31 Singapore companies were supported for projects with enterprises from 11 partner countries. One of them, Xnergy, is a local deep-tech startup with expertise in contactless charging. Through the Co-Innovation Programme, Xnergy partnered with Balyo, a French multinational, to co-develop contactless charging systems for forklifts.

As businesses innovate, they will create intellectual property and intangible assets, or IP and IA. They will need to identify and protect, value, and manage, and commercialise these. To support businesses in commercialising the fruits of their innovation, we are developing the Singapore Intellectual Property Strategy 2030. This will include equipping businesses with tools to value their IP and IA and training skilled professionals in these fields. The Intellectual Property Office of Singapore will announce the details on World IP Day in April.

According to the Singapore Government mature enterprises, from micro and small, to medium and large enterprises, should also invest in new and emerging technologies to sharpen their competitiveness.

To encourage them to do so, the Government will co-fund their adoption of digital solutions and new technologies. The new Emerging Technology Programme will co-fund the costs of trials and adoption of frontier technologies like 5G, artificial intelligence and trust technologies.

This will support commercialisation of innovations and diffusion of technology downstream.

To help firms to identify and adopt digital solutions, the Chief Technology Officer, or CTO-as-a-Service initiative will provide access to professional IT consultancies.

The new Digital Leaders Programme will also support promising firms in hiring a core digital team and in developing and implementing digital transformation roadmaps.

“Beyond these new initiatives, I will also extend the enhanced support levels of up to 80 per cent for existing enterprise schemes such as the Scale-up SG programme, Productivity Solutions Grant, Market Readiness Assistance Grant, and Enterprise Development Grant, to end-March 2022.

“The company is the basic economic unit and each company’s transformation is necessary. But we can reap the full benefits of transformation, when we transform the entire value chain,” stated the Deputy PM. “For the next phase of our industry transformation, I will focus on the transformation of entire value chains – where each player in the chain works together to integrate and digitalise processes, and upskill their workers. We will build on the Alliances for Action, and begin with a few alliances first.”

The Government will also start with the Built Environment sector, where I will launch the Growth and Transformation Scheme, or GTS.

Help for the construction industry

Since the launch of the Construction Industry Transformation Map in 2017, the Government has made a big push to drive transformation in the Built Environment sector.

Firms have adopted new ways of doing things, such as Design for Manufacturing and Assembly, or DfMA, and Building Information Modelling. Adoption for DfMA technologies has doubled from 19 per cent in 2017 to 39 per cent in 2020.

This sector has just experienced an existential threat last year and is recovering. Developers, consultants, and contractors now realise the urgency to radically improve productivity and reduce the reliance on labour-intensive methods.

The GTS for the Built Environment sector will require developers to work closely with their consultants, contractors, and suppliers to level up as an ecosystem or value chain.

“Working together to transform and innovate, the alliance members can achieve more than what each alone can do,” stated the Deputy PM. “While we continue support the sector’s recovery, we will tilt our support to enable it to transform decisively.

Our resolve in achieving transformation of the industry, and in fact of all industries, is clear and unwavering.”

The employment landscape is undergoing fundamental changes, and COVID-19 will accelerate these changes. a. A digital, innovation-driven economy means that businesses will need highly skilled workers and deep talent.

“Our people will need to have both broader and deeper skills and creativity,” the Deputy PM noted. “The workplace is changing. COVID-19 has forced us to work from home and adopt new ways of collaborating with others.”

A Mercer survey last year showed that over 90 per cent of employers globally saw similar or higher productivity despite employees working remotely. Over 80 per cent of firms intend to implement more flexible working policies.

“These are global trends that our people will have to adapt to. ii. ‘Working from Home’ is just a short step to ‘Working from Anywhere’. Yes, anywhere in the world – as long as you have a computer and an internet connection. Singaporeans may find more opportunities as the best firms source globally, but will also face stiffer competition from talents who may not even step foot in Singapore.