Singapore fast-tracking to become Asia’s digital capital

With ASEAN’s consuming class expected to reach 125 million by 2025, the rise of Asia is one of the most significant trends affecting businesses globally. From Google to GrabTaxi, technology companies are paying attention and using Singapore as a springboard into emerging digital markets in Asia. The city state’s comprehensive ecosystem of technology and media providers, supported by best-in-class infrastructure, provides opportunities for businesses to create, commercialise and scale internationally. Singapore topped as a regional and global hub for the flow of goods, services and capital last year, according to a McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) report, Digital globalization: The new era of global flows. Thanks to its explicit strategy, Singapore is a regional hub in the trade of goods since decades ago and, it has also become a hotspot for talent, as well as research and development (R&D). Attracting global talent According to MGI, attracting skilled global talent and establishing incentives to attract foreign direct investment have been central to Singapore’s digital flow strategy. The city-state’s success is driven in part by open immigration policies, world-class universities, billion-dollar R&D initiatives, and the fact that it has the largest network of trade agreements in Asia, and plans to become the world’s first Smart Nation. Teo Lay Lim, Accenture senior managing director of ASEAN and country managing director of Singapore, said that Singapore’s talent supply and central location make it the ideal headquarters for digital business. Accenture has opened the Internet of Things (IoT) Center of Excellence and Accenture Analytics Innovation Center in Singapore. While the IoT Centre of Excellence helps clients in the resource sector capitalise on technology innovation, the latter provides real-time insights to clients in the private- and public-sector through the use of analytics. “Where there is appetite, talent will come….in turn, it generates excitement and inspiration for others to follow,” Teo said. Asia’s R&D hotspot Besides its ability to attract world-class talent, Singapore has also cemented its position as a digital R&D hub. The number of research scientists and engineers working in Singapore has increased sixfold to 32,000 in the last 25 years. At the same time, more technology firms are setting up in Singapore to reach out to neighbouring Asian markets. Ride-hailing service GrabTaxi invested US$100 million in a Singapore R&D centre in 2015. Through data analysis, the centre’s 200 engineers and data scientists hope to match ride supply to demand and improve the accuracy of waiting times across Southeast Asia. Similarly, Google has based its engineering pool in Singapore to be closer to the growing Southeast Asian market. Its Next Billion Users division, also located in Singapore, works on bringing the internet to more people. Its projects include enabling Google Maps for offline use in places with limited mobile access. Bringing together media and technology The convergence of media and technology is also affecting the way companies do business in Singapore and around the world. The proliferation of smart devices, faster internet speed and new technology developments have unleashed waves of disruptive innovation. Organisations are expanding beyond traditional core activities – like how Apple has grown from a product company into a technology, media and entertainment business – to gain new capabilities. In recognition of this convergence, Singapore merged two major government departments last year. The Media Development Authority and the Infocomm Development Authority are now a single centralised body known as the Info-Communications Media Development Authority (IMDA). From digital television to Wireless@SG – Singapore’s free island-wide hotspot service, IMDA’s goal is to provide the underlying foundation for content and services that support Singapore’s Smart Nation vision. However, it’s not just government agencies that are nurturing Singapore’s technology and media provider ecosystem. There is a complete ecosystem here that includes investments from multinational corporations and access to vibrant start-ups with innovative technologies and business models. IBM opened IBM Studios Singapore last year, which will serve as the regional hub for IBM Interactive Experience (IBM iX). The company plans to leverage Singapore’s thriving start-up scene to help enterprise clients find innovative solutions to digital challenges. According to ASEAN Lead for IBM iX Stefan Hirsch, the combination of a “healthy start-up ecosystem and established global businesses” in Singapore has created a rare ecosystem in which technology and media are at the forefront. “Singapore is at the heart of ASEAN and is a hub for many of the client partners we work with. We have strong partnerships with Apple, Twitter and Adobe, and they all have hubs in Singapore,” Hirsch said. “Over the past couple of years, Singapore will also become a centre for start-up activity. It’s a great environment for us to be in because we often become the bridge between global clients who are doing digital reinvention and need the fresh thinking of a start-up to change,” he added. “In the digital world, no company stands alone or can do it all,” said Accenture’s Teo. “It requires collaboration, co-creation to succeed and you want to be in a place where the ecosystem exists so you can find partners, from start-ups to niche solution providers to global companies.” Best-in-class infrastructure Singapore’s robust technology and media ecosystem also depends on its best-in-class infrastructure, from its efficient mass rapid transit system to its fast internet transmission speeds. The World Economic Forum ranks Singapore’s infrastructure “world-class”. It is no surprise then that global companies turn to Singapore when looking to expand their infrastructure in Asia. LinkedIn opened its first data centre outside of the U.S. in Singapore last year. LinkedIn Managing Director of Asia Pacific and Japan, Olivier Legrand, said Singapore’s “cutting-edge infrastructure” was vital for meeting the needs of the growing Asian market. Singapore ranked highest in LinkedIn’s regional assessment of network diversity, expansion capabilities, power quality, environmental impact, talent opportunities, security and natural disasters or other potential risks. “With 280 million of the world’s professionals living and working in this part of the world, we still have a long runway for growth towards digitally connecting the workforce in this region. Building up infrastructure capabilities here [by opening a data centre] puts us in a better position to accommodate further growth opportunities,” he said. Keeping an open mind Singapore’s digital ecosystem provides ample opportunities for businesses to access new markets across the Asia-Pacific region. To succeed in this disruptive Asian century, businesses must adopt an open mindset and embrace new technologies and business models. A business that does so in Singapore is well placed to come out on the right side of disruption. As Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said at the opening of Google’s new Singapore office in last November: “Tech is disruptive and [a technology company’s] objective is to disrupt the world. We expect to be disrupted, but at the same time, we want to make sure we come out on the right side of the disruption, and we depend on [partnerships] with you [technology companies] to help us to do that.”