Singapore’s ABC approach to grow its digital economy and enhance digital readiness

Today, speaking at the Committee of Supply Debate, Singapore Minister for Communications and Information Dr Yaacob Ibrahim responded to Members of the Parliament (MP) and outlined how the Government will to create opportunities and improve lives for Singaporeans in a digital age.

Minister Yaacob started his speech saying that “digitalisation has created many exciting opportunities and improved Singaporeans’ lives”.

He outlined the plans of the Ministry for Communications and Information (MCI) to develop Singapore’s digital economy and enhance the digital readiness of Singaporeans.

On the same occasion, Senior Minister of State (SMS) for Communications and Information, and Education Dr Janil Puthucheary elaborated on how workers, businesses, and citizens can benefit from the country’s digital economy and digital readiness efforts, while SMS for Health and Communications & Information Mr Chee Hong Tat explained MCI’s efforts to transform and grow the media sector.

The ABCs of growing the digital economy

According to Minister Yaacob, digital transformation is the most important issue facing businesses today.

He cited findings from a recent study by the Singapore Business Federation (SBF) which showed that the majority of Singapore’s businesses fully appreciate the importance of digitalisation because the payoffs are enormous. He also quoted another study by Microsoft that estimated that the digital economy would contribute another US$10 billion to Singapore’s GDP by 2021.

In response to Mr Zaqy Mohamad’s enquiry on the government’s plan to ensure that Singapore businesses and workforce can thrive in the digital future, Minister Yaacob stated that the government will take an ABC approach: (1) Accelerate the digitalisation of existing sectors, (2) Build up Singapore’s infocomm media (ICM) companies, and (3) Create future digital technology sectors.

Accelerate digitalisation of existing sectors

Minister Yaacob pointed out that digitalisation affects every sector, but not all of the sectors have responded equally quickly. Some sectors like banking and finance, and retail have done relatively well.

The Government is taking a cluster approach to encourage SMEs to go digital by working with influential partners in various key sectors. The SMEs Go Digital Programme was launched last year also focuses on key sectors where digital technologies can improve productivity significantly. Last November, the Industry Digital Plans (IDP) for the Retail and Logistics Sector were launched.

Kampong Glam transformation

For retail sector, MCI is collaborating with SPRING, Singapore Malay Chambers of Commerce and Industry (SMCCI), and One Kampong Gelam Association to develop Kampong Glam into Singapore’s first digitally enabled retail neighbourhood.

About 200 merchants in the core area of Kampong Glam would adopt digital solutions to improve their business operations. This would include adopting integrated point-of-sale systems which enable cashless payments, inventory tracking and financial accounting. By automating these backend administrative processes, the merchants will have more time for their products and customers. A key partner for these business solutions would be StarHub.

At the same time, visitor experience will be enhanced by digital products, such as immersive walking trails, and working with Temasek Polytechnic School of Business to increase merchants’ online presence. The project will also see a collaboration with Grab to offer an additional cashless option and increase accessibility to the area.

Phase 1 of the Kampong Glam transformation will be launched in 2Q 2018.

Building infocomm media (ICM) sector in Singapore

“Without a strong ICM sector to support businesses with good products, we will not go very far in our digitalisation journey,” Minister Yaacob stated in his speech.

Last year, the IMDA launched the ICM Industry Transformation Map (ITM). Under the ICM ITM, Singapore aims to create 13,000 new PMET jobs, and the industry’s value-added is expected to grow at around 6% annually.

The Government aims to strengthen the workforce and help ICM companies to both reinvent themselves and internationalise.

For example, IMDA’s Accreditation@SG Digital helps to scale innovative Singapore-based ICM companies to build deep capabilities locally and grow internationally. Currently, 24 companies have been accredited. The Government hopes to quadruple the number in 5 years

The Open Innovation Platform of IMDA is another initiative that help ICM companies collaborate with end-users to build new and innovative solutions with potential to be scaled and exported. It is a crowd-sourcing platform to facilitate collaboration between problem owners and a community of solution providers, to co-develop digital solutions that address actual business problems.  

Creating future digital technology sectors

Singapore has identified 4 frontier technology areas to invest and develop deeper capabilities in – (1) data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI), (2) internet of things (IOT), (3) cybersecurity and (4) immersive media.

In response to an enquiry by MP Mr Cedric Foo on what Singapore is doing to prepare itself for the digital economy, including giving enterprises access to data sets for machine learning applications, Minister Yaacob said that the Data Innovation Programme Office under IMDA is trying to bring companies together to realise the value of sharing data, and brokering partnerships for mutual gain.

For example, the one-stop public portal for Government datasets is constantly improved to provide more useful datasets for businesses and citizens to co-create solutions. The Personal Data Protection Act is also under review to ensure that it keeps pace with technological developments and regulatory trends while safeguarding consumers’ trust.


At the same time, Minister Yaacob pointed out that “cybersecurity is integral to the digital economy”. It is also a cornerstone of trust in the country’s Smart Nation initiative.

Cybersecurity is a fast-growing sector in Singapore, with the potential to generate S$900 million in revenue by 2020.

In his reply to MP Ms Sun Xueling on plans to assist businesses, including SMEs, and educate the public on how to prevent and respond to cybersecurity threats, Minister Yaacob shared that the Cyber Security Agency (CSA) is partnering the Association for Information Security Professionals (AISP) to equip SMEs with cybersecurity knowledge so they can better respond to cybersecurity threats.

CSA also works with partners such as the Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC) to raise awareness of the importance of cybersecurity and personal data protection among students, and with IMDA and the National Library Board to provide seniors with infocomm training, which includes cybersecurity. To grow a strong cybersecurity ecosystem in Singapore, Singapore will set up its first cybersecurity-focused accelerator. CSA and IMDA are supporting the development of the Innovation Cybersecurity Ecosystem at Block 71. This initiative will be done with National University of Singapore (NUS) and Singtel Innov8.

CSA will also introduce a Co-Innovation and Development Proof of Concept Funding Scheme to support the development of cybersecurity solutions for national security, critical infrastructure and classified system users. This will catalyse the commercialisation and adoption of cybersecurity solutions to address emerging needs.

Immersive media

To build up immersive media (IM) capability in Singapore, Singapore will: (1) advocate for IM adoption by facilitating business matching and information sharing to raise awareness on IM’s potential, (2) build innovation capacity by encouraging experimentation and development of proof of concepts, and (3) develop talent for the IM industry.

Talent development and regulations

To grow a talent workforce, the Government will invest another S$145 million to create another 20,000 training places in TechSkills Accelerator (TeSA) by 2020. New sectors like manufacturing and professional services will be included.  

MP Dr Teo Ho Pin also asked the Minister if there are plans to introduce regulations for AI applications. Minister Yaacob stated that currently, the Government has no such plans as the field is still nascent and to avoid stifling innovation. However, it does acknowledge public anxiety about AI. IMDA is working with sector regulators to study issues and mitigate potential risks from deploying AI.

Efforts on creating a rule-based international environment for digital economy

As this year’s Chairman of ASEAN, Singapore is advocating open data flows and facilitating cyber norms discussions in ASEAN. 

Singapore is also committed to improving digital literacy in ASEAN, to help our people reap the benefits of digitalisation.

Beyond ASEAN, Singapore is also participating fully in international mechanisms to provide digital flows. Singapore’s applications to join the APEC Cross Border Privacy Rules and Privacy Recognition for Processors systems, two multilateral certification mechanisms to promote cross-border data flows, were approved on 20 Feb 2018.

When the certification scheme is in place, certified organisations in Singapore will be able to exchange personal data with certified organisations in participating APEC economies much more seamlessly, while consumers can be assured that the cross-border transfer of their personal data will be subject to high standards of data protection.

Smart Nation & digital readiness

To improves Singaporean’s lives in the digital age, Smart Nation is a whole-of-nation movement that is inclusive by design. 

To ensure digital readiness, the Government has set out a digital readiness blueprint to empower Singaporeans through: (1) digital access, which is the means to transact digitally, (2) digital literacy - the skills, attitudes and values of a digital citizen, and (3) digital participation - the ability to make use of technology to improve daily life.

“The possibilities of the digital future are endless. It is up to us to seize them. Everyone will have a role to play in our broader digital transformation, and we will work with everyone to ensure that we all gain from this shared journey,” Minister Yaacob concluded.

Feature image: CEphoto, Uwe Aranas/ CC BY-SA 3.0

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