Recently, OpenGov got a chance to sit down with Dr. Mun-Kew Leong, Deputy Director, Institute of Systems Science, National University of Singapore, to talk about the current state of digital transformation in Singapore Government.
Dr. Mun-Kew Leong oversees the graduate programs at NUS ISS. Prior to ISS, Mun-Kew was at the National Library Board Singapore (NLB) as CTO, Deputy CIO, and Director, Digital & Knowledge Infrastructure.
As Deputy CIO, he started efforts in master data management, enterprise architecture and corporate governance of IT. Before NLB, Mun-Kew was Principal Scientist at Institute for Infocomm Research and VP/CTO of an IT startup. Mun-Kew received his PhD from Stanford University and has more than 25 years of R&D and commercial experience in IT.
Key Factors of a Smart Nation
Dr. Mun-Kew Leong told us what he believes is required of Singapore, to make it the first Smart Nation in the world. He explains that the nation must embrace digitalisation, in order to move this vision forward. This requires people to change the way they think and operate.
“Part of what we do now, is try to understand the needs of Singapore and its people. It is not enough to have just the fact that we are a Smart Nation, we must embrace digitalisation.” Dr. Mun-Kew Leong stated.
“Note that I am not saying Digitisation. Digitisation is the transferring something from paper form and making it digital. Digitalisation is the adopting the digital perspective of processes. It is much more than making something accessible by computer.”
Dr. Mun-Kew Leong elaborated on this point. He stated how a city-state may start this process of digitalisation within government, as many believe this journey must begin from the public sector.
“How do you embrace that Digital change within organisations?” asked Dr. Mun-Kew Leong, “One way is by creating the fundamentals like IoT and Smart City platforms.”
From here, we ended up discussing how IoT needs to be used in an intelligent way to capitalise on its abilities to power a Smart Nation. Dr. Mun-Kew Leong shared with us his thoughts on how we are using IoT within government.
“The interesting thing about IoT is that, everything you hear about it, is amateur IoT. These are the wearables, smart bands, and more,” said Dr. Mun-Kew Leong, “It is not enterprise grade, because they are consumer materials. If you were trying to run this in an organisation like government, you would have difficulty because their platform is not ready for enterprise technology.”
As Singapore must build its Smart Nation, Dr. Mun-Kew Leong believes that the nation must also serve a greater purpose to the wider community. The Health sector is where Singapore thrives above the rest in the region.
Dr. Mun-Kew Leong finds that as an opportune area for creating impactful technology and systems, which would have a great impact.
“What area can we revolutionise here in Singapore, which can be exportable, and change the world? I think that is health,” Dr. Mun-Kew Leong stated, “We are building a make-a-lab focused on health, because we want to work on innovation that is impactful on the world stage. We could build the best transport in the world but it will only have an impact within Singapore. Health is one area where we can make a lot of impact and enable people using information.”
Another factor, essential to Smart Nation development, is the adoption of agile development practices.
“One of the most important things is to create a dynamic team. You need to create a dynamic balance, where it is one person in and one person out. Depending on the needs of it, you may need more visualisation, you need more IT,” Dr. Mun-Kew Leong stated, “It is always agile because you want people who are extremely talented, you put them in an environment where they develop responsibility and personal authority. It is not about control, it is about letting them go on their own and enabling them.”
Agile teams will allow for constant restructuring and redevelopment of traditionally rigid processes. This makes it easier for organisations to adapt to changing technologies and trends, which were not previously expected.
Translating Smart Nation into the Graduate Classroom
As for how these ideas translate into the classroom, Dr. Mun-Kew Leong walked us through the first steps of the graduate program.
“The first step is to get everyone doing it, programming in the first place. Then we get the equipment and get people to interact with it,” Dr. Mun-Kew Leong told us.
“There is a sensing level, sense making level, and then decision making level. We must understand the analytics behind this. We have degrees in analytics called enterprise business analytics, and it is about giving people the platforms to look at data and creating the capabilities.”
Dr. Mun-Kew Leong then emphasised how important it is to get his graduates to embrace risk. Risk averse attitudes do not lead to change and revolution, instead they retain the status quo and avoid disruption.
Yet, disruption is what drives a Smart Nation. Dr. Mun-Kew Leong explained this phenomenon to us.
“The other step is to get people to embrace risk. Failure is great because you only learn from making mistakes. Otherwise, you only confirm existing hypothesis and you do not know whether something else could be right or wrong,” Dr. Mun-Kew Leong emphasised.
“This is what Smart Nation is about and we need to reconstitute things we take for granted, like governance. When you teach governance, the future of governance is about embracing risk.”
Dr. Mun-Kew Leong believes that it is critical that NUS helps drive their graduates to think for themselves and develop the skills required by the Smart Nation.
“As an education institution, it is not about us spoon feeding people, yet about us enabling people to excel and develop those analytical capabilities themselves,” said Dr. Mun-Kew Leong.
Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) in education have the potential to enhance how education is provided, financed, and managed as well as offer easier access to the community.
A PPP system operates under the construct that market mechanisms, in conjunction with government inputs, are better for providing education. One of the rationales behind PPPs, which are supported by international organisations, development agencies and academics, is that competition between public and private education providers is a good way to improve the quality and efficiency of education.
PPP policy frameworks should therefore create real market dynamics in which education service providers continue to innovate and improve the quality of their services to attract learners, young and old, who are seen as benefit maximisers and well-informed consumers.
New Era of Partnerships, Building Talent Pipeline
“The structure and framework for any university to launch degree programmes can be fairly onerous, given the emphasis on quality assurance and relevance,” says Annie who is also a Professor Emeritus of Finance (Practice), Lee Kong Chian School of Business and Senior Advisor at the Business Families Institute in Singapore Management University (SMU).
However, academic-industry partnerships play a crucial role in building the future of students and facilitating the transition of young people from school to work. Students need to be exposed to a variety of jobs and workplaces to develop interest and discover where their studies and passion may lead.
Industry partnerships with different sectors offer a variety of experiences, such as simulated job interviews, career development activities, challenge-based learning projects, curriculum-aligned activities, and work-study programmes. In addition, internships have become a vital opportunity for candidates to distinguish themselves prior to full-time employment.
A PPP is mutually beneficial, allowing industry access to fresh talent and looking at the industry’s challenges from the perspective of future consumers or employees acknowledges Annie. In fact, the private sector has indicated to all institutions that they need future talent in the area of data analytics, so SMU has recently launched a track in data analytics hosted in both their business school and computer and info systems school so universities also benefit from the insights from the industry to stay relevant in our curricula.
With the help of data analytics tools, a company may take unstructured raw data and use this information to discover patterns, draw conclusions and turned into useful insights. Therefore, data analysis aids businesses in so many ways, including making educated judgments, developing a more successful marketing plan, enhancing the customer experience and streamlining processes.
Education is not only under the charge of the Ministry of Education but also needs the support of other ministries since future jobs and capacity building are expected of the Ministries of Trade and Industry, Finance, Maritime, Health and others. Partnering with the whole of government allows for students’ skillsets to be increased and all students become more relevant, valuable and workplace ready.
Prof Annie knows that no one has a monopoly on knowledge, and no one knows the exact skills which will be needed in the future. Thus, PPPs have the most value when it forms a part of “lifelong learning.”
The exciting thing about lifelong learning, Annie believes “…is that when you get your degree, you think you’re done, but you’re just getting started. Even as you gain experience and learn on the job, you’ll need to keep reinventing yourself and the skills needed to extend your runway will keep changing.”
Passion extends beyond degrees and ongoing learning is a crucial element to keep employees engaged That’s why higher education now permits a variety of pathways to marry passion with career aspirations and is no longer a paper chase, she explains.
Two good cases to illustrate the value of PPP in the context of SMU’s innovative programmes that Prof Annie is very proud of are the partnership approach in launching the International Trading track and the Maritime Business Operations track under the Finance and Operations majors in SMU’s business school.
In accordance with the creation of a strong Singaporean core, wholesale trade and maritime businesses have been focusing on both skillset development and attracting new talent supply to ensure a pipeline of sustainable human capital. So, the trading and maritime sectors do need to build a case for making the jobs in their sectors more appealing – particularly with the assistance of government grants and scholarships.
Companies can play a crucial role by showing how an organisation can provide a feeling of purpose with support and development opportunities available to make building a career in their organisations appealing and attractive to the candidate
A part of Annie’s challenge in the early days was to set up an International Trading Institute (ITI) where students could take for-credit classes under the business school and get a certificate of completion for the non-credit practice-oriented sessions, learning from practitioners in the evenings.
“My goal at SMU is to link external relevance to internal degree requirements while upholding the quality assurance requirements of the education system. Different industry partners help us with this mission to co-create and deliver the applied learning content with us.”
SMU is therefore a strategic asset for the country and both the tracks had, over the last decade, created a pool of more than 300 alumni who are knowledgeable about wholesale trading, largely in the commodities trading space and maritime operations. Now, there is available talent who are able to speak and work with more confidence up and down the trade value chain and contribute to Singapore’s relevance as a trade and maritime hub.
Another great example of PPP was manifested during the last three years of the COVID-19 crisis which saw a spate of job cuts and many experienced PMETs were laid off. Annie worked with her teams at ITI and BFI to design a nine-month Business and Digital Transformation programme which combined in-class training modules with a capstone project for candidates who are matched to SMEs to also deliver a project for these sponsoring companies. Candidates have a chance to learn and apply the knowledge and sponsoring companies also benefit from the capstone projects delivered. In addition, 70% to 90% of the programme fees are supported by SSG grants, while WSG grants provide funding support towards the candidates’ commensurate salaries.
All these partnerships were possible because a pool of companies is available and can be accessed to match the candidates as a result of SMU’s external network of trusted companies, which was strengthened by the BFI that Annie had set up 10 years ago with the support of SMU’s senior leadership. Many of Asia’s SMEs are family owned with different sets of challenges and aspirations other than the usual business issues. In addition, many of these business families have longer horizons and they are the ones that countries depend on to build businesses sustainably as they think beyond current generations.
Therefore, business families with an entrepreneurial spirit, not only make money but also contribute to changing the world through their businesses and other new ventures, including building social enterprises and philanthropic activities.
By addressing business family-specific issues such as succession, family governance, entrepreneurship and wealth management, BFI aims to strengthen the ecosystem of entrepreneurial business families and stakeholders in their creation of sustainable impact by leveraging SMU’s core competence as a thought leader. In turn, BFI has been a strong partner to the LKYGBPC. Many of LKYGBPC’s sponsors are family-owned businesses, such as Wilmar International and Frasers.
In addition, many of these family enterprises have footprints beyond Singapore and are always on the lookout for quality start-ups to invest in or be part of their accelerator programmes. Innovation is essential for a company to improve its operations, introduce new and enhanced products and services to the market, raise its efficiency, and most crucially, boost its profitability.
Annie feels that her journey in academia is more about building entrepreneurship and Technology, Talent and Trust (3Ts) are important drivers in helping companies in their transformation journeys. As such, public-private-people partnerships are even more relevant in today’s challenging and uncertain times to build back better and broader for everyone.
According to Annie, the road to digital and business transformation success is paved with courageous actions by caring and forward-looking leaders. The right leaders will build a firm sustainably and attract the right people, the right leaders will inspire and motivate the right people to learn, improve and grow.
“Developing people is my calling but learning to develop people is everyone’s responsibility. And because the world is bigger than yourself, you need to be big-hearted, purpose-oriented, and have an open mind to be successful on any path you choose,” Annie concludes.
A digital government operates in a manner that is digital by design, focusing on the requirements of users and maximising data. Fundamentally altering the way the Australian government operates now, it offers enhanced social, policy and economic outcomes.
The Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) of Australia believes that a digital government better prioritises the requirements of individuals and businesses. It entails investing in cutting-edge technology to deliver a personalised experience that is stable, safe and dependable and ultimately anticipates the demands of each user.
Australia’s Resilience and Growth Rely on Digital Government
“We cannot underestimate the impact of programmes and concepts such as ‘Tell us Once’ – not requiring customers to continue to re-tell their story as they access government services,” Lucy emphasises.
They are beginning to see both this de-duplication in service delivery and a side effect of more efficient investment through what they have dubbed the “Australian Government Architecture” (AGA).
The AGA is a vision to reduce the time agencies need to navigate the complexities of government in building digital and ICT-enabled solutions. It is designed to be a catalogue of applicable policies and standards combined with an index of repeatable patterns and capabilities for re-use.
Because of the increased speed-to-market, the Government can respond to priority needs using modern, best-of-breed approaches gaining “overall efficiency in how we digitally connect government services”.
“Silos of excellence” are a significant challenge. While Australia has some policies in place to reduce investment in duplicated capability, this is a difficult barrier. While some core functions of a platform may be the same, the needs of the service that uses that platform may be very different. “It’s always a struggle to strike a good balance.”
Unfortunately, when it comes to transforming government services, there are often legacy, disconnected systems that must be addressed and eventually decommissioned. This requires time, effort, and, most importantly, commitment. When compared to the release of a new system, it is more difficult to create a good-news story about turning off a system.
“Our people are at the heart of so much of what we do in the Public Service. This heart is often the dedication that the government requires of people who are passionate about serving citizens and businesses,” Lucy acknowledges.
The money available to the public sector, particularly in the digital streams of work, can make it difficult to compete with the private sector. This means that their best and brightest often leave for greater returns and better opportunities. “Our big challenge will be crafting our employee value proposition – across the Australian Public Service and all agencies.”
One of the most important technological advancements ever made, digital identification has enormous advantages for businesses, consumers, and governments. Australia is a pioneering nation in the field of digital identity. The Trusted Digital Identity Framework that supports the Australian Government Digital Identity System isn’t simply based on industry best practices from throughout the world; it’s also regarded as best practices in many other nations.
Underscoring her belief in the Trusted Digital Identity Framework (TDIF), Lucy says, “At the DTA, we’ve been building policy for Digital Identity – the Trusted Digital Identity Framework (TDIF) – for several years.”
The DTA is responsible for the Whole-of-Government Digital and ICT Investment Oversight Framework – a six-stage, end-to-end framework that provides Government Agencies with direction for managing their digital and ICT investments across the full project lifecycle. Government Departments and Agencies are obligated to consult with the DTA on all digital and ICT investment plans throughout the framework’s numerous stages, per the Framework.
Moreover, the TDIF serves as the guiding principle for the Australian Government Digital Identity System. It is based on worldwide and industry best practices and standards and it establishes strict guidelines for privacy, security, transparency and trust.
The TDIF is regarded as a world-leading accreditation framework for digital identity providers. It has supported the implementation of best-practice digital identity policies in Australia’s government and corporate sectors.
The TDIF has evolved and continues to adapt in response to changes in the service delivery landscape and consumer expectations as digital identification technology quickly evolves. It has gone through four major revisions, with a fifth now in the works.
In addition to incorporating accrediting programme findings, the next version (release 5) aims to prepare the TDIF for the future of digital identity as verifiable credentials and digital wallets become more popular and technology continues to grow at a rapid pace.
More than 9 million Australians, on the other hand, have decided to create a Digital Identity (using myGovID to build a Basic, Standard, or Strong identity) to access over 125 government services online, with 26 services supplied by states and territories. Over the past year, 1.3 million people used their Digital Identity more than once while 12,000 people have used their Digital Identity more than 65 times.
“We also have more than 1.4 million businesses that use Digital Identity to access business services, like our tax agency. This makes it easier for them to do business by reducing the amount of paperwork they have to do,” Lucy reveals.
Identification fraud can be reduced using a digital identity. In Australia, Digital Identity is predicted to save the economy AU$3 billion per year from identity theft and online fraud. The Australian Government Digital Identity System also provides extra privacy and security safeguards, such as no central database where papers are held, the inability to trace or sell a person’s behaviour, and all information being securely encrypted.
On the surface, this looks to be a simple issue. But, a response must include service standards, service design, accountability systems, collaborative service delivery with other jurisdictions, feedback mechanisms, open data and open government.
The design of performance metrics to monitor end-user experience begins with the service design. That is, gathering baseline data, investigating what data is accessible and, most crucially, finding the questions that yield performance data to enable continual improvement.
Monitoring the performance of a service or product is frequently done through a lens other than digital. The annual Report on Government Services (RoGS), for example, provides an annual study of government services in terms of equity, efficiency, and effectiveness.
The RoGs must incorporate state and territory government services as well as those of the Australian Government because other similar service experiences can influence user satisfaction ratings.
All government services must pause and assess how well they are satisfying the requirements of their users. myGov, the largest platform for providing government services to citizens, is currently subject to an independent user audit. The audit’s recommendations are expected to have significant implications for government service delivery across the board.
The Australian Public Sector (APS), like many other organisations and institutions around the world, is reorienting and evolving to embrace digital transformation and harness the power of data. “Realising that these are critical to our ability to continue to effectively serve the interests of Australia and the Australian people in a world defined by increasing speed and complexity,” says Lucy.
She agrees that it’s hard to keep the momentum and focus needed for long-term digital transformation with all the other priorities and crises that the public sector has to deal with at the same time. A key part of this is recognising and emphasising the link between digital transformation and trust and satisfaction in government on the part of citizens.
Even though the pandemic forced people to rely on their governments more, the overall trend is obvious. Against this backdrop, the Australian Government has made it a top priority and a requirement for the APS to do its job to win back the trust of the people.
“In the DTA, we make it clear how the ongoing digital transformation and the whole-of-government reform agenda are linked and depend on each other,” Lucy asserts.
The agency continues to stress the importance of services that focus on people and are easy to use. They are also building strategies that support the transformation that is sustainable, efficient, and centred on people. She points out that Australians who are happy with government services are twice as likely to trust their government.
Paving the Way for the Future of Digital Transformation
Australia is experiencing the effects of the rapid rate at which the digital world is evolving. Its APS Reform, which has a 2030 perspective, provides the government with a clear vision for the transformation of the public sector. The main objective of this agenda is to revolutionise how digital is done by making the APS more effective and efficient.
Ensuring that people and businesses are at the centre of policy and services is a core tenet of APS Reform. To ensure that transformation meets and surpasses user expectations, early and meaningful interaction and co-design are given a lot of attention in the digital space.
Trust is an issue for governments everywhere and is closely related to citizen expectations. In Australia, as in many other nations, public trust in the government had been dwindling before the outbreak. Although COVID had a brief uptick, regaining the public’s trust remains a major problem facing the government and its institutions.
To ensure that the government puts its constituents at its centre, the digitisation of government is key to the endeavour to reestablish confidence. The Independent Review of the APS in 2019 recognised this priority, and the nation is already moving in the right direction.
The key will be to define who is responsible for delivering initiatives and to raise the transparency of the progress by publicising how well key metrics are performing. However, confidence is not just dependent on how well-run and open the government’s operations are. It includes safeguarding data as well.
Criminal and state-based actors are rapidly developing their offensive capabilities, which is causing the cyber threat landscape to change all the time. These more sophisticated cyber-attacks are aimed against Australia.
A big compromise of Australian Government networks is a matter of “when,” not “if,” without massive reorganisation and cyber upgrading. “In light of this, we are hardening the government’s own IT, through a centralised model of cyber security services, called Cyber Hubs. We’re currently testing the feasibility of the Cyber Hubs model through a pilot. So far the pilot has shown the centralisation of the provision of services can help improve cyber security,” Lucy explains.
The government and institutions have vast amounts of information about Australians. This data is the fuel that drives the progress of artificial intelligence. Over the next 5 to 10 years, there is a chance to harness this data and use AI to innovate and improve public service delivery, resulting in better efficiency and transformation. But AI’s use of this data comes with risks and challenges for everyone, including the public sector. These risks and challenges need to be handled morally and responsibly.
Quantum computing is still in its infancy, but its application could represent the next step in the digital revolution of service delivery. AI is only as good as the data it’s trained on. Large datasets are currently being used by governments and institutions to train AI models and make them more useful.
However, when these datasets become scarce, governments and industries will be forced to find new ways to improve AI programmes. Quantum computing is one such method. Quantum computing refers to a class of supercomputers based on quantum mechanics.
To process information, these quantum computers employ the laws of quantum mechanics. That is, they can detect patterns in data that are nearly impossible to detect using traditional computers. They are substantially different from today’s computers in this regard.
Lucy believes if these powerful AI capabilities are utilised responsibly and data is saved and maintained safely, confidence and trust in government and institutions will grow. “More will need to be done in the next 5 to 10 years to integrate human values like transparency and fairness with AI’s goals of efficiency.”
Lucy is optimistic about the future and the role the DTA will play in guiding the government on developments in digital and ICT. She sees great potential for the agency to act as a government advisory body for its tech-enabled initiatives going forward as well as to serve the country in its digital ambitions. In summary, that is what she believes the agency exists for – to aid the public sector to offer the best citizen experience possible and help the nation thrive.
Information and communication technology (ICT) is used in a smart city to improve government efficiency, public engagement and the standard of living for its residents.
Advanced technologies and data analytics are at the heart of the concept of a “smart city,” whose primary goals are the enhancement of city services, the promotion of economic growth, and the betterment of residents’ quality of life.
The recent pandemic and other critical events have forced the citizens of the Philippines, as it has in other countries, to rely on their government for a wide range of services to be offered innovatively.
Agencies moved rapidly to digitalise services and set standards for data storage, security and workflow. Central and local governments have implemented a wide range of ICT strategies to lessen the impact of these catastrophes.
For instance, Makati City, the business capital of the Philippines, launched the Makatizen Card and the Makatizen App to offer financial help and services, such as online legal assistance, teleconsultations, and online learning, to its residents.
Challenges Turn Inspiration: Embarking on Smart City Projects
“We will be able to increase our revenue and service efficiency through innovation,” Charles asserts, citing the recently launched “MakaTurismo” website to underscore his point, which was made to help the local tourism sector.
The website is Metro Manila’s first travel website focused on attracting tourists into a post-pandemic environment. Apart from the lifestyle centres, eateries, and hotels, the City of Makati is home to numerous undiscovered treasures, such as special historical sites.
Since it includes details about the city’s tourist attractions, lodging options and free walking tours, the project could significantly assist businesses in attracting clients and customers.
While discussions of digital transformation typically centre on improvements to remote working capabilities, Makati City has instead begun investing in infrastructure upgrades. As a result, they are modernising their server infrastructure by switching from a physical to a software-defined network (SDN) and merging various data centres.
Charles noted that Makati City is concerned with project implementation and database consolidation. In addition, they integrate analytics into all projects and increase automation to improve their functional services.
Makati City opened the Makatizen Hub in 2021, to further assist its citizens in their transactions during the ongoing pandemic. The local government has set up satellite offices so that everything can be done online.
Charles emphasises that, as they integrate technology in a variety of ways, they are centralising a strategic approach to planning and managing the direction of the city government’s use of technology.
To accommodate its diverse population, Makati provides a wide range of publicly available services. In addition, there are services designed exclusively for residents, catering to their unique requirements based on factors such as age, health, education and overall satisfaction with life.
The city has been able to successfully manage these programmes, but officials are always looking for ways to improve efficiency. This is made possible in large part by technological advancements. As the population of Makati expands, so do the city’s needs and the hopes and dreams of its residents.
The responsibility of the administration lies in anticipating the wants and needs of the people. By bolstering them with cutting-edge tech, agencies can reimagine service delivery and foresee what people will need in the future.
As an example of a programme designed for the future but implemented today, the Makatizen Card is a useful tool. The Makatizen Card is an innovative programme that provides residents of Makati with access to a variety of new social, informational, identifying and financial services.
For more than half a million people living in Makati, this single government-issued ID card unifies access to a wide range of economic and social services.
Charles is one of the authors of IT Security – the Security 3.0 book, published by Mithra Publishing in London. It discusses the infrastructure framework’s fundamentals that underpin the city’s primary data centre and the local government information system that has recently undergone upgrades.
“The data centre’s IT capabilities can only be improved through upgrades. By upgrading ageing or inefficient IT assets, they improve reliability, performance, efficiency, cost, security, and uptime -which resulted in serving the public efficiently,” Charles explains, further elaborating on the steps taken by the municipal government to improve flood and earthquake early warning systems.
Makati was named the first-ever Resilience Hub in the Philippines and the Southeast Asian Region by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) in the third quarter of this year.
According to the UNDRR, a resilience hub is a city, municipality, or local authority with the political will and expertise to take action to reduce vulnerability to disasters and climate change. With the help of the Making Cities Resilient Campaign (MCR), which Makati joined in 2010, the city has successfully integrated disaster risk reduction into all its strategic plans and programmes. The region’s cities have joined several international networks to learn from and implement its DRR best practices.
Additionally, in collaboration with the Department of Trade and Industry – Board of Investments (DTI-BOI), Digital Pilipinas officially launched its Innovative Cities initiative to technologically advance one city at a time. It does this by bringing together local government agencies, academic institutions and the private sector to establish numerous centres of excellence.
In association with the Resiliency Innovation Sustainability & Entrepreneurship (RISE) Certification Programme, the City of Makati was selected as the programme’s pilot location. With a focus on making the Philippines relevant in digitalisation and Web 3.0 conversation, the Innovative Cities initiative seeks to increase the Philippines’ innovation and technology quotient to support local economies and expand their industries.
The city’s digital transformation journey in local government has been completed at minimal or no cost. Public-private partnerships (PPPs) have been used to implement larger-scale projects and some solutions have been provided for free in exchange for Makati serving as a model for the adoption of these technologies by other LGUs and institutions. Even when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in 2020, Makati was still able to serve its citizens efficiently without endangering their health.
A true and effective digitalisation strategy entails a fundamental rethinking of the traditional organisational structures of industrial activities and business models to make them significantly better.
With the help of Makati Mayor Abby Binay, who is very encouraging of digital transformation, these initiatives were able to come to fruition. Charles believes that the use of technology and innovations is merely a tool to accomplish this goal, so it’s critical to pick the approaches that can most effectively help an application achieve its objectives.
“Digital transformation is, at its core, a mindset. It is a long-term, ongoing journey rather than a single undertaking or endpoint. As the business changes and appropriate technologies become available, iteration is necessary.”
Thailand’s digital economy has expanded tremendously in recent years and is poised for additional growth. In line with this, the Thailand 4.0 strategy seeks to turn the nation into Southeast Asia’s innovation and knowledge-based digital centre.
The country is well on its way. The European Centre for Digital Competitiveness classified Thailand as the second most digitally competitive country in 2020, attributing its success to expanding its ecosystem and the region’s shifting perspective toward recognition.
Despite the considerable growth potential for Thailand’s digital economy, the country faces several obstacles to reaching its full potential. These include a digital talent shortage and a delay in the adoption of digital solutions by small and medium organisations.
Both the public and private sectors are eager to learn about successful digital transformation methods as they recognise such insights are critical for businesses to survive and grow in the current digital landscape.
Fostering Digital Transformation and Competitiveness in Thailand
Dr Kasititorn shares that the country has achieved its national target in the Thailand Digital Economy and Society Development Plan, which is in line with Thailand’s 20-Year Strategy. To fully integrate digital technology into every aspect of business in Thailand, they have been working on this plan since 2018.
This national plan is comprised of 4 phases 1) digital foundation 2) digital inclusion 3) full digital transformation and 4) global digital leadership.
“We are off to a solid start as our first two phases have been successfully implemented and influencing Thai’s economy are currently in the third phase.”
Even a cursory observation shows that there is a high level of digital awareness among Thai people, while analysed data reveals more.
As per a survey by the National Statistical Office of Thailand, 93.8% of the country’s population use mobile phones and 68.1% take advantage of mobile banking in 2021, giving Thailand the top spot in the world. In addition, 86.3% use the internet and 87.7% have access to the internet at home.
Dr Kasititorn emphasises that Thailand is very well equipped for the impending transformation that it will experience soon. “To bolster the depa’s efforts through the Digital Economy Promotion Master Plan, we have been supporting the use of digital technology in diverse sectors, starting with agriculture, manufacturing and services and moving on to communities to progress towards Thailand 4.0.”
As of today, most industries have already surpassed a 2.0 digital density index, with the service sectors like finance and tourism leading the way.
To cater to the demand side of the digital economy, the depa also promotes the supply side, including digital entrepreneurs and suppliers. As a digital workforce is essential for effectively transforming the nation, the depa has been working with various groups of individuals for training, retraining and upskilling.
“We aspire that Thailand achieves digital transformation on a national scale with all sectors and all groups of people embracing digital technologies,” says Dr Kasititorn.
They intend to accomplish this goal by first, getting all sectors, particularly SMEs, ready for digital transformation. The industry must recognise the power of digital technology that could support the expansion of their businesses. This strategy makes use of mechanisms like awareness-raising, capacity-building, business matching and finance in the form of incentive vouchers for matching money.
Second, increasing the capacity and standards of digital service providers. Without dependable digital services, indigenous industries would not be able to achieve digital integration. The depa strives to increase the capacity and level of service offered by digital service providers.
The standardisation voucher, startup fund, RDI fund, and other similar funds are all tools used to assist digital service providers. To ensure that the sector has enough talent to fuel the development of product and service innovation, the digital industry can also be promoted through the development of its human resources.
Third, Building a digital ecosystem in Thailand. Thailand Digital Valley (TDV) aims to build Thailand’s digital ecosystem and prepare Thailand to serve as an ASEAN Digital Hub.
TDV will stimulate investments from top-tier technology corporations and startups while promoting the growth of digital services and technologies. TDV will also support the development of Thai entrepreneurs and digital service providers’ competitiveness and competence so that they can compete on a global scale.
When asked if digital transformation needs a cultural paradigm shift, Dr Kasititorn concurs. She is convinced that such a shift results from the necessity to alter the entire system. For entrepreneurs to transition from the analogue era to the digital one, they must adopt a new and distinct style of thinking.
A great example of the need for a perspective is the agricultural sector. According to the study findings of the depa’s Digital Density Index Series 2021, the concentration of digital technology adoption in agriculture (ranging from 1.0 to 4.0) is still around 2.0 at every step of production.
Most farmers who do not use digital technologies are inexperienced small farmers with limited resources. Given that Thailand is primarily an agricultural country, the sector may need to undergo the greatest change.
It must transition from the traditional labour-intensive one to the technology-intensive one. For instance, using drones, robots, sensors, big data and artificial intelligence for farm operation and supply chain management.
For the agriculture sector to be digitalised, there will need to be a paradigm shift in mindset, significant investment in training new generations of farmers and substantial initial expenditure.
Most Thai manufacturing companies already understand that they must embrace digital transformation if they are to survive and grow in the new era of production. As manufacturing involves a significant amount of business and technological expertise as well as long-term investment commitment, businesses are cautiously and slowly transitioning to the digital era.
To support this, it will be necessary to leverage technologies like ERP, IoT, Big Data, AI, Advanced Robotics, AR/VR, and 3D printing for a variety of purposes, including cost-cutting, boosting productivity and operational efficiency, managing supply chains and developing new goods and services.
Finally, when it comes to the service sector, Thailand’s tertiary companies have made significant progress in their digital transformation efforts. Tourism and allied businesses, transportation and logistics and finance and banking are the main industries that have excelled in the digital revolution.
The tourism sector has undergone a significant digital revolution, as most tourists now buy goods and services online. Thailand has gradually digitised its transportation and logistics systems, which has had a multiplicative impact on the effectiveness and productivity of other economic sectors. Sectors like health and education that are undergoing constant digital transformation come after these top performers. As across the globe, Thai banks and other financial institutions have long since gone digital, ensuring almost all offerings and services can be availed offline.
The third phase of the Digital Thailand programme, which aims to fully integrate digital technology into every sector, is now underway in Thailand, according to Dr Kasititorn. “We have done quite well in terms of basic telecommunications infrastructure with numerous wired and wireless networks nationwide to provide services at a relatively affordable rate with exceptions on the very remote area.”
At this point, Thailand’s challenge is to make sure that these networks are utilised to their full potential. In the agricultural, industrial, and service sectors – which employ practically all the labour force in the nation – they are attempting to speed up the transformation.
During the post-pandemic period, the industrial sector showed signs of improvement while sharing a 2.0 digital adoption rate. The service SMEs that are still falling behind will require more attention, even though the service industries may have been performing relatively well in the digital transformation.
To encourage stakeholders across all industries to go outside of their comfort zones and begin their digital transformation processes, it is still of utmost importance to inform them about the potential that comes with digital technology and innovation.
“We do this with various kinds of support from financial incentives such as tax reduction, exemption, grant funding, and matching funds to non-financial measures such as capacity building, networking, business matching and technical support,” Dr Kasititorn asserts.
Increasing Thailand’s Digital Transformation for Future Landscape
According to Dr Kasititorn, digital transformation is the process of inducing and designing changes that are required to disrupt present processes or practise – at the organisational, industry, or national levels – and is supported by digital innovation. It is necessary to take a comprehensive strategy for transformation, and technology is only one component of what must be done.
At the national level, it frequently entails changes in the thinking of all players involved, notably leaders, as well as laws and rules governing how the country and government operate. In terms of technology, one must recognise that digital is not just an enabler but also a disruptor, necessitating a new way of thinking and planning.
“To drive Digital Transformation in Thailand to make big changes, we should not be only technology users but also be able to build the capacity to create and generate digital innovation along the way. With this, we need to build human capital in both qualitative and quantitative terms,” Dr Kasititorn says emphatically.
She has been involved in at least five national ICT policies during his nearly 20 years of research. The latest and current one is the 20-year Thailand Digital Economy and Society Development Plan, driving towards Digital Thailand. She believes that all her research contributes somewhat to the policy-making process and categorises his research into two different groups.
The first group is the research conducted with the drafting of ICT policy or plans as the objective from the outset.
The second group of research is to conduct research on specific issues ranging from research on the current and future situation of the ICT industry and markets to an international trade negotiation affecting the ICT and digital industry. “Normally, we provide policy recommendations which translated into internal policy or strategy preparation. We are not typically part of the negotiation process, though.”
As a part-time lecturer, Dr Kasititorn teaches courses on either ICT public policy or the socioeconomic implications of technology. “I frame my course in such a way that I will use my practitioner’s experience working in the policy arena to extend the student’s breadth of thinking, rather than theory.”
In this approach, she hopes that learners would grasp Thailand’s digital ecology and terrain, as well as the rapid changes that occur. She wants people to deeply comprehend the socioeconomic progress that digital technology has driven or influenced. “However, I intend to demonstrate how society can determine the path of technology, as well as the interplay between many elements and stakeholders. I like to bring global and national phenomena into the classroom to spark discussion.”
By 2027, most Thais should have inexpensive access to wired and wireless (4G/ 5G service networks), as stipulated by the 2nd Digital Economy Promotion Master Plan (2023–2027), led by the depa, and possess a suitable level of digital literacy. With almost 100,000 digital-based businesses, Thailand’s real-world industries are expected to reach the 3.0–4.0 stage of digital adoption.
The foundation of practical applications that result in long-term socioeconomic effects will be digital technologies such as 5G, IoT, Big Data, AI, Robotics, Blockchain, AR/VR. Robots and AI, for instance, will replace labour-intensive industries like agriculture, manufacturing, and even the service sector, increasing productivity and revenue.
“As a result, we anticipate integrating digital technology and innovation across all sectors – agriculture, manufacturing, and services – to boost the GDP of the nation,” Dr Kasititorn explains.
Included in the 5-year term, the 2nd Digital Economy Promotion Master Plan (2023 – 2027) has been developed to focus on 4 strategies.
- Reskill, upskill, and fill a digital talent pool to create 500,000 digital workers for the digital economy and society;
- Transform the traditional economy into a high-value digital economy, with targets of 100,000 digital-based firms and all actual sectors, including local communities, reaching a Digital Density Index level of 3.0;
- Create new opportunities and inclusive economic development, with one city ranking among the top ten livable smart cities in the world and around 95% of people having digital access and literacy; and
- Optimise the usage of digital infrastructure with the goal of establishing two new significant digital infrastructure projects to build up deep-tech capability and attract three global technology companies to invest in Thailand.
Dr Kasititorn added that to ensure long-term growth, they are constructing a digital ecosystem with the necessary infrastructure. Thailand Digital Valley (TDV), a 12-acre digital innovation centre located in Thailand’s Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC), has been built for this aim.
The TDV consists of five cutting-edge buildings equipped with the necessary infrastructure, innovation labs, and a digital ecosystem for world-leading technology firms and Thai digital startups to coexist, fostering the kind of synergy that will aid in the development of new digital products and services that to be sold in both domestic and global markets.
Investors in this special economic zone are also entitled to tax and non-tax benefits such as up to 13 years of exemption from the company and personal income tax, flat-rate personal income tax, and Smart VISA privileges.
Thailand’s primary priority is expected to be digital transformation. The final objective cannot be accomplished just by the government but must be accomplished in partnership with alliances and partners both at home and abroad.
“Our digital vision for Thailand 4.0 is solid, but the sharing of ideas and views is critical to the mission’s success,” says Dr Kasititorn.
The country is looking to explore partnerships and relationships that contribute to the country’s development as well as the world at large. In this vein, she is excited to collaborate with OpenGov Asia and its international networks to identify new opportunities and projects to help Thailand realise its digital potential.
Smart City Projects in Thailand continue to flourish and evolve. In this, the sharing of data across smart city apps and sectors is a financial and technological growth opportunity from which cities can benefit. Sharing between cities and the development of information interchange show that smart cities have reached the next stage of creating value for citizens and local governments.
The Digital Economy Promotion Agency (depa) is the committee and secretary of the Board of Thailand’s Smart City Development, in addition to encouraging and supporting the economic growth of private enterprises in Thailand.
They manage the planning of Smart City development and provide the rules and mechanisms to sustainably support Smart Cities in Thailand -they ensure that the places need to be well-organised, accessible, and secure.
The Board of Thailand Smart City has decided to construct a City Data Platform (CDP), one of the five Smart City development principles. The CDP is a repository for digital data that facilitates data connectivity and sharing between government departments, private organisations, and municipal residents. To generate the most value for the city, it is also important that personal information be safeguarded.
Smart City: A New Urban Planning Paradigm
In an exclusive interview with Mohit Sagar, CEO and Editor-in-Chief of OpenGov Asia, Dr Passakon Prathombutr, SEVP/CTO Digital Technology and Innovation Development Unit, Digital Economy Promotion Agency (depa), Thailand revealed that there are more than 60 cities around the country that have submitted proposals since the government established the smart city steering committee in 2017.
The committee was eager to promote smart city development and has allowed any city in Thailand to apply for incentives under the government smart city programme.
“Thirty (30) cities have met the requirements and are currently undergoing the development process to become smart cities. Our smart city concept suggests using technology to creatively address urban problems. Of course, the betterment of the citizen is one of the values,” Dr Passakon explains.
Smart cities are multi-sectoral endeavours that have a big impact on daily life with wide-ranging challenges to be addressed. While infrastructure and logistics are issues, he feels the largest obstacle is for city leaders to shift their mindset and accept new technologically based solution paradigms.
Infrastructure and technology are required for a smart city, which has created a substantial market for technology. Numerous opportunities were offered to companies and startups to develop novel solutions.
As part of depa’s approach, according to Dr Passakon, they built an ecosystem to help both the supply and demand sides by utilising a variety of financial channels and capacity-building tools such as training, digital transformation vouchers and business matching.
The City Data Platform (CDP) is the most important part of a Smart City and focuses on the needs and problems of citizens for sustainable development.
“The three features provided by the CDP are the data catalogue, data exchange and data governance allowing a solution provider to quickly examine and incorporate CDP data. The data is mostly open data and follows the same metadata standard for each city,” Dr Passakon elaborates.
He acknowledges that the data is the property of the owners of the data. It could be public or private, hence, the data governance in the CDP would help control the quality of the data and the rights to share.
When it comes to concrete instances and lessons learned from his experience that might be helpful to others, Dr Passakon has suggested starting with the needs of the citizens rather than with technology or solutions. “We must identify the problems, and then match them with practical solutions.”
Dr Passakon knows the importance of engaging the next generation of citizens and is acutely aware of the role of depa. When asked how he encourages the younger generation to take part in smart city projects he shares, “We pass on our knowledge to the next generation via the smart city (young) ambassador programme!”
The Smart City Ambassadors (SCA) Programme aims to encourage the development of smart cities from young people’s fresh viewpoints and to promote local employment that attracts young people to their hometowns.
Before serving as “smart city ambassadors” for participating organisations in the public or private sectors for a period of 12 months, participants receive training to advance their digital skills and fundamental knowledge of smart city development, with the help of local staff serving as their mentors.
They will be able to use their knowledge to address urban problems, identify better city solutions and promote the growth of smart cities in each of their respective regions.
The SCA Programme will be expanded into a second cycle of success, the depa and partners have announced. This time, the goal is to develop the 150 young smart city ambassadors chosen from 150 regions around the country by enhancing their knowledge and abilities in areas pertinent to the mission.
The depa anticipates that the second wave of the SCA Programme will result in 50 emerging smart cities and 150 locations with rising smart city development around the country, in addition to other projects that enhance the quality of life.
The development of smart cities in Thailand is expected to be accelerated by the encouragement of the construction of smart city promotion regions.
Although 105 smart cities are the goal of the national plan for 2027, technology and urban problems will evolve with time. “Our nation needs a sustainable and resilient city that can handle the problem on its own!”
In the next three years, Thailand will deploy best practices and city leaders will become more knowledgeable about digital technology. In addition, over the next five to ten years, the nation will address new challenges and acquire new technologies.
“Today’s solutions will become commonplace as we encounter new issues and technological advancements, necessitating the need for a smarter city. It is a lifelong undertaking,” he acknowledges in conclusion.
At Investor Day in 2021, StarHub showcased DARE+ which changed them from a telco company to an enterprise that helps customers connect their digital lives. DARE+ is anchored on doubling down on going digital, speeding up the creation of value, achieving growth without borders and giving customers a never-ending stream of experiences that give their life colour.
StarHub provides an extensive selection of connection, over-the-top (OTT) streaming entertainment, cloud gaming and digital solutions. It achieves this by dismantling boundaries between services to suit the diverse and expanding requirements and desires of its clients.
DARE+ was based on the successful end of DARE 1.0, which was in October 2021 and saved more than SG$ 270 million in costs – more than the original goal of SG$ 210 million. Operating expenses were also cut by 15% because of DARE 1.0.
In an exclusive interview with Mohit Sagar, CEO and Editor-in-Chief of OpenGov Asia, Nikhil Eapen, Chief Executive and Executive Director, StarHub explains how the global ICT sector drives growth and how StarHub makes synergistic investments in infrastructure, enterprise communications and technology.
Goal-Oriented Perspective and Foster Creativity
“StarHub will pursue more acquisitions that will increase its scale and footprint, as well as extend its product choices and capabilities for customers,” Nikhil affirms.
Nikhil believes that people are the organisation’s biggest asset and liability. As a result, the team’s working style is also evolving. They’ve changed how they hire people to make the funnel bigger and give them more access to talent and businesses.
To identify the most appropriate and efficient approach to complete a task, Starhub practice agile working which involves bringing together people, processes, connectivity, technology, time and place.
“It’s about business outcomes and not telco outcomes. We are focusing on some exciting outcomes such as Infinity Play, Super App, Cloud Infinity, Green Tech, Cloud + Cloud Connectivity + Cyber. These are war cries for us,” Nikhil elaborates.
“In addition, we participate in initiatives to preserve the environment. This year, StarHub’s staff, including senior executives and customers planted a total of 100 trees in support of the National Parks Board’s OneMillionTrees movement,” says Nikhil.
Nikhil revealed that Starhub has a passion for sustainability and the environment. It was named the world’s most sustainable Wireless Telecommunications Service provider, and Singapore’s most sustainable telco.
It’s not about awards, but about matching the value of their customers and the community. They are a proponent of sustainability. Among their ground-breaking projects are solar-powered Wifi for NUS, rainfall measurement at PUB base stations and smartphone recycling.
They create digital products, solutions, digital engagement, and digital transformations. They provide customers with sophisticated digital experiences that they may self-serve. This has a significant impact in reducing carbon footprint.
As the premier green tech player, they are also developing products, services, and solutions for enterprises. They deploy network-managed sensors, provide dashboards to help companies to monitor their energy efficiency, and implement cloud workloads to gather and store data to optimise their operations management and workflow processes.
“We are also in the business of green enterprises and as a leading green tech for enterprises, we empower and help our clients to go green,” Nikhil says passionately.
StarHub DARE+ Beyond Telco
According to Nikhil, DARE+ is the next major phase in StarHub’s transformation journey. DARE+ is no less ambitious than DARE 1.0 in terms of progress in all areas.
StarHub is evolving from a telecom to a full-service supplier of enriching connectivity, entertainment, and other lifestyle experiences, as well as creative business solutions for its customers, with seamless digital engagement at its foundation.
StarHub drove prepaid aggressively, being the first to introduce free incoming calls and, most importantly, being the first in the world to establish the concept of Quad Play such as mobile, broadband, Pay TV and fixed services.
DARE+ is about becoming a challenger, but it’s more about challenging themself and elevating their aspirations. “We have a long and illustrious history. StarHub was founded about 25 years ago, combining SCV with a fixed license and a third mobile license.”
By enabling an indefinite continuum of connectivity, OTT streaming entertainment, cloud gaming and digital solutions, DARE+ transforms StarHub from quad-play to “Infinity Play,” shattering service silos to meet consumers’ diverse and expanding requirements and desires.
To be effective, “Infinity Play” requires genuine digital engagement, utilising StarHub’s success with its digital platform, which has achieved stellar growth and the highest Net Promoter Score in the market.
With DARE+, StarHub will increase user consumption through an all-encompassing super-app platforms, with the goal of offering as many self-serve, zero-touch services as possible, while achieving speedy time-to-market and minimising cost and capital outlay.
The goal of StarHub is to become the go-to brand for businesses that need cyber security, cloud, ICT and network connectivity by utilising its distinct capability sets and growing ecosystem of reliable partners to cross-sell solutions and push fixed services and 5G connectivity. StarHub will continue to look for acquisitions that will increase its size, footprint and range of products and services available to customers.
DARE+’s digital transformation and fundamental network connectivity with StarHub form its foundation. In August 2020, StarHub launched 5G for the first time in Singapore. StarHub also runs the most lauded network in Singapore, providing users with excellent connections across 4G, 5G and broadband.
To provide clients with the finest access at any time, everywhere, and on any device, StarHub will keep distinguishing its fundamental infrastructure.
Nikhil elaborated on StarHub initiatives to digitally transform and cloud-enable the front- and back-end systems. For the back end, they have a cloud control plane; converging fixed and mobile; network slicing on 5G; and hygiene, scalability and capabilities that equal proximity and power.
For the middle which includes the cloud stack, data lake, and super app for digital engagement, StarHub has the following:
- Scalability, agility – new product cycle, product/pricing change cycle, number of transactions in hundreds per second;
- Customers are empowered to self-serve. Some telcos do this for data, voice and SMS but Starhub do across their products, infinity play;
- Knowing their customer and providing solutions or recommendations;
- Stay up to date on the product.
Finally, for the front-end system, StarHub has externalised its products based on the needs of its consumers and clients including 3C’s (Cybersecurity, Cloud, Connectivity) and mobility as a service reflecting the future of work – not just a connectivity plan, but a whole range of modules from remote working to device security to green-tech.
The 2030 Vision
StarHub has developed greener retail, marketing and communication activities. Some of these areas are embracing paperless technology and responsible consumption, including:
Sending e-invitations and e-cards over the holidays; Electronic versions of newsletters, annual reports, and EGM circulars are accessible; By default, customers receive electronic statements rather than printed bills; Use of electronic versions of vouchers, sales agreements, and work orders; and My StarHub app to supplement e-bill by enabling digital account management for customers.
In terms of responsible consumption, StarHub encourages customers to “Skip the Bag” and bring their bags. Since 2020, they have switched from non-woven bags to FSC MIX-certified biodegradable brown paper bags at their store. They rent set-top boxes, business routers and Optical Network Terminal units.
In addition, used items are repaired and refurbished for redeployment until the end of their life cycle, at which point they are recycled by authorised e-waste collectors.
Nikhil shared StarHub’s 2030 vision and objectives for enhancing environmental resilience and sustainability citing that they are committed to sustainably growing the business – a combination of long-term goals to achieve by 2030, aligned with the Paris Agreement, as well as short-term immediate goals.
In line with the increasing environmental resilience and sustainability, the effects of climate change will continue to worsen as weather patterns become more irregular and long-term temperature fluctuations become more common.
“We are committed to reducing our environmental impact while also ensuring our business remains resilient in the face of climate change,” confirms Nikhil.
They have managed an 8% reduction in Scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions and will target to have a 50% reduction in the same scope by 2030, from a 2019 base year, “This year alone, we will be offsetting our scope1 and 2 carbon greenhouse-gas emissions for our corporate office and four main retail shops. We are also targeting 30% renewable energy use by 2030.”
In addition, StarHub aims to increase its monthly average Power Usage Efficiency (PUE) ratio to 1.70 by 2022 to increase the power usage efficiency of its data centres. For supply chain management, they plan to obtain certification from 70% of their suppliers by 2022 that they will abide by StarHub’s Supplier Code of Conduct.
Moreover, they are digitalising end-to-end green technology services for the government, institutions of higher education (IHL), and businesses. StarHub is advancing the Green Agenda by integrating high-quality, secure internet and cloud-based services.
“These will help us reduce energy and water usage – not just from the StarHub point of view, but also from a nationwide one,” Nikhil ended.
In his personal life, Nikhil is as conscientious. He also loves using public transportation like the MRT, buses, and e-bikes. “For the last 7–8 years we’ve been driving electric cars. I even ride an electric bike.”
As a family, he reveals that they are quite idealistic about being environmentally conscious, but their actions probably trail behind their words. They throw less, recycle more and only buy what they need. They also try to eat as little beef as possible.
“In the end, sustainability is a personal, corporate and societal endeavour. For better or for worse, we are all in it together, so we all must do our bit,” Nikhil says emphatically.
Innovation is the process of replacing the outdated or less efficient or bettering them. It is a tool used by entrepreneurs to take advantage of developments to start new businesses or tweak existing ones. An innovative, successful entrepreneur can come up with new products, models or methods that meet the needs and or will serve trends in the market.
Innovation comes by observing and analysing trends and helps a business either cope with these or create new opportunities. Moreover, a brand’s nature, inventiveness and design-thinking processes are enhanced through innovation. By learning how to be creative and leverage innovative developments, a business can stay at the top of its field.
In an exclusive interview with Mohit Sagar, CEO and Editor-in-Chief of OpenGov Asia, Shirley Wong, Chairperson, Lee Kuan Yew Global Business Plan Competition (LKYGBPC) explained why innovation is at the heart of entrepreneurship.
Innovative Solutions for a Sustainable & Resilient Future
Shirley feels that the concept of urban innovation is intrinsically linked to the highly trendy term “smart.” Smart encapsulates the provisions, solutions and methods used to resolve the issues of large cities. With significant deviations from the norm, the landscape is incredibly inventive in the urban sector.
The urban context is becoming progressively significant with the world slated to become predominantly cities in the near future. Moreover, in an increasingly VUCA environment, this transition is accompanied by a plethora of cyber and physical dangers.
“The goal of such innovation is to improve the lives and quality of all people by an ideal coming together of social and economic needs. As such, the sector gives birth to more meticulous and creative thoughts,” observes Shirley.
By enabling smarter social and economic convergence, participation and mobility solutions, these innovations can enhance the quality of life in urban areas. Newly designed innovations in these areas provide a sustainable future – and a secure, safer one.
In addition, innovation is not necessarily meant to create a new product – it might be an innovative service, a one-of-a-kind offering for customers or just a better, more efficient way of doing something.
At the end of the day, Shirley adds, that the most important thing about innovation is that it is driven by excellence and is always looking for ways to get better. “Innovating is a continuous process of evolving and improving and I think there’s no end to it.”
Strategy and innovation are much more likely to be successful when design principles are used – design thinking makes products and services more appealing to the people who use them. Thus, agility and progress are the paths that will lead to innovative thinking for the future.
Shirley expanded on the types of innovative business entrepreneurs. According to her, enterprise entrepreneurs may employ innovation to generate new concepts for long-established organisations. This might aid a business in being relevant and competitive in the market. “These are the innovations backed by corporations,” says Shirley.
Social entrepreneurship, on the other hand, seeks to tackle community issues along with its product or service. These items can encourage beneficial changes in community behaviour. Typically, social entrepreneurs evaluate their success by the extent to which they have improved their community, as opposed to their profitability.
Start-up entrepreneurs invent a singular, industry-unique product or service. To ensure the success of their start-up, entrepreneurs may employ creative customer retention techniques.
“All forms of entrepreneurship, including social, start-up and enterprise, ultimately have a bottom-line,” Shirley says. “The concept or measure of profitability is diverse and may not necessarily be counted in terms of money.”
A Glimpse of the Lee Kuan Yew Global Business Plan Competition (LKYGBPC) 11th Edition
Shirley encourages the support of the public and collaboration for the Lee Kuan Yew Global Business Plan Competition (LKYGBPC) – a biennial international university start-up competition held in Singapore. The programme is named after Singapore’s first Prime Minister, who developed the country’s foundational business strategy and brought Singapore to the global stage.
The Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Singapore Management University organises the competition, which focuses on urban concepts and solutions produced by student entrepreneurs and early-stage start-ups. It is positioned as a campus innovation movement with the goal of developing a worldwide start-up ecosystem that includes investors such as venture capitalists, corporations, and governments.
The competition sustains this spirit of entrepreneurship, innovation, and ambition by bringing together the world’s most inventive institutions to confront and imagine the concerns of the twenty-first century.
The 11th edition of LKYGBPC has the theme “Innovation Beyond Boundaries – Reimagining a Smart, Sustainable & Resilient Future,” and will culminate with the Finals Week (BLAZE) on 11 to 15 September 2023 in Singapore.
Urban Solutions and Sustainability, Manufacturing, Trade, and Connectivity, Human Health and Potential, Smart Nation and Digital Economy, and Media and Entertainment are the main areas of focus for the upcoming competition.
LKYGBPC has a target audience of
- Start-Ups: To present innovative solutions to international investors to win attractive prizes in cash and in-kind, meet corporate decision-makers and expand networks;
- Investors: Access a pool of start-ups from the world’s brightest, young minds to find the next unicorn;
- Corporates: Expose brand to a wide audience, stay on the pulse of the latest developments impacting the start-up eco-system and key industries, the source for innovative ideas and top talent; and
- Governments: To play a vital role in nurturing a digital future, by fostering fresh ideas and solutions that can generate social and enterprise values.
The competition will launch in late October 2022, and the deadline for application would be in March 2023. During the application period, roadshows will be held at various university campuses and incubators located across the globe, including Leuven and Helsinki in Europe, Cambridge in the United Kingdom, Shanghai, Mumbai and Nagoya in Asia, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Ho Chi Minh City and Jakarta in Southeast Asia, and Melbourne in Oceania, are among the event’s highlights.
Online judging by an international panel of judges will happen between May and June 2023 to shortlist 150 teams for the next phase. Applications are judged on their inventiveness, commercial viability, idea impact, and execution capability.
The top finalist teams (RVLT50) will be named in June 2023, From June to August 2023, there will be mentoring sessions and workshops, such as Changemakers Conversations.
In September 2023, RVLT50 will go to Singapore for a week-long immersion programme called BLAZE. The programme will have VC Office Hours, networking sessions, facility visits, mentoring sessions, Category Finals (Semi-Finals), a Grand Finals Pitch, and an Awards Dinner.
There will also be thought-leadership panel discussions where well-known industry experts, tech start-ups, and academics will talk about hot issues and topics in the global start-up scene and share their knowledge and experiences.
Last but not least, BLAZE will play host to Southeast Asia’s largest gathering of senior venture capitalists offering free one-on-one advice to start-ups, especially those in their early stages.
Happiness Resulting from the Provision of a Solution
Shirley is proud to have been an entrepreneur for many years and that her interest is in creating and expanding enduring enterprises. With over 30 years of experience in the IT & Technology industry, her recent priorities have shifted to investing in and coaching technology-based businesses – though her enthusiasm for entrepreneurship and cutting-edge technology to boost productivity has not diminished in any way.
She actively supports entrepreneurs in the start-up industry in their pursuit of capital and market access. “Building a business not only for myself but also for everyone around me, particularly those who had the same passion and aspirations to be an entrepreneur.”
Shirley is thrilled to observe the difference in her customers’ lives before and after implementing the remedy she proposed, as well as how much businesses flourished. “That encourages me to persevere and strive to do better for them.”
From 2013 to 2016, she was the head of the Singapore Infocomm Technology Federation, now renamed SGTECH. She has been involved in the start-up scene, helping start-ups get funding, access to resources, market connections and go to markets.
She sits on the judging panels for events like the President Science & Technology Awards, the Techblazer Awards, and the Asia Pacific ICT Awards, among others. Shirley described her experience as chairman of LKYGBPC as “exciting.”
“The amount of effort that we put into the programme and for those who come to support us gets better, bigger and more significant,” Shirley is delighted to share. “In five to 10 years, LKYGBPC will function at the forefront of entrepreneurial innovation and will go beyond the competition as we want start-up firms to experience the dynamic environment that Singapore provides for entrepreneurs.”
“Through our platform, start-up companies will have access to a network in Singapore, which I believe is unprecedented. We should be the best conduit for their regional connectivity,” Shirley declares.
Shirley serves on the board of Assurity Trusted Solutions, DSO National Laboratories, National Kidney Foundation and Yellow Ribbon Singapore. She is currently a member of CAAS authority committee member of the Cybersecurity and Data Governance committee, the PDPA Advisory and the SIA Engineering Technology Advisory board. She previously served on the board of Singapore Science Center, Infocomm Development Authority, Infocomm Media Development Authority of Singapore and Accel Systems & Technologies.
In the first Singapore 100 Women in Tech List, which came out in 2020, Shirley was named one of the 100 women who had done great things and made important contributions to tech.