Company chiefs urge economy panel to target innovation

The lunchtime crowd at Raffles Place.
The lunchtime crowd at Raffles Place.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Company chiefs and economists have welcomed the Government's new economic review committee unveiled last week.

They say the economy is in urgent need of review, and urge the new committee to study how Singapore can nurture more innovation.

"The most important area to address in the wave of digital transformation is innovation," SingPost group chief executive Wolfgang Baier told The Straits Times. "A business can stay competitive only if it has a strong grasp of the right technologies it needs to keep growing."

STAYING AHEAD OF THE CURVE

We can't just build capability to serve our own needs, we have to build a Singapore-centric talent pool. We're not just talking about technical skills - we need to develop people who can innovate, lead and manage.

SINGTEL GROUP CHIEF EXECUTIVE CHUA SOCK KOONG, on helping to move Singapore successfully into the next phase of development

Last week, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat will be chairing a committee on "The Future Economy" to study how to create better careers for workers and help firms adapt to changing world trends.

One trend worrying many bosses is the wave of technological transformation that is seizing all sectors of the economy and even blurring the lines between them."(For example,) non-traditional competition including the telecommunications and technology companies are also entering the financial services sector," said Mr Jimmy Koh, UOB managing director, and head of investor relations and research.

If Singapore wants to get ahead of the curve and stay there, it has to do more than just buy new tech.

"For Singapore to move successfully into the next phase of development, we must all be committed to growing new talent pipelines - fast," said Singtel group chief executive Chua Sock Koong. "We can't just build capability to serve our own needs, we have to build a Singapore-centric talent pool. We're not just talking about technical skills - we need to develop people who can innovate, lead and manage."

Singapore may also find it harder to attract and retain high-value global firms here as its population ages, noted ARA Asset Management group chief executive John Lim.

To meet this challenge, it is important that Singapore maintain a "diverse workforce that comes with a global mindset and specialist skills and talents", he added.

But the future economy is not all that bleak either. Firms here were quick to identify new opportunities that have emerged.

Most notably, the Government's Smart City initiative is "fast ushering in new fields like cyber security and data analytics where global capability is scarce," said Ms Chua. And as Singapore's huge financial services sector gets a technological overhaul, UOB's Mr Koh also noted a rise in demand for "newer skills" in areas such as cyber security and advanced data analytics.

Even developing social media guidelines in the areas of legal, compliance, risk and audit is an area of growth, he said.

Overall, the consensus was that Singapore is on the right track so far, but more dialogue is needed, to set direction on an industry level.

Some groups have "overlooked" the Government's good intentions, said Sheng Siong group chief executive Lim Hock Chee, and the new review committee must task itself with reaching them. "My suggestion would be to educate the minds of people. With a united mindset, our economy can move forward," he said.

But firms also noted that an over-reliance on the Government to drive innovation can also be counterproductive. "We still need to be more selfless, humble and to continue to learn," said Mr Lim. "The observation that people now are less willing to take hardship is a worrying trend."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 08, 2015, with the headline 'Company chiefs urge economy panel to target innovation'. Print Edition | Subscribe