May Day

Get creative and 'be the disruptor'

The audience at the May Day Rally held at D'Marquee, Downtown East yesterday. PM Lee said the Government's approach is to ensure a more level playing field and help industries and firms compete better.
The audience at the May Day Rally held at D'Marquee, Downtown East yesterday. PM Lee said the Government's approach is to ensure a more level playing field and help industries and firms compete better.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Taobao, Airbnb, Uber. These are some of the companies that have come up in recent years, introducing new business models and disrupting existing ones but also improving the lives of consumers.

The Government's approach to them is twofold, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

First, ensure these businesses compete fairly with existing ones.

 
 
 
 
 
 

Second, help industries and companies compete better by supporting them as they transform.

"I don't think we can stop this phenomenon and I don't think we should try," he said. "Can we put up a Great Singapore Firewall to block Amazon and Taobao? Can we ban ride-sharing and taxi-booking apps, like some other cities have done?

"We would end up hurting ourselves, because... we are all consumers, we are all commuters, we are all using these businesses and services and they are improving our lives."

Mr Lee noted that industries are changing rapidly. Top online shopping site Taobao, owned by Alibaba, owns no shops and has no stock. Airbnb, which rents out homes for holidays, books more rooms than top hotel chains without owning a single property. And Uber has become the world's largest taxi company - while hardly owning cars.

"All these new ways of doing business have disrupted our old models and processes," he said.

Retail stores compete with online platforms like Taobao and Amazon, and taxi operators fight for passengers with Uber and Grab.

What the Government can do is to "make sure that these new businesses compete on fair terms with existing ones", he said. With Uber and Grab, Singapore has reviewed the rules for a more level playing field with traditional taxi operators, to make sure the newcomers are regulated, drivers are properly qualified and have clean records, and consumers protected.

More fundamentally, the Government is helping industries and companies to compete better. Mr Lee said this was why Budget 2016 set aside $4.5 billion over five years for the Industry Transformation Programme to help industries and firms use research and development and technology to "adapt, prosper and be competitive".

Businesses must be creative and bold. "Be the disruptor. Don't just sit there and let people disrupt you."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 02, 2016, with the headline 'Get creative and 'be the disruptor''. Print Edition | Subscribe