S'pore top in Asia at adapting to digital disruption

A commuter checking out an interactive screen at a refurbished bus stop in Jurong Gateway Road.
A commuter checking out an interactive screen at a refurbished bus stop in Jurong Gateway Road. PHOTO: ST FILE

Singapore has come out tops among Asian countries for its ability to transform itself amid digital disruptions brought about by the likes of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba and ride-hailing firm Uber.

The inaugural Asian Digital Transformation Index, launched yesterday, ranks Singapore ahead of economies such as South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

The study by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) is based on 20 wide-ranging indicators, including 4G network coverage, broadband affordability, the quality of maths and science education and the ease of accessing government data online.

The study was commissioned by Australian telco Telstra.

Mr Charles Ross, senior technology editor at EIU in Asia, said Singapore aced the infrastructure-related indicators - which carry a total weighting of 55 per cent in the index - due to its smart-nation push.

"Digital infrastructure is seen as the first hurdle... because if companies can't get connected, then the other elements of the digital transformation process will be beyond them," said Mr Ross.

Letting Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) spin-off nuTonomy put its tests of driverless taxis on local streets was cited as an example that would push smart vehicle development here. But nuTonomy recently put its trials on hold after one of its cars hit a lorry at one-north.

Other self-driving trials by the Agency for Science, Research and Technology, Britain-based automotive supplier Delphi and the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology are still taking place.

Nanyang Technological University chief development officer Victor Tay said strong links between the business ecosystem and the Government worked in the nation's favour.

"While we may be quick to adapt to disruptive change once the Government puts out the blueprint, much more is needed to produce global disruptors like Uber and Alibaba," said Mr Tay.

The financial sector here also realised that it may be counter-productive to compete with technology disruptors like financial technology (fintech) firms.

For instance, at DBS, bank executives are paired with fintech companies to solve business challenges. "Only by joining forces can they fend off competition from one-stop shops like Chinese companies WeChat and Tencent that combine social activities with banking services and payments - a new type of digital disruption," said Mr Neal Cross, DBS' chief innovation officer.

The ease of accessing government data online also helped to bump up Singapore's ranking. For instance, yearly carbon monoxide emissions can be retrieved from data.gov.sg, the one-stop venue for a host of free government data sets.

"We are happy that Singapore's smart-nation push and our efforts in digital government and open data have contributed to this top ranking," said Mr Chan Cheow Hoe, deputy chief executive, Government Technology Agency of Singapore.

But the study pointed out that Singapore could improve on getting the elderly, disabled and the needy to use the Internet. Singapore lags behind South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong on this front.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 23, 2016, with the headline 'S'pore top in Asia at adapting to digital disruption'. Print Edition | Subscribe