The Straits Times says

Making most of transformation maps

Economic restructuring being a bottom-up process, there was concern among some about insufficient awareness of industry-specific transformation maps. Under the $4.5 billion transformation programme, nearly all the road maps have been developed for 23 industries, covering 80 per cent of the economy. In review, it was logical to have adopted a sectoral approach, as pervasive change is required for the future economy to take off. The maps have captured issues within each sector and, collectively, they point the way ahead.

A pertinent point is the degree to which the maps are related to the actual needs of industries and, importantly, small and medium-sized enterprises, as raised at a business forum last month. Will bigger corporations benefit more from the road maps because of the way these have been developed? A road might be paved with good intentions but it's vital to take stock to ensure that enterprise and digital capabilities are cultivated among SMEs as well.

Whether a government agency or the private sector should have taken the lead in driving the transformation maps is a moot point. What cannot be overlooked is that there is much ground to cover and time is of the essence, as recommendations could be overtaken by external changes. Public agencies have kept things moving at a good clip so far, in collaboration with all players.

The role of strategic planners and enablers, of course, is not to "run business" but to "be helpful", as Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat noted a fortnight ago. What is crucial is the partnership between the State, enterprises of all sizes, trade associations and business chambers.

Having depicted the contours of sectoral needs and possibilities in industry transformation maps, what is to be done during the next lap? Much hinges on realising synergies across industries, as highlighted by the Committee on the Future Economy. "Our ability to work with and trust one another will be our distinct competitive advantage," it emphasised in its report last year.

Identifying and developing areas of convergence can yield considerable gains. For example, technology is already embedded in many sectors, like finance which is seeing a wave of fintech start-ups, fired up by Harvard professor Clayton Christensen's 1995 theory of disruptive innovation. Opportunities abound in other fields too, calling for wider cross-sector collaboration.

In pressing ahead, it's vital for all partners to map potential synergies in such a way that workers and upcoming workforce entrants will be able to see where new jobs are emerging and what future skills they should home in on. Given the inherent uncertainty associated with the future economy, the greater the clarity of a transformation map, the more useful it will be to spur SMEs and workers still on the periphery.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 14, 2018, with the headline 'Making most of transformation maps'. Print Edition | Subscribe