The Straits Times says

The importance of being digital

Singapore's digital story is a tale of two cities. It is widely recognised for its ongoing efforts to become a smart nation - harnessing the power of technology and the digital revolution to change the way people live, work and play. Many government services have gone online, and consistently rank among the best in the world. The United Nations e-government development index placed Singapore fourth in the world last year, and the World Economic Forum ranked it first in its Global Information Technology Report. Broadband speeds here are among the fastest in the world, according to several reports. But, alas, there are many areas where the city lags behind others.

Many local companies, for example, are poorly equipped to take advantage of the digital world to improve the way they run their businesses, to serve their customers better and reach out to new markets. The Prime Minister spoke recently at a technology dialogue about how progress could be much faster in areas such as having a national identity system and an electronic payment system. It is time for a more concerted effort to bring the entire country up to speed.

Indeed, the recently released Committee on the Future Economy report identified strengthening Singapore's digital capabilities as one of the key strategies to transform the economy. This is critical because the pace at which digital technology is changing businesses and the way we live and work has increased by quantum leaps.

But many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) lack the vision, are short of people with digital skills, and lack the financial resources to upgrade their operations. Too many of them are stuck in outmoded ways of working, and reliant on low-skilled workers. They have little excuse now to resist change as the Government is providing customised help for them under the SMEs Go Digital programme, with funding of $80 million. Dynamic players might latch onto data analytics and cyber security as two promising areas where Singapore can develop its capabilities.

The push to position Singapore in the digital world is necessary and urgent as technology is marching on relentlessly. There is an important caveat though. It's not about becoming a geek, as digital capabilities are not ends in themselves. They enable people and organisations to work efficiently, serve others better, reach out more effectively or innovate. They are useful tools. But what has not changed is the importance of having creative and enterprising people able to compete at the highest levels. The basic question in any economy remains: What can you produce that is unique and of value to the world? It is essential though for Singaporeans to be digitally prepared so that they can look beyond their shores when they create something of value, whether at home or in a large workplace, and move at digital speed.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 08, 2017, with the headline The importance of being digital. Subscribe