'Kiasuism' may be factor holding back Singapore's digital transformation, says study

Big data analytics skills were most in demand for companies in Singapore seeking digital transformation, with 38 per cent citing it as their biggest requirement, digital security coming second at 32 per cent.
Big data analytics skills were most in demand for companies in Singapore seeking digital transformation, with 38 per cent citing it as their biggest requirement, digital security coming second at 32 per cent.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - As Singapore makes a push to modernise its economy, a new study found that the country's "kiasu" culture - or the fear of failure - may be holding it back.

The Connecting Commerce report from the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), which was launched on Tuesday (Nov 7), placed Singapore 14th out of 45 cities in terms of how confident businesses are that the city's environment supports a digital transformation.

The study, which was commissioned by Australian telco Telstra, looked at five indicators: innovation and entrepreneurship, financial environment, people and skills, development of new technologies, and information and communication technologies (ICT) infrastructure.

Singapore fared most poorly in "innovation and entrepreneurship", where it ranked 21st, and "people and skills" where it ranked 18th.

Mr David Burns, Group Managing Director of International and Global Services at Telstra, said this is largely because innovation often involves being willing to fail repeatedly before succeeding.

He said: "In corporate society in Singapore, failure is not in the dictionary, whereas that innovative environment works on trying things and seeing what works."

Mr. Marcus Gnirck, founder of Tryb, agreed: "There hasn't been enough learning or learning through failure, but conversation about it is finally happening, there has been a change in the capital side where success and failure are coming together."

As for the shortage of people and skills, Mr Khoong Chan Meng, director and CEO of the Institute of Systems Science at National University Singapore said it was a "happy problem".

"If Singapore had just a few start-ups we wouldn't be talking about this. There are 50,000 start-ups in Singapore and 10 per cent are tech start-ups. The demand means the local pool will almost never be sufficient, it is a happy problem," he said.

The panel agreed that in order to keep up with this demand, universities and companies need to work together.

Big data analytics skills were most in demand for companies in Singapore seeking digital transformation, with 38 per cent citing it as their biggest requirement, digital security coming second at 32 per cent.

In terms of the role of government, 53 per cent of executives said that Singapore's government programmes were the main source of financial assistance in digital transformation. A further 43 per cent found these programmes and events to be the most helpful local resource.

Mr Khoong concluded that Singaporean's were in a catch 22 on digital transformation: they want to do better within the sector but there is a lot unknown, and they don't want to fail either.

"People in Singapore aren't satisfied with where they are, they want to achieve more but they have the constraints of being ready for this different agenda - digital transformation. This in-between situation will persist as long as they look for more growth."

Cities with the highest business confidence in environment for digital transformation

1. Bangalore

2. San Francisco

3. Mumbai

4. New Delhi

5. Beijing

6. Manila

7. Shanghai

8. Jakarta

9. London

10. Madrid

...

14 Singapore