Singapore must act now to digitalise or risk losing edge, says Chan Chun Sing

This is key to transcending Republic's small size: Minister

Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing stressed that companies should not be preparing to return to business as usual.
Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing stressed that companies should not be preparing to return to business as usual.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Singapore must act now to transform its economy, or risk losing its hub status and see its businesses' and workers' competitive edge erode, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said yesterday.

Companies here should not be preparing to return to business as usual, he said. Instead, digital transformation is the key to helping the country thrive and transcend "the tyranny of geography", said Mr Chan, referring to Singapore's small size.

Now is the time to re-engineer processes, build a new economy, and transform to create the right opportunities for businesses and people, said Mr Chan, who was speaking at the opening of the Future Economy Conference and Exhibition.

"Digital transformation will truly unlock for us the world as our hinterland and market," he added. "But that is if we make the right moves now, harness the power of digital to grow our businesses, drive our economic recovery, redefine our competitiveness and relevance to the world."

More than 1,000 business leaders registered for the two-day conference, which is being held online.

It is focused on how businesses can rebuild in the new normal using digital tools such as data analytics. Its 19 speakers include representatives from United Overseas Bank, online payments giant PayPal and professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, who shared their experiences going digital.

At the virtual meeting, it was also announced that the Singapore Business Federation and Infocomm Media Development Authority have renewed an agreement to continue driving digital transformation across the business community and to position firms to seize opportunities over the next three years.

One speaker, Aviva Asia executive chairman Chris Wei, said that making use of data was key to the insurance giant's digital strategy.

This has meant using data to make it easier for existing customers to make claims, and to increase operational efficiency and achieve growth.

But to do this, the organisation's culture had to change, he said, adding that there was a "massive clash of culture" when Aviva first embarked on its digitalisation journey.

"It really does require leadership, it requires a lot of time, a lot of mediation, to make sure that priorities are aligned," said Mr Wei, who is also global chairman of Aviva Digital.

 
 
 

TIME FOR CHANGE

Digital transformation will truly unlock for us the world as our hinterland and market. But that is if we make the right moves now, harness the power of digital to grow our businesses, drive our economic recovery, redefine our competitiveness and relevance to the world.

MR CHAN CHUN SING

Another speaker, Ms Janet Young, who is UOB's head of group channels and digitalisation, pointed out that her organisation - like many other established firms here - is no digital native.

"They're not born digital. They're not digital natives... But you have to become digital," she said.

In his speech, Mr Chan noted that the pandemic has accelerated the pace of digitalisation.

Going digital comes with challenges, but these should not prevent the Government, businesses or individuals from working towards change, he added.

"Be it digitalisation or globalisation, they require us as individuals and businesses to adjust and adapt. To not do so, to resist change, inevitably means that we will be left further behind."

He added: "The faster we adapt, the faster we recover. There is no place for treading water and waiting for normalcy to return. Others will overtake us, and the opportunities will pass us by."

The Government is providing help for businesses through schemes such as the SMEs Go Digital programme for small and medium-sized enterprises. It has also introduced financial incentives such as the Digital Resilience Bonus for firms that use digital solutions.

At the same time, 1,000 digital ambassadors have been deployed to help the less tech-savvy segments of society keep up.

 
 
 

Placements, traineeships and skills upgrading under the SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package and other reskilling programmes like the TechSkills Accelerator have also been ramped up, Mr Chan said.

"As our people gain new skills, the digital challenge will become less daunting," he added.

"And we will become more productive, be able to take on higher value-added job roles, gain greater job satisfaction and, ultimately, form the digital backbone that every company needs to power... business transformation."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 23, 2020, with the headline 'S'pore must act now to digitalise or risk losing edge, says Chan'. Subscribe