Singapore to spend more on digital economy in next R&D plan

This will involve partnering companies to build up Singapore's tech talent pool. PHOTO: ST FILE

The digital economy will feature prominently in Singapore's next five-year Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) plan, with more funding set aside to develop this area, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday.

This will involve partnering companies to build up the country's tech talent pool as well as a renewed focus on cyber security as more transactions go online.

Speaking at the two-day Fortune Global Forum, Mr Heng noted that a significant portion of the $20 billion RIE2020 plan, which mapped out Singapore's research and development strategy from 2016 to 2020, was spent on digitalisation. But under RIE2025, which is being finalised, even more money will go towards developing the digital economy, he said. "We do believe that this is going to be critical for the future."

Mr Heng was taking part in a dialogue on digital economies with Mr Anthony Tan, chief executive of ride-hailing firm Grab. They discussed such topics as the challenges of digital transformation and the potential for Singapore to connect with the wider world.

Mr Tan announced at the event that Grab will partner Microsoft in a series of training and development programmes for students as well as Grab's drivers and delivery riders. The aim is to help them grow their digital skill sets and improve their employment opportunities. It aims to reach out to a maximum of 5,000 drivers and delivery riders, and 250 tertiary students by the end of next year.

Speaking about the challenges of helping small businesses go digital, Mr Tan said Grab's experience working with farmers and wet market sellers in the region has shown it that things are not as simple as "giving them a phone... and let magic happen".

His company has provided such small business owners with the tools to automatically correct photos of items for sale, and micro-loans that are typically not provided by traditional institutions.

"We need to create tools to help these small businesses attract customers, like real-time data insights," he said. "We have to provide training (for) new skills - the old walk-in customer is going to be very different from our Web online browser."

On a larger scale, the digital revolution also means countries have the opportunity to connect with one another more than ever before, Mr Heng said. He gave the example of digital economy agreements, which Singapore has inked with countries such as New Zealand, Chile and Australia, and also spoke on improving cross-border data flows for financial services.

"The data that drives a lot of transactions, including the data on digital finance, on the flow of capital, is going to be critical," he said. "During a global financial crisis, trade came to a halt because no one could trust anyone else... If we can do better cross-border data flow of financial services, you can allow for better risk and business decisions, and that would allow for trade to continue to flow."

Singapore is also upgrading its trade platforms and working with other countries on how digital technology can help better manage cities, Mr Heng said. "The more we can connect globally and, at the same time, transform locally, the more successful we can be, the more we can play a role in the global economy."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 28, 2020, with the headline Singapore to spend more on digital economy in next R&D plan. Subscribe