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A competitive Smart Nation through a strong and united Singapore

Competitive Smart Nation through a strong and united SG

This was first published in The Business Times on 19 Feb 2019

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Budget 2019 offers a commendably strategic vision to build “a strong, united Singapore”. This vision is consistent with Singapore’s goal to be competitive, and to be a smart nation.

For sure, Singapore is well-placed to do so. Unlike most other countries, Singapore can marshal a whole country’s resources and attention all to one end: to harness technology’s possibilities to enhance all aspects of quality of life.

While previous corporate discussions on the smart nation were more often on how to apply technologies, Budget 2019 – rightly – focuses on the key players in a smart nation: Enterprises and people, and how to deepen their capabilities, with the support of partnerships.

However, the Budget could have gone even further to advocate a more holistic application of a smart nation to society, in three main areas: Digitalisation, enterprise and quality of life.

First, on digitalisation, some mindset shifts are in order but are probably only now set in motion, given that digital defence added only last week as the sixth pillar of Total Defence.

Fundamentally, more specific efforts are needed to build corporate awareness in the first place. The key is what can be done to nudge corporations to give cyber security the right level of priority.

Unfortunately, among businesses, there is still a huge gap between digital transformation and cyber security transformation, with managing cyber risks still often an afterthought. Expertise is lacking in many sectors, especially in such areas as threat intelligence and cyber crisis management and recovery.

Instead, businesses should be encouraged to think about security by design right from the start when embarking on any digital transformation projects, while smaller or less mature companies could be provided with better guidance on standards and best practices.

The government can drive greater cyber security adoption by encouraging and assisting organisations to build up, and sustain, cyber security preparedness and long-term resilience.

Second, in the area of enterprise, Budget 2019’s positioning of Singapore as a “Global-Asia node of technology, innovation and enterprise” also leverages the country’s unique differentiating facets as a smart nation.

But an extra nudge is needed to help spark the next growth surge in the economy overall, and especially in those industry sectors that have been actively gearing up for the next inflection point of growth.

A good example is financial services which, through financial technology (fintech), is already well-positioned to reach the next level of digitalisation. After extensive nurturing with targeted government support, banks and fintech companies have reached a stage where a number of “proven solutions” are now ready for deployment on a wider scale.

To achieve lift-off for the next growth phase, the key is to boost digital adoption. This could be catalysed, for example, by extending tax grants and other incentives to cover deployment and implementation costs of new technology in areas such as digital payments, blockchain, cloud, data and analytics.

Third, on quality of life, the anticipated Merdeka Generation Package reflects the government’s longstanding commitment to fostering a more inclusive society, which is the social component of a “strong, united Singapore”.

In addition to healthcare, Budget 2019 acknowledges broader sustainability concerns, for instance, when Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat gave his update on what Singapore is doing to tackle climate change.

What seems to have eluded wider attention, including among industry players, is the key component of the sustainability environment – the concrete reality of the real estate sector itself, and what more it could do to adopt green technology such as optimising green design and enhancing a building’s sustainability on cloud-based platforms, and 3D printing that enables design and construction to become more energy-efficient.

Until there exists a direct correlation between a building’s sustainability and its occupancy, rent and valuation, greening of buildings will remain largely a top-down agenda. What the government could do more is to drive uptake for a greener real estate sector through policy initiatives to help boost supply and demand for green properties, such as tax incentives for making buildings greener.

With the catalyst of new measures in Budget 2019, the next stage of Singapore’s development is poised for take-off. Taking Singapore’s Smart Nation to the next level will need more sustained policy attention and industry investment.

The article was contributed by Ong Pang Thye, Managing Partner, KPMG in Singapore. Views expressed are his own.

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