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​Move to build capabilities the right way forward, say business leaders

Published on: 10-Feb-2017

​While the Committee on the Future Economy’s (CFE) blueprint to shore up Singapore’s capabilities is not a marked departure from what has already been set in motion, it reinforces what businesses need to stay relevant as they navigate an uncertain environment, analysts and business leaders said yesterday.

OCBC Bank said in a research note that the thrusts of the recommendations are not “intrinsically different or totally groundbreaking from earlier government strategic plans”. “(They) reinforce the growing need to stay connected, even amid an emerging shift by some of our key trading partners towards protectionism and insular growth,” said the research note, which suggested the proposals were “same same, but different”.

Agreeing, CIMB Private Bank economist Song Seng Wun said the committee’s recommendations are “more of a reiteration” of policy shifts that have been taking place gradually. He pointed out, “We’re not at a crisis point of the economy ... that requires big shifts in policies.”

Associate Professor Boh Wai Fong from Nanyang Technological University’s Nanyang Business School believed the Government’s direction of building capabilities to help firms transform was sound.

“To have policymakers come up with big-bang ideas implies that they might be picking winners and betting the nation’s resources (on) such ‘winners’ before it might be clear whether these are, indeed, winners in future,” she said. “We can’t predict the future, but we can control the uncertainty.”

Helping firms — particularly small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) — ride the digital wave was a key focus of the CFE, as digitalisation sweeps sectors, and the digital economy throws up opportunities for firms.

To become an attractive place for large enterprises to test innovative solutions for the global market, Singapore needs to develop deep capabilities in areas including data analytics, artificial intelligence and blockchain technology, said KPMG in Singapore’s digital and innovation head Lyon Poh. “To then create an environment which supports adoption, we’ll need to inculcate an open mindset and a data-driven approach at the top,” he said.

Principal analyst Clement Teo of research firm Ovum said Singapore has the right hardware in place to transform in the digital sphere. But challenges remain in getting workers up to speed with the right skills and shifting mindsets due to higher costs, the fear of potential job losses as technology replaces jobs, and venturing into uncharted territory. Change must begin with education and examining business practices for the extent that they can be transformed digitally. “Then you have to look at the mindsets of people, from business owners to state-run enterprises, whether they’re … still analogue in a digital world,” Mr Teo said.

Analyst Foong King Yew said a continued push from the Government in offering incentives and training for firms to digitalise was key. Universities, too, must follow through with the appropriate courses and curriculum to speed up the retraining of the workforce, said Mr Foong, research vice-president for communications at technology research firm Gartner.

Madam Nichol Ng, managing director of food-distribution company FoodXervices Inc, said that while companies should embrace technology, they should not “blindly follow digitisation” but embrace technologies that are practical and easy to use. “There are still some … solutions (that are) so customised that they could become obsolete,” she said. “Importantly, for SMEs like us where we’re really lean (and) don’t have an IT guy on board … getting a vendor that helps with the execution of the system is very important.”

Source: TODAY, 10 February 2017​​​

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