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Government can help, but firms, workers need to do their part

Private sector must unlock value and jobs, government's role is that of enabler: Janil Puthucheary

(From far left) Dr Puthucheary, BT's associate editor Vikram Khanna, Mr Menon, National Research Singapore's CEO Low Teck Seng, Standard Chartered Bank's Global Head Digital, Retail Banking Aalishaan Zaidi, and International Enterprise Singapore's CEO Lee Ark Boon.


GOVERNMENT regulations and approaches should not hinder innovation in Singapore's future economy, but instead unlock value for the private sector.

But ultimately it is up to each individual company and worker to decide how much value can be created in the economy, speakers from the public sector said at the The Business Times Leaders' Forum on Wednesday.

"The transformation cannot start and end with government. Ultimately, value and jobs are created by the private sector," said Janil Puthucheary, who will be Minister-in-charge of Government Technology Agency (GovTech).

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"And the government's role is to enable such value-creation in the private sector, and help companies and workers raise their capabilities to reap their full potential in the digital economy."

Dr Puthucheary's comments come just days after the government said that it would be forming a new unit, called Smart Nation and Digital Government Group (SNDGG), to coordinate better on Smart Nation and digital transformation initiatives.

GovTech, which is now in charge of technological transformation in the public sector, will be the implementing agency for SNDGG. These changes take effect on May 1.

The government is already making efforts to ensure that its regulatory approaches are moving in lockstep with the pace of digital transformation.

Taking the usage of data as an example, Dr Puthucheary said that a proposed "data sandbox", announced earlier in Parliament this month, would be a neutral platform to see how companies could come together to collaborate and innovate.

Their interactions and what comes out from this sandbox can then inform the government on how regulations can be created or crafted.

"We take the approach where we allow the innovation to happen... so that we don't hold back innovation, we don't hold back opportunities," said Dr Puthucheary, who is also Minister of State for Communications and Information.

This sandbox will fall under a proposed Data Innovation Programme Office, which aims to help companies "unlock the value" of the data that they collect, he added.

Another example of how the government's approaches can encourage innovation is in the setting up of a nationwide cashless payment system.

An inter-operable structure for such a system should be ready by the end of this year, said fellow speaker Ravi Menon, managing director of Monetary Authority of Singapore.

This is when the Central Addressing Scheme through which users can make immediate fund transfers by using proxies, without needing bank account numbers, starts operating.

The other important component for the inter-operable cashless system is the existing Fast online inter-bank funds transfer system, said the central bank chief.

But while the government can push for a nationwide platform for cashless electronic payments, companies and individuals should also think about how they can leverage such a platform, Mr Menon urged.

One reason why e-payments have yet to take off here is that the public still has not fully accepted cashless payments.

As for companies, they have not digitised their entire business processes. "If we do only the payments part in digital format, but the rest of the processes is paper-based, we can't make it work."

And should these efforts be made by the private sector, the nationwide cashless payment system can then be a huge enabler for the future economy.

"The gains from going cashless is not from the e-payments part itself, it is the opportunity to digitise the entire business processes," said Mr Menon.

"And when you have straight-through processing, digitised across the entire value chain, the gains from productivity and efficiency are tremendous."

  • Dr Janil Puthucheary explains the role of the Government in the future economy. Watch the video here:
  • Ravi Menon: Dare to experiment and accept failure. Watch the video here:


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