Singapore 'can lead growth in region's digital economy'

Digital connectivity and the use of data as an economic resource have enabled Singapore to transcend its resource limitations, says Veritas' Mr Rajendran.
APRIL 02, 2018 - 6:00 AM

SINGAPORE'S chairmanship of Asean 2018 will present it a worthwhile opportunity to lead the region in developing its various digital economies, said Ravi Rajendran, managing director (Asia's south region) at multi-cloud data management company Veritas.

He told The Business Times in a recent interview that the "strong policy underpinning Singapore's digital development" will go a long way to accelerate digitalisation across South-east Asia - particularly in healthcare and digital trade. As Asean chair this year, Singapore is focusing on innovation and resilience with the digital economy as a key thrust, he noted.

"Digital connectivity and the use of data as an economic resource have enabled Singapore to transcend its resource limitations. Singapore has put in place a strong strategy to promote ICT (information and communications technology) in terms of skills and infrastructure, at both business and individual levels."

Mr Rajendran said that for instance, the digitalisation of medical records by the Singapore government can make a good case study for Asean countries such as Thailand which has a sizeable healthcare industry.

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He added that there is also strong potential for Singapore to leverage its infrastructure to facilitate and lead secure trade transactions within Asean, and connect the various economies in digital trade.

"Asean presents great opportunity. With an estimated market size of more than 600 million people, it has the potential to host the entire spectrum of business activity from production to consumption. That said, we have to be cognisant that Asean is not a homogeneous community."

Mr Rajendran explained that the various Asean countries have different political, cultural and economic landscapes. "The ability of Singapore to rally the Asean partners to play in this new digital world, by tapping its dynamism, vibrancy and Asean influence internationally, will help spur Asean digitalisation movement."

Asked what Singapore needs to do to remain a competitive digital hub, Mr Rajendran said that it has to embrace "pervasive" innovation. "For a small and open economy like Singapore, innovation will be key for continued growth as it will enable the set up of new businesses in new areas."

He added that trust is a key element that will make or break digital economies. "In a digital world where data is a new currency for growth, consumers and organisations will have peace of mind if they are assured that their data is safeguarded."

Singapore is in a "unique position or sweet spot", given the trust associated with "Brand Singapore", he said. "As a digital hub, individuals and businesses must be prepared to share their data - only possible if there is trust - and to try new technologies."

Mr Rajendran highlighted that in the 2017 Digital Evolution Index (DEI), which tracked progress made by 60 countries in developing their digital economies and integrating connectivity into their citizens' lives, Singapore was identified as one of three standouts (alongside New Zealand and UAE) with a concerted policy-led digital strategy to turn technology into a source of competitiveness.

"To stay competitive globally, businesses in Singapore need to transform their company culture to meet the demands of the fast-changing digital world," he said. "Creating a culture that embraces fail-fast and yet collaborative mindset will foster innovative ideas and approaches."

According to Mr Rajendran, the recent conversations sparked by TED also suggest that Singapore could hold the secret to preparing workers for an uncertain future: by nudging shifts in mindset to embark on second-skilling to stay relevant.

"In today's digital world, reskilling and upskilling - which could range from mastering new software or simply new ways of interacting with others - are critical," he said.