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Tackling disruption: Execution holds the key for Singapore

Dr Puthucheary acknowledged that existing legacy systems that have had "some degree of success" could be impeding both businesses and the government in adapting to disruptive technologies.


SINGAPORE businesses and the government are cognizant of disruption, according to Minister of State Janil Puthucheary. But what is more important is how they execute their response to the phenomenon, and this will determine Singapore's success in tackling disruption.

In an exclusive interview with The Business Times, the Minister of State for Education, as well as Communications and Information, affirmed that the Republic's organisations have always had a mindset of wanting to seize opportunities.

"The question is now, whether we see disruption as a threat or opportunity. If we see disruption as an opportunity, are we looking to slow down the pace of change or to embrace it and be part of the change?"

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That said, Dr Puthucheary, who is also co-chair of the Deep Dive on Disruptive Technologies under the Committee on The Future Economy, noted that there is no singular strategy for organisations in responding to disruption, as they face varied needs and challenges. Organisations in Singapore, however, "start from a relative position of strength".

He attributed this to a tech-savvy population, in addition to a public and private sector that are already deploying digitalisation strategies. The government in particular, through the Smart Nation Programme Office, is looking to see how it can leverage data and artificial intelligence to automate processes and ultimately "disrupt ourselves, from the policy side".

"So we're very willing, but it's easy to say and hard to do. And I think that's the key, for both businesses as well as the government. The execution and the operational issues are what's going to determine if this is a success or not."

Dr Puthucheary acknowledged that existing legacy systems that have had "some degree of success" could be impeding both businesses and the government in adapting to disruptive technologies.

"If now, you want to put in a new solution, the barriers are a little bit higher. That can sometimes slow us down, and we do need to then literally disrupt ourselves.

"But the disruption has a real impact on citizens' lives, so we have to manage that transition. We have to smooth it out along the way."

The 44-year-old, a trained pediatrician, recognised that disruption has become a buzzword today; it's also a phenomenon that is "more dramatic" than previous economic shifts.

He said: "It's happening much faster and to the whole world at the same time, because this wave of change is layered on top of the penetration of the Internet, which makes the world now very connected."

Asked if the Singapore education system prepares its youth for a world that is constantly being disrupted, Dr Puthucheary said that it does a "pretty good job". For one thing, it effectively inculcates fundamental skills such as math, science, critical analysis and thinking.



He added that at the same time, the Ministry of Education (one of his portfolios) is adapting to ensure that the education system becomes "much more responsive" to the ever-changing needs of the economy and the world, as well as the aspirations of Singapore youth.

"We are dealing with disruption to the skill sets that were taught 15 - 20 years ago in school. We have to make sure that kids in school today will be resilient to jobs and opportunities 15 - 20 years from now.

"But maybe doing slightly different jobs, using different skills that we haven't yet imagined, so that's the kind of education system we need. We are looking at how we can develop that."

Dr Puthucheary was speaking to BT ahead of The Business Times Leaders' Forum 2017, where he will deliver the keynote address.

The forum on Wednesday, March 22, will convene top speakers from both the public and private sectors to discuss diverse topics around the theme disruption and transformation.

  • This report is part of a video interview with Dr Puthucheary.
  • Are Singapore organisations poised for disruption? Watch the video at:
  • Is the Singapore education system disruption-ready? Watch the video at:
  • For more information on The Business Times Leaders' Forum 2017, go to: