Lessons from Singapore’s digital transformation success

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What we can learn from Singapore’s ranking on top of The Asian Digital Transformation Index

Discovering you are going to be a parent is a life-changing moment for many people. For new parents, the scale of the change and the importance of the decisions they are faced with can be overwhelming.

Yet in Singapore, a new government digital solution called Moments of Life is helping citizens prepare for their new arrivals with personalised and proactive support. From pregnancy advice and birth registration to applying for child benefits and information on local pre-schools, the app is using digitisation and automation to make family lives easier.

Leading the world in digital transformation

The new app is just one example of digital change in a country that is showing the results of prioritising digital transformation.

Singapore topped the rankings in The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU)’s The Asian Digital Transformation Index 2018, a recent research paper commissioned by Telstra which measures the progress of Asian economies in developing digital infrastructure, skills and technology ecosystems. This is the second iteration of the research, with Singapore also topping the rankings in 2016.

Its results were so impressive that even if the US, UK and Australia been included in the Index, Singapore would still be the overall leader. So how is Singapore consistently improving its digital domain? And what lessons can we learn from its success?

Clarity and ambition of digital vision

Behind Singapore’s success lies a core understanding of the importance of digital transformation to the country’s prospects. Recognising that fact, The EIU found the clarity and ambition of Singapore’s digital vision a driving force in the country’s ranking.

In particular, Singapore’s implementation of ICT infrastructure strategy, such as 5G development plans and fibre network rollout, underpinned its top billing.

While reliable, fast and affordable connectivity is not the only way to create a brilliant platform for digital transformation, it is considered the most important. And Singapore was deemed the global leader in this area, with the highest fibre-to-the-home and fibre-to-the-building take-up rates of any country.

About 97 per cent of Singapore’s population now has access to superfast internet connectivity – followed by mainland China (77%) and Hong Kong (74%).

Investment spurs adoption of emergent technologies

Singapore’s investment in infrastructure in turn provides a strong platform for innovation to bloom.

In particular, the country has identified four “frontiers” around which it is planning future growth. The roadmap calls for the development of artificial intelligence (AI) and data analytics, cybersecurity, immersive media, and Internet of Things.

These disruptive technologies require strong network, human capital, and process infrastructure to mature. Hence, Singapore’s investment in 5G, where a pilot network was launched at the country’s research and innovation business hub one-north in late 2018.

The Index cited the importance of 5G mobile connectivity in realising the potential of AI, IoT, Industry 4.0 and autonomous vehicles, with Singapore, as well as South Korea, leading the charge in Asia to launch 5G services.

Technological development is moot without parallel investment in talent

But the greatest challenge to the success of digital transformation in Asia is not technological. It is that of talent.

As Oliver Camplin-Warner, Telstra’s Head of International, says, “When I speak to customers across Asia, they continually cite finding the right people with the right digital skills as an acute business challenge impacting their operations. This has long been an area where the West has held an advantage. Yet, as the Index shows, we’re beginning to see change.”

That change is best embodied in Singapore.

The EIU found that Singapore is in the strongest position across Asia to address talent and skills challenges for two reasons. Firstly, the impact of Singapore’s maths and science education – considered the best in the world by the World Economic Forum – is setting the foundation for its talent pool now and in the future.

Secondly, in a new measure, Singapore was found to have the greatest proportion of telecommunications professionals within its workforce, totalling eight per cent according to the UNESCO UIS database. This expertise is essential given the critical importance of network infrastructure in the success of digital transformation objectives.

Singapore offers a blueprint for Asian digital success

The Asian Digital Transformation Index offers clear signs of Asia’s digital transformation progress. Singapore is central to this change – and provides clear lessons in how to consistently succeed during a period of tumultuous disruption.

Leveraging strengths in ICT policy vision and implementation to accelerate fibre deployment, cementing plans for 5G and advancing development of innovation like AI, and investing in both grass roots and ongoing talent training are applicable lessons all countries can learn to lead to digital transformation success.