Commentary: How do we know when we've become a Smart Nation?

Commentary: How do we know when we've become a Smart Nation?

Channel NewsAsia·2018-01-30 09:10

Becoming a Smart Nation is not just about going digital, but transforming your state of mind, says the president of HP, Asia Pacific and Japan.

A man trying out Virtual Reality googles at the Seniors for Smart Nation launch at Kolam Ayer Community Centre. (Photo: People's Association)

SINGAPORE: Singapore is moving full speed ahead with its Smart Nation focus, and in the run up to Budget 2018, we have seen increased discussion around the need for companies to go digital.

For example, the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s (SCCCI) 2017 Annual Business Survey released last October revealed that small- and medium-sized enterprises were concerned with cost and resource constraints that created barriers in their adoption of e-commerce in the digital economy. 

Discussion has also centred on the disruption digitalisation is creating in the marketplace.

Digitalisation however, does not equate digital transformation. 

We often use the terms interchangeably, but true digital transformation requires a much broader outlook, a complete end-to-end overhaul. You must consider the surrounding ecosystem – from designers and manufacturers to suppliers, partners and customers.

For this reason, HP recently opened our new Asia Pacific and Japan Campus, and Smart Manufacturing Applications and Research Centre (SMARC) supported by the Economic Development Board of Singapore. 

SMARC is designed to help transform HP’s supplies manufacturing processes by leveraging digital technologies including additive manufacturing (3D printing), advanced robotics and large-scale data analytics. 

The Singapore campus and SMARC are reflections of our drive to constantly reinvent the way we work to enhance productivity, boost efficiency, and transform business.

This transformation goes beyond technology and processes. It is also a state-of-mind: The willingness to adapt and be open to change.

People cross a street in Singapore's central business district. (Photo: Sutrisno Foo)

Once we understand this mindset, the Smart Nation goal of empowering people with technology to lead meaningful and fulfilled lives will become more tangible.

The Singapore Government has actively promoted digital transformation and the application of technology to support automation, increase productivity and accelerate research. 

Last October, Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S Iswaran announced the Industry Transformation Map for Singapore’s electronics sector, with the aim of achieving a manufacturing value-add of S$22.2 billion and creating 2,100 new jobs for professionals, managers, executives and technicians by 2020.

Moves like these suggest that while the creation of new jobs is beneficial, successful digital transformation necessitates that potential employees must have the requisite skills to perform in these new roles.


While there are numerous ways businesses can leverage Smart Nation initiatives, developing talent is of particular importance.

Companies and organisations may computerise processes and move to online transactions and cloud-based services to become more efficient and effective.

Yet research by the World Economic Forum has reported that on average, by 2020, more than one-third of in-demand core occupational skill-sets will be comprised of skills that are not yet considered crucial to jobs today.

This means that fixating on the implementation of new technologies is inadequate. Instead, we need to ensure that our talent is constantly upskilling in tandem – and if possible, pre-emptively – in this ever-changing environment.  

The Government has invested in numerous initiatives such as upgrading programmes like SkillsFuture, professional conversion programmes and partnerships with educational institutions that equip citizens with workplace-ready ICT skills.

Digital literacy has become a fundamental skillset. Now we have to progress beyond digital literacy to digital mastery – utilising Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things, and data analytics to inform business strategy and customer engagement.

We need to make progress from gaining digital literacy to possessing digital mastery. (Photo: Pixabay)

At an organisational level, digital mastery of these tools will give companies a competitive edge, improve customer experience, drive efficiency and drive profit. And as we master these, we need to keep a look-out for what comes next.  

The bottom line is that there is no final destination. The finish line is continuously redrawn as the technological landscape changes.


Singapore’s workforce needs overseas experience to differentiate itself. Results from a survey conducted by International Enterprise (IE) Singapore in 2016 revealed that Singapore companies face a lack of talent with global experience.

With its well-educated workforce, geographic, cultural and linguistic advantages, Singapore may have had a head start as a regional business hub. 

However, professionals in China and India are rapidly developing language and managerial skills. They are also demonstrating far greater willingness to take up overseas assignments, deepening their geographic exposure, giving them a leg up in regional and global roles.

But Singaporeans are still well-positioned to compete. Singapore acts as a global interchange for talent, allowing workers to develop an international point of view and leadership skills through collaborating within diverse teams. 

To further develop their leadership capacity, Singaporean talent must venture beyond local borders.

Overseas study and internship experience are good starting points, but the willingness to explore must extend into one’s long-term career path. 

While businesses and the Government should consider different ways to encourage workers, in-country work experience in markets outside of Singapore should be seriously considered and pursued by professionals for the workforce to remain competitive, as well as for their own personal development.

Mr Foo Tiang Lim, currently the operating partner of seed-stage venture capital firm SeedPlus, described the NUS Overseas College programme as a "life-changing" experience for him. (Photo: Tang See Kit)


Ensuring the workforce is nimble, diverse and future-ready is the responsibility of the Government, employers and employees alike. The ways in which we approach both business objectives and talent development must address the new reality.

At HP, our culture is rooted in adopting a “growth mindset” – the idea that talent is not an innate trait, but rather something that can be nurtured and developed. 

As a forward-looking organisation it is imperative that we keep this in mind, encouraging employees to take risks, venture into uncharted territory and continually seek to improve.

There will be many obstacles that governments, organisations and individuals face as technology evolves, but a true Smart Nation is one that can stand up to these challenges and rise to meet them head on.

Richard Bailey is President of the Asia Pacific and Japan region at HP.


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