Blogs | White Papers | Reports

Partnering for Profit in Tech-Savvy Singapore

If there is one country that believes wholeheartedly in partnering for profit, it is Singapore. Exactly one year ago, in March 2022, Singapore’s Minister for Trade and Industry Mr. Gan Kim Yong and US Secretary of Commerce Ms. Gina Raimondo signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to implement the Partnership for Growth and Innovation (PGI).

As part of the MoU, the US Department of Commerce (DoC) and the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) planned to work together to build interoperable AI governance frameworks and encourage businesses to embrace ethical AI practices. And under the ASEAN-Singapore Cybersecurity Center of Excellence, the DoC and MCI planned to collaborate on cybersecurity best practices, and on programs on smart cities.

In 2022, AI adoption grew significantly, with 24 percent of companies in Australia, 39 percent in Singapore, and 22 percent in South Korea developing or deploying AI. About 60 percent of CIOs in ASEAN, 68 percent in ANZ and 44 percent in South Korea cited automation as a planned technology investment; a third of CIOs in ASEAN and 56 percent in ANZ also identified process automation as a focus area, as per a recent IBM survey.


Digital Domain

Partnering is crucial in innovative tech. Earlier this year, the Singapore Land Authority (SLA)’s Digital Conveyancing Portal (DCP) reached a new milestone with the appointment of Tech Mahindra as IBM’s system integrator to deploy automation, analytics, security and intelligent asset management technology to develop secure e-payment and digitised documents and signatories for conveyancing process for all types of properties by 2026. “The project brings together an entire ecosystem to create a one-stop digital platform that will revolutionize the property conveyancing process. We are committed to deliver an innovative and user-friendly online platform that marks the beginning of our journey towards transforming Singapore's Land Authority operations into a fully digitalized platform,” added Anuj Bhalla, Digital and Cloud Transformation Leader President and SBU Head, APJI Enterprise at Tech Mahindra.

Setting up strong business partnerships was also highlighted by Dr. Li Xuchun, Deputy Director and Head of AI Development Office at the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS). “What are some lessons other industries can benefit from? First, strong partnerships with industry players and tech firms are crucial,” he said. “They can provide insights into the industry’s needs and help with technology adoption. Educating partners is important, as some may not initially see the value in responsible AI. It’s critical to stress its importance early on, especially as AI continues to rapidly evolve.”

MAS started Veritas, an initiative to promote responsible AI in the financial sector by developing concrete methodologies and open-source toolkits. “This differs from traditional AI, which may not prioritize fairness, transparency, and accountability,” Dr. Li said. “Responsible AI is about addressing fairness, transparency, ethics, and accountability in the use of AI. In contrast, traditional AI involves building models for prediction, pattern recognition and clustering, which have been applied in areas such as face recognition, fraud detection, and credit risk assessment.”


Cutting-Edge Tech

The AI landscape today is dominated by purpose-built models deployed for dedicated tasks. But enterprises need a large corpus of labeled data, significant resources, and teams of skilled data scientists to train and maintain these models. 

“Foundation models represent a generational opportunity for enterprise,” reported IBM Research. “They’re general-purpose, pre-trained models that can be fine-tuned to accomplish a wide set of tasks. We’re developing software, middleware, and hardware to bring frictionless, cloud-native development and use of foundation models to enterprise AI.”

IBM is also working with the Singapore Management University (SMU) to conduct research on quantum computing applications, and how it disrupts sectors like finance and logistics. For example, Associate Professor Paul Robert Griffin led research to understand the benefits of incorporating quantum machine learning in the credit scoring process. Industry partnerships are key in translating new technologies into commercial and industrial applications.

In another example, IMDA, IBM, Samsung, and M1 jointly launched Singapore’s first 5G Industry 4.0 trial last year. The trial developed a 5G-enabled augmented reality solution as AI-powered “smart glasses” to assist factory operators in assembly and inspection, which improved training efficiency for new hires by 50 percent.

A big concern? A lack of trained tech talent. Singapore’s digital economy employs around 216,000 ICT professionals, with half of them in the ICT sector, and the other half supporting digital transformation in finance, manufacturing, retail. Around 10,000 ICT professionals have been added each year in recent years. Yet 19,000 tech roles remain unfilled across the economy.


Reskill & Upskill

According to a recent IBM’s global skills and education study, job seekers and students in Singapore want to pursue roles related to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) across different industries. Comparing with the other 12 surveyed countries, job seekers in Singapore report the highest levels of familiarity with STEM jobs. While most of respondents don’t currently work in a STEM job, majorities say they’re interested in doing so.

Almost two-thirds of students in Singapore also agree that career opportunities in STEM will increase over the next 10 years, but worried that they are not qualified to work in STEM due to a lack of the right skills and academic degrees.

Reskilling and upskilling are another area where industry-government partnerships could thrive. For instance, IMDA’s Tech Skills Accelerator initiative has worked with industry to equip fresh graduates and mid-career professionals with industry-relevant tech skills. Under this program, IBM has committed to train hundreds of Singaporeans in AI, blockchain, cloud, IoT, software apps, advanced analytics, and cybersecurity.

A viable solution: gaps in skilled labour and constant digital disruption are driving organizations to turn to automation to enable success. Intelligent automation means digitizing whole systems and processes, not just tasks. Technology can scale and optimize workflows, personalize customer experiences, and enhance human decision-making. Intelligent automation simplifies processes, frees up resources and improves operational efficiencies, accelerating the returns on investment. 

AIOps, for example, uses AI to automate how enterprises self-detect, diagnose and respond to IT anomalies in real time. AI is also applied to assure application performance and cut costs by optimizing the deployment of IT resources across development, test and production environments. 

As managing application performance across multiple teams, and across public clouds, private clouds, and on-premises has become a complex challenge that consumes time and resources of technical support team, intelligent automation can today ease the burden on a site-reliability engineer from having to piece together logs and events from multiple sources by performing monitoring and observability – correlating the context of all data and dynamically setting and changing alert thresholds – allowing teams to take corrective action much faster, with a lot less resources.


Security Scare

The other crucial concern? Cybersecurity. Asia has become the epicenter for cybercriminals since 2021. Asia was the most-attacked region in the world with nearly one-third of all hits. Manufacturing accounted for nearly half of all cases observed in Asia last year, according to a study by IBM Security X-Force.

No wonder cybersecurity is a top priority for all organizations. Businesses across Southeast Asia plan to invest US$6 billion on cybersecurity solutions by 2026—up from US$3.2 billion in 2021, says IDC. Moreover, 67 percent of organizations in Southeast Asia are making changes to their IT strategies because of digital sovereignty concerns. IDC defines digital sovereignty as the capacity for digital self-determination by states, companies or individuals.

As for Singapore, scam victims lost more than S$660 million in 2022, up 4.5 percent from S$632 million the year before, according to the Singapore Police Force (SPF). Young adults aged 20 to 39 were the most likely to be cheated in scams, making up 53.5 percent of all victims. Job scams were the most common ruse. The top five scam types in Singapore: phishing scams, job scams, e-commerce scams, investment scams and fake friend call scams. They made up over 80 percent of the top 10 scam types in Singapore.

Should companies prioritize digital transformation, and environment, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives over cybersecurity? Ms. Tan Hwee Cher, Group Head of IT Security and Governance at CGS-CIMB Securities, said companies need to act quickly while being aware of the risks involved. “If a company sacrifices their cybersecurity budget for ESG initiatives, they must accept the associated risks,” she said. “Selling the cybersecurity story to the board and developing a cybersecurity culture takes time. It is up to the cybersecurity team or CISO to guide the conversation and ensure that the right questions are being asked.”

“Cybersecurity should be integrated with ESG (environment, social, and governance) initiatives, considered part of a holistic corporate plan and delivered as a complete solution,” said Marcus Yin, Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) at Singapore’s Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau. “Rather than visualizing ESG as a separate package, it should be included as an enabler and presented to the board and the organization. All leaders, including the CIO (Chief Information Officer), CISO, and CFO (Chief Financial Officer) need to play a part in ensuring the organization is cyber secure.”

Should companies pay ransomware? “Ethically, paying a ransom is not recommended,” Mr. Yin said. “Not all organizations are prepared for ransomware attacks; they may have to pay attackers to retrieve their data. This could lead to a ‘regret rate’ if the attackers demand more payments. Such cases are not widely reported, so we don’t know the exact regret rate. Prevention is key. Companies should focus on cyber hygiene, backing up data, and being prepared for ransomware attacks to avoid having to make payments and regretting it later.”


AI Again

The hottest tech in town is AI. A report, co-authored by the World Economic Forum and the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, details a best practice on how IBM develops and advances ethical AI technology, from establishing an internal 'AI ethics board' to advise and guide the ethical development and deployment of AI systems to developing a set of 'principles and pillars' that include AI explainabilityAI factsheet and a set of tools to test how reliable AI predictions are.

MAS’s Dr. Li urged organizations to keep responsible AI at the core. “Educate board members and senior management about the benefits of AI and responsible AI,” he recommended. “Build talent by partnering with academia. Train employees with the necessary AI and data skills. Ensure that AI is not a standalone solution and requires an understanding of the business needs and customer demands. And focus on creating business value and revenue as the end goal.”

The bottom line: Paul Burton, IBM’s General Manager for the Asia-Pacific, recommends companies and government agencies in the region to focus on three key strategies—A, B, C—for 2023:

  • Agility & Resilience: Think holistically about your tech architecture. Use agile solutions to build resilience, since changes to the environment cannot be estimated or anticipated.
  • Business Velocity: Most CEOs wish for increased business velocity to leverage new markets. That’s only possible with judicious deployment of AI and automation technologies.
  • Cost Control: Technology is deflationary. Control inflationary pressures and costs by leveraging AI, trusted data, cybersecurity, sustainability imperatives, and a digital workforce.


# # #


Ms. Agnes Heftberger is General Manager & Technology Leader, IBM ASEANZK (Australia, South East Asia, New Zealand, Korea).