ICT in Singapore
Why should I read this document?
Singapore has one of the most technologically advanced ICT markets in the world. Singaporeans are highly connected, avid users of technology and voracious consumers of data. In December 2021, Singapore had a mobile penetration rate of 134.6% and a residential wired broadband household penetration rate of 92.2%.
The global ICT landscape is rapidly changing, as the adoption and proliferation of innovative applications and devices is creating agile enterprises, unique value chains and business models. Global ICT Investment was valued at approximately USD 484.6 billion in 2020, and is expected to reach USD 695.32 billion by 2026, growing at an annual rate of 6.2% between 2021 to 2026. An estimated 8.6 billion mobile subscriptions, alongside 4.66 billion active internet users in 2021 globally indicate the massive size of the global ICT industry.
The ICT industry is an integral part of all other leading sectors, for instance Healthcare, Energy, Defence, Logistics and Finance. Emerging technologies, niche solutions, new areas, and cross implementation of technologies facilitates the rapid evolution of ICT sectors around the world. The Asia-Pacific is considered to be the largest and fastest-growing region in ICT.
A mature market and an early adopter of new technology, Singapore has a vision of creating a world-class 5G infrastructure as a backbone of its digital economy. ICT is also viewed as a crucial investment in economic and social development through its Smart Nation initiative. Indeed, considered to be South-East Asia’s trading centre, Singapore is widely regarded as the #1 technology hub in the Indo-Pacific region. It boasts a world-class, globally competitive tech industries and forges new frontiers in innovation, technologies, and industries including cloud computing, artificial intelligence, data analytics, fintech, energy, health, and defense. With a tech-focused visions, Singapore markets itself as a sandbox for research and development and commercial activities, and is a cradle for ICT development.
Who is this document for?
This document gives an overview of ICT development and opportunities in Singapore’s ICT sector. This article is mainly aimed at:
EU investors who seek to improve their knowledge about ICT in Singapore and similar countries;
Policymakers working to improve their region’s ICT sector or practices;
SMEs operating or with interest in the ICT sector in Singapore and similar countries.
In the subsequent levels, you will find a deeper understanding about Singapore´s ICT sector.
The ICT sector of Singapore
Singapore is considered a digital capital of Asia and a preferred base for ICT firms. Offering world-class infrastructure, talent and vibrant ecosystem, Singapore works with companies to develop cutting-edge technologies and solutions to support the Smart Nation vision, and regional and global markets.
Singapore boasts a vibrant ICT ecosystem, housing many global technology firms alongside regional leaders such as Garena, Grab, Lazada, and Razer. Major technology players such as IBM and Huawei are partnered with the financial services, manufacturing, and services industries in Singapore. This rich ecosystem aggregates opportunities for ICT firms to partner with each other and with end user companies to co-develop commercially viable solutions for the region and beyond.
Many companies are investing in and exploiting Singapore’s ICT infrastructure and connectivity to better deliver digital services. Visa’s Singapore transaction processing centre serves both its regional and global networks, and LinkedIn established its first international data centre in Singapore to handle all of its Asia Pacific traffic. Cloud technology players like AliCloud and Google Cloud also invest in Singapore to access Southeast Asian markets and to remain digitally connected to the region.
Singapore offers a steady stream of industry-ready talent through close collaboration with leading industry players. This includes IBM’s Centre for Blockchain Innovation, in partnership with the NUS School of Computing to jointly develop a module on fintech. Singapore continues to bolster and improve its schools and education, and launches various initiatives to upskill its population for the ICT sector, such as the TechSkills Accelerator programme which trains industry-ready ICT professionals.
Singapore ranked #1 in IMD’s 2017 World Digital Competitiveness Ranking, #1 in the World Economic Forum’s 2016 Networked Readiness Index, #4 in the UN Telecommunication Union’s 2021 Global Cybersecurity Index, and ranked #1 among Southeast Asia in the 2017 Startup Genome report. Singapore accounted for over 40% of the startup deal flow in Southeast Asia and over 100 private equity and venture capital deals, with an aggregate value of S$3.5 billion, were made in Singapore’s ICT industry in 2016.
The Smart Nation and Digital Government Office (SNDGO), under the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), plans and prioritises key Smart Nation projects and drives the digital transformation of the government. It also builds long-term capabilities for the public sector and promotes adoption and participation from the public and industry, to take a collective approach in building a Smart Nation. With the Government Technology Agency (GovTech), the implementing arm of SNDGO, these two entities are collectively known as the Smart Nation and Digital Government Group (SNDGG).
The government’s vision for a digital-first Singapore is one where a Digital Government, Digital Economy, and Digital Society harness technology to effect transformation in health, transport, urban living, government services and businesses. The Digital Government continues to invest in infrastructure and create shared open platforms for businesses and citizens to learn and develop. The Digital Economy spurs businesses to invest in technology and talent to encourage growth beyond Singapore and regional markets. The Digital Society empowers individuals to cultivate their talents and arm themselves with the latest digital technologies to realise their biggest inspirations, and live better lives together.
Smart Nation enables a culture of innovation and experimentation through various policies:
Open Data: Data sets collected by public agencies are now available and accessible to the public through online portals, making it easy for developers to co-create digital solutions to benefit society.
Living Laboratory: Research and innovation initiatives such as Research, Innovation and Enterprise and AI Singapore allow Singapore to leverage emerging tech breakthroughs to drive Smart Nation goals. The Digital Economy is also an attractive hotbed for companies and researchers to develop, prototype and pilot their technological solutions.
Industry and Start-up Ecosystem: Singapore’s start-up ecosystem is built on a strong network of venture capitalists, MNCs, start-up accelerators such as JTC Launchpad and the SGInnovate. Currently, we are developing the Punggol Digital District (PDD) as an attractive hotbed for the world’s best tech companies and talents to converge, innovate and create iconic solutions to boost our Digital Economy.
Cybersecurity and Data Privacy: Cybersecurity helps safeguard Smart Nation growth by keeping critical systems and networks secure. Singapore vigilantly monitors possible risks and always prioritises data privacy.
Computational Capabilities and Digital Inclusion: Basic coding and computational thinking skills will help everyone benefit from Smart Nation growth, regardless of age or digital literacy. Singapore currently offers resources to assist both individuals and businesses to re-skill, so that they can leverage the growing opportunities of the Digital Economy.
Cross Border Collaboration: Growth is facilitated by the sharing of ideas and practices, exploring collaborations and testing solutions. The ASEAN Smart Cities Network (ASCN) was established in 2018, offering a platform for ASEAN cities to exchange ideas and solutions to catalyse smart city projects.
Digital Economy Framework for Action
Singapore is poised for continued digital success. With a strong and stable government, world-class infrastructure and institutions, and highly educated and trained workforce, Singapore is a leading digital economy. It was ranked third in Bloomberg’s 2018 Innovation Index based on the strength of its tertiary research institutions. With a burgeoning start-up scene, Singapore attracts some of the brightest talents and biggest tech companies in the world. Singapore has identified three strategic priorities in a framework of action and programmes to achieve the Digital Economy goals.
Accelerate Digitalising Industries: To digitalise every industry and every business, raising productivity and efficiencies to grow the economy. In 2017, the Government rolled out 23 Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs) which were supported by Industry Digital Plans to facilitate digitalisation in every industry. SMEs in particular will get step-by-step support for every stage of their digital transformation, while businesses that are already digitalising can expect aid to push boundaries and explore new growth areas. At the same time, digital platforms such as e-invoicing will help save costs, speed up transactions and reduce mistakes – all so businesses stay competitive in this rapidly digitalising marketplace.
Compete by Integrating Ecosystems: To sharpen Singapore’s competitive edge by supporting companies to leverage digital technology. Digitalisation opens up whole new growth opportunities from helping local players evolve their business models for the ecosystems that define today’s economic activities, to identifying new opportunities for companies to scale up easily and expand internationally, the focus is on helping businesses sharpen their digital edge. More than that, Singapore aims to groom the digital champions, welcome new talents and innovations to step up, and even bring companies and problem solvers together to address real business problems.
Transform by Industrialising Digital: To transform the Infocomm Media (ICM) industry to be a key growth driver of Singapore’s digital economy. Digital economies are opening up around the world and the ICM sector is taking the lead to help position Singapore as the digital technology hub of Asia. Singapore will continue its work of transforming the ICM sector to create digital companies and capabilities of the future. For instance, companies that are digital by design will get the nudge to expand globally by tapping on Singapore’s connectivity, infrastructure, and trusted brand name.
Singapore has identified four key enablers to realise these three strategic priorities:
Manpower Development: Continued upskilling and reskilling to train and groom ICM professionals as well as raise the digital literacy of the workforce to take on the challenges of the digital economy.
Research & Innovation: Giving companies the competitive edge to keep abreast of the latest trends in technology through roadmaps which aim to inform and anticipate new developments.
Physical & Digital Infrastructure: Continued investment to boost Singapore’s infrastructure and enhance digital connectivity as technology evolves.
Governance, Policies and Standards: Robust data privacy laws, cybersecurity and data protection, as well as continued efforts to calibrate governance of data policy and related activities like AI.
Digital Government Blueprint
The Digital Government Blueprint (DGB) is a statement of the Singapore Government’s ambition to leverage ICT and establish digitalization as a key pillar of the Smart Nation initiative through building a digital economy and society. The DGB aims to create a government that is “Digital to the Core, and Serves with Heart” to build stakeholder-centric services that cater to citizens’ and businesses’ needs, and to make transactions easy, seamless, and secure.
As of end-2019, some key KPIs include 86% of citizens and 77% of businesses being “very” or “extremely” satisfied with digital services, 95% of transactions by volume completed digitally end-to-end, 20,000 officers trained in data analytics and data science, and all ministries submitted plans for AI. Updated in December 2020 to accurately reflect current plans and to push for more ambitious goals, the DGB has introduced new policies, initiatives, and KPIs.
The DGB will benefit both businesses and consumers by providing intuitive, accessible, and easy-to-use digital services. Providing electronic payment and digital signature options for 100% of Government services, the plan aims to instil greater confidence in data privacy and safety as digital services infrastructure continues to be fortified. Additionally, more productive and helpful digital services such as LifeSG and GoBusiness will be built around business and consumer needs.
Digital Society and The Digital Readiness Blueprint
The Digital Readiness Blueprint sets out recommendations for building Digital Readiness in Singaporeans, guided by four strategic thrusts.
Expand and enhance digital access for inclusivity: Digital access is no longer just about having computing devices and internet connectivity. The Digital Society aims to make access to basic digital enablers as widespread as possible and to customise access package for those with specific needs
Infuse digital literacy into national consciousness: A digital society is one where citizens not only have access to technology, but also embrace it, utilising technology confidently and effectively to connect with the world around them. Singapore aims to Identify a set of basic digital skills for everyday activities to spur take-up of digital technology, especially among the less digitally savvy, strengthening focus on information and media literacy, to build resilience in an era of online falsehoods.
Empower Community and Businesses to drive widespread adoption of new technology: To thrive in a technology-rich society, it is not sufficient for people to just be consumers of technology. Instead, they should be familiar with new technologies and be motivated and confident to use them to create products, content and services, and connect with their communities. The Digital Society encourages private and people sector organisations to amplify efforts and help more Singaporeans adopt technology, provides one-on-one assistance to make it easy for Singaporeans to adopt technology, especially those who find it challenging and provides support for projects that create opportunities for community participation. For example, businesses and communities can take part in projects under the Digital for Life movement to enable all Singaporeans to enjoy a better quality of life through digitalisation.
Promote digital inclusion by design: Whether it is an app, website, or workshop, digital initiatives must be designed in a way that makes it easy for everyone to get involved. Policies and regulations that may hamper digital adoption may be assessed and reviewed. It is necessary to understand and overcome the impediments or "frictions" that prevent people from effectively using digital products and services, so that, so that they can be overcome to create a better ecosystem which supports the move towards a Smart Nation, both for consumers and businesses. The Digital Society plans encourage organisations to design for digital inclusion.
How can European SMEs get involved in Singapore’s ICT?
Singapore continues to receive numerous accolades for ease of doing business, skilled workforce, international connectivity, a pro-business environment, etc. Singapore topped the IMD-SUTD Smart City Index in 2021, for the third year running, ranked first in Roland Berger’s Digital Inclusion Index 2021, and ranked first in KPMG’s Global Ranking of Technological Hubs (outside of San Francisco/Silicon Valley) in 2021.
The Smart Nation vision, alongside its digital initiatives ensure that Singapore will remain amongst the world’s ICT leaders in the coming years. The various blueprints, framework, and plans for action to achieve the government’s long-term vision call for collaboration between private and public organisations. In 2020 the bilateral foreign direct investment stock between the EU and Singapore was roughly €348 billion, and the EU was the largest investor in Singapore in 2017, with EU Foreign Direct Investment of over S$376 billion, the largest EU FDI destination in ASEAN. As of December 2018, there are over 10,000 EU companies in Singapore, and Singapore was the EU’s 7th largest investor in 2017.
With a wealth of experience in working with EU based companies, and innumerable ripe opportunities in Singapore’s increasingly important ICT and digital sectors, it is clear that European SMEs can have many options to enter Singapore’s ICT sector.