Global connections, digitalisation crucial for Singapore to emerge stronger from pandemic: Iswaran

TO emerge stronger from the current crisis, Singapore will need to strengthen its global connections, innovate and digitalise, and ensure inclusive digital growth in all segments of society, said Minister for Communications and Information S Iswaran on Wednesday.

Giving the keynote address at the virtual DBS Digital Day 2020, which was centred on the theme "Transform Tomorrow, Today", he noted that Singapore navigated through past crises like the Asian financial crisis, Sars and the global financial crisis by capitalising on its strong foundations and adapting swiftly and decisively.

"Singapore has been a consistent advocate for an open and integrated global economy," Mr Iswaran said. "While the pandemic has prompted some countries to look inwards, we believe that a more effective way to build resilience is through openness and greater diversification."

The Singapore government will enhance its support for businesses to capitalise on the country's status as a global hub, with efforts like its 25 free trade agreements that give local firms preferential access to economies representing more than 85 per cent of global gross domestic product.

It is also building up its international network of digital partnerships to establish common frameworks, standards and rules for digital trade that will enable seamless connectivity between international partners.

While immediate challenges posed by the pandemic have forced many businesses to shift online at unprecedented rates, the digitalisation journey should not stop there. Mr Iswaran urged businesses to look at the long-term benefits of deepening their digital capabilities, such as access to global markets for suppliers, solutions and customers and innovation opportunities through emerging technologies and data.

"Businesses should therefore seize this opportunity to reorganise their resources, revamp their models and redesign customer engagement," he said.

The government is fast-tracking innovation efforts through a series of National Innovation Challenges, to come up with products, services and business models that will help sectors recover from the crisis. Funding support for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to adopt digital solutions and expand their overseas reach has been increased through the SMEs Go Digital, Digital Resilience Bonus and Grow Digital programmes.

With increased demands on Singapore's digital infrastructure, the development of a secure and resilient 5G network will be crucial to the digital economy, and Singapore is on track to offer nationwide 5G coverage by 2025, Mr Iswaran said.

Finally, businesses must ensure that they equip their employees with tech-related skills and invest in tech talent to boost competitiveness. They can do so through partnerships with the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), which has worked with DBS under a Company-Led Training programme to train more than 240 professionals in digital skills like data analytics and cloud computing since 2013.

DBS is also participating in IMDA's TechSkills Accelerator Mid-career Advance programme this year, and has recruited 13 mid-career professionals to help them transition into new opportunities.

The elderly and vulnerable are receiving extra help to bridge the digital divide, with the SG Digital Office set up in June to teach seniors digital skills and encourage stallholders to adopt e-payments. DBS has partnered the government on some of these initiatives, helping to train seniors in e-payment skills and donating to efforts to provide digital tools and broadband connectivity for low-income families.

"How well we emerge from this crisis will depend critically on how businesses, industries, the labour movement and governments come together and take the necessary steps to adapt, collaborate and build a firm foundation for the next normal," Mr Iswaran said.

"With the support of all stakeholders, I am confident that we will surmount the challenges and seize the opportunities to forge a thriving digital future for all."