New, updated schemes to support businesses, workers in digital economy: Iswaran

NEW and updated measures are on the way to help businesses and workers in the digital economy, said Minister for Communications and Information S Iswaran on Monday.

Mr Iswaran was speaking in Parliament just days after Minister-in-Charge of the Smart Nation Initiative Vivian Balakrishnan unveiled a fresh focus on artificial intelligence (AI) for Singapore.

Among the plans laid out by Mr Iswaran was an expansion of the SMEs Go Digital scheme for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to adopt pre-approved digital solutions, to include more advanced AI and cloud-based solutions by 2020.

"We have been adapting the SMEs Go Digital programme to the changing needs of businesses," said Mr Iswaran, who added that about 4,000 SMEs have benefited from the scheme since its launch in April 2017.

Meanwhile, another S$300 million was added to the research budget for the services and digital economy domain of the National Research Foundation's Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2020 five-year plan. It had previously been allotted some S$360 million.

"We have also embarked on digital initiatives at the system level so that we can derive broader benefits," Mr Iswaran added, pointing to Singapore's plans for a digital trade platform called "TradeTrust" that will let businesses exchange documents securely.

The Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) has been working with other stakeholders since January 2019 to conduct proof-of-concept trials for TradeTrust, and will also hold consultations with industry players from the maritime trade, logistics and finance sectors.

Mr Iswaran also announced a planned government review of the Electronic Transactions Act "to cater for new business models, new technologies and national projects".

But, telling the House that "the digitalisation of businesses can succeed only if our workers too are equipped to effectively use digital technology", the minister said that digital learning guides are being developed for employers to plan training. The guides, to be produced by public agencies IMDA and SkillsFuture Singapore, will start with the retail and logistics industries from July 2019.

New training opportunities will also be added to the TechSkills Accelerator scheme, which has seen more than 61,000 training places taken up or committed since it kicked off in 2016.

According to the Ministry of Communications and Information, the scheme will be expanded to support more training in emerging technologies such as AI, cybersecurity, cloud computing and blockchain, and will work with trade associations and chambers to develop talent in more sectors, besides information communications technology, finance and healthcare.

The expanded scheme will also include a data science curriculum from American institute Metis and software development skills from Ireland's Code Institute, to be offered through Singapore private education providers Kaplan and Trent Global, said Mr Iswaran. "These efforts will help more workers and companies seize opportunities arising from the digital economy."

And, to woo contributions from Singaporean technology professionals who are now working abroad, an Overseas Singaporeans In Tech group on social media platform LinkedIn was set up in January 2019 as a joint effort across various government organisations, to encourage these workers to either return to Singapore or work for Singapore businesses overseas.

"Ultimately, every business, every worker and every citizen has to step up, overcome the challenges, and take ownership of their learning and digital transformation," Mr Iswaran said.