2 mins

In the world of business, it’s rare that less actually equals more. Yet in his 2015 book on innovation, A Beautiful Constraint, Adam Morgan makes a compelling case for the idea that scarcity is a boon for innovation.

That idea is being tested in Singapore, where the government is aiming to become a global hub for innovation and digital transformation. However, comparisons with Silicon Valley are often limited by Singapore’s inherent constraints in terms of size and resources.

Singapore’s beautiful constraint.

In Connecting Commerce: Business confidence in the digital environment, Telstra’s latest study by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), Singapore’s progress towards its goal of becoming a global innovation hub is evident.

The EIU study surveyed executives across 45 cities, and measured their confidence levels in the strength of their city’s digital environment. Business confidence in Singapore’s overall environment is reasonably strong, measuring 6.89 on a 10-point scale, which is 14th highest in the world.

The EIU noted that the Singapore government has embarked on a set of highly coordinated efforts to expand the ecosystem for digital innovation and entrepreneurship. By prioritising public-private partnerships between government, academia, and business, Singapore is integrating digital disciplines into curricula and cross-pollinating skills across the city, enabling businesses to thrive.

The Connecting Commerce report found that three in four Singapore respondents said they were consulted about their digital skills needs by academic institutions, and 77% said the same about government authorities. That said, skill gaps are also cited as among the toughest digital transformation challenges companies face in Singapore.

Government support for the next-generation digital workforce.

Singapore’s executives rate government programs and events as the most helpful source of external support for their firms’ digital transformation efforts. Fifty-three per cent of businesses, higher than in any of the other 45 cities surveyed, say they’ve used government programs to finance transformation initiatives in recent years.

So it’s telling that the Singapore government’s solution to the talent crunch is based on long-term thinking to innovate around its constraints. Its National Infocomm Competency Framework (NICF) seeks to align the workforce’s skills with the economy by defining the skills that employers want, and then designing training programs to meet those needs.

The NICF is due to be updated soon and is likely to place a particular emphasis on big data analytics, cyber security and artificial intelligence. These requirements also align with the skills Singapore-based executives surveyed for Connecting Commerce are looking for to drive their digital transformation efforts – big data analytics (38%) and digital security (32%).

In the latest example of the government’s efforts to address digital talent shortages in key areas, Singapore’s Cyber Security Agency (CSA) announced in September 2017 plans to launch its first academy to train cyber security professionals for the government and private sectors, with training identified as one of the key pillars of a more secure and resilient digital community.

Partnering for Singapore’s future success.

The NICF and CSA Academy are prime examples of the ‘top-down’ approach to development Singapore is famous for, with the city-state’s small size lending well to a greater degree of agility and coordination in formulating and implementing policies. As Connecting Commerce shows, this is an approach that businesses there believe is underpinning their success.

Chan Meng Khoong, director of the Institute of Systems Science at the National

University of Singapore, told The EIU that businesses and educational institutions like his have been consulted widely by the Singapore government on the NICF. These organisations have also been involved in drafting some of the job and skills specifications, helping to shape a national digital skills roadmap to drive the future economy.

The fruits of this labour may take some years to emerge for Singapore businesses, but patience is a necessary virtue in long-term planning, particularly in making the digital ecosystem blossom.