The Singapore tech industry has every reason to feel ahead of the class. The already robust state of the industry is likely to gain even more muscle with the government firmly committed to its Smart Nation initiative, rolling out support programmes and funds continually. According to Colliers International, Singapore is already the top tech hub in Southeast Asia, and also ranked above cities such as Beijing, Shenzhen and Hyderabad (EDB Singapore) across the continent.
Singapore’s ambitions to be the tech leader in the region, if not the world, has never been a secret agenda. When launched, the Smart Nation initiative was touted as a means to harness technology and improve the lives of its people. The city state has always been vocal about wanting to emulate the world’s leading cities like New York, London, San Francisco and Tokyo. In the 2018 Global Innovation Index, Singapore was ranked most innovative country out of Europe, and fifth globally out of 126 countries.
Singapore has always had a sandbox mentality and continues to encourage experimentation and innovation at its shores. In 2019, the government announced it wanted to enhance its position as a Global-Asia node for technology, innovation and enterprise by building a strong core of innovative enterprises and start-ups. Singapore already houses over 100 incubators, accelerators and venture builders, and over 150 VCs. Venture funding activity and amounts increased to 353 deals worth US$10.5 billion in 2018, up significantly from 160 deals worth US$800 million in 2012.
Undergirding this tech interest is the government’s focus on increasing the talent pool. While Singapore’s info-communications industry is expected to employ more than 210,000 professionals by 2020, some US$50 million has also been set aside to broaden the country’s talent pool and train its workers, particularly in areas such as data analytics, tech-enabled services, digital media and cybersecurity, according to EDB Singapore.
Meanwhile, Singapore has also touted itself as the best place for tech firms to set up shop based on its connectivity to global markets. It has over 23 bilateral and regional free trade agreements currently; two mega-FTAs were added recently – The European Union-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (EUSFTA) and the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). What all these agreements promise is greater mega-regional digital trade and IP protection standards with trading partners worldwide.
The dividends are already being cashed in, with several big names seeing huge gains. Singapore’s Grab, which offers ride-hailing, delivery and payment services, has attracted top investors and is now a unicorn valued at US$14 billion. Another unicorn, Singapore’s gaming, e-commerce and payments company Sea Group, has attracted over US$884 million in October 2017, making it the first US IPO from a SEA tech firm.
Google doubled its footprint to scale up its regional capacity with its Singapore-based Next Billion Users team, while Facebook launched its first Asian data centre in Singapore. Amazon officially launched its full-fledged Singapore site — its first in Southeast Asia, two years after introducing its Prime services to Singapore consumers. With these, the city state is home to 80 of the world’s top 100 tech firms, including Microsoft, LinkedIn, Google, Huawei, Baidu, Tencent, Nvidia and YITU.
Trendsetting in 2020
Some key tech developments in Singapore at the start of this new decade will likely paint the landscape. One of which is the expected launch of the 5G network. According to the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), at least 50% of the city state will be covered with a standalone 5G network by 2023.
Singapore will be rolling out commercial 5G services this year as the country seeks to establish the “backbone of our digital economy,” said S Iswaran, Minister for Communications and Information.
5G is expected to provide faster data speeds and more bandwidth to carry growing levels of web traffic.
“5G will lead to a rapid increase in the number of connected devices and will lower latency, therefore augmenting the capabilities that IoT offers,” said Richard Watson, EY APAC Cybersecurity Risk Advisory leader.
The other major development will be in artificial intelligence. Singapore has geared up its National AI Strategy, which it announced in November 2019. Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Kiat shared that the government has committed more than S$500 million to fund AI activities under the Research, Innovation & Enterprise 2020 (RIE2020) plan.
“Singapore is ready to deploy AI on a national scale," said Heng. "We aim to be a leader in developing and deploying AI solutions by 2030.”
An initial tranche of five national projects in transport and logistics, smart cities and estates, healthcare, education and safety and security, have been identified as key areas that will kickstart Singapore's AI plans.
On the recruitment front, there are good news to be had for tech professionals seeking permanent or contract roles. According to our latest Salary Benchmark, companies will likely be investing heavily on networks and systems in 2020. As a result, cybersecurity, cybersecurity talent will be in hot demand. Elsewhere, efficiency and customer experience will also be priorities, and technology will play a big role in improving those areas. In terms of specific roles in demand, the industry is in need of IT Project Managers, Software Engineers, Product Managers, Software Developers, as well as Account Managers. Expect Financial Services, Fintech, asset management and insurance to have the most active hiring functions in the new decade.
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