A digital transformation is taking place and the extent of change promises to be more extensive than the wave of computerisation in the 1990s. Tan Kiat How, Chief Executive, Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), provides insights on the authority’s role in spurring continued technological advancements while safeguarding interests of businesses and people.
Q: Question, KH: Kiat How
On The Changing Landscape
Q: How is the digital transformation in 2017 different from the one in 1990s?
KH: In the 1990s, the transformation was chiefly about digitisation. We were changing physical processes to digital processes. One example is bookkeeping – instead of keeping physical books, we use accounting software. At the risk of oversimplifying things, digitisation brought about increased productivity, processing speed and accuracy.
Today when we talk about digital transformation, we refer to digitalisation – the use of digital technologies to conduct business. What is the difference you may ask – digitalisation entails a deep fundamental change in how we do things. It transforms business models and makes us rethink about how things are done and resources are allocated. It also opens up new market opportunities and ways of generating revenue. For example, many new businesses started life as a digital business before establishing a physical brick and mortar presence, challenging the status quo. Traditional businesses in turn respond by trying to transform into a digital first organisation.
Q: Why should we be excited about digitalisation?
KH: The transformation has given rise to new business opportunities like never before. Businesses in Singapore can now look beyond the market size of five million to reach out to the whole world and at a low cost. However, to fully leverage the opportunities presented by digitalisation, it is important for our workforce to learn new skills and embrace more open mindsets.
Hearteningly, in our interaction with companies across different sectors – finance, retail, security and cleaning, we are increasingly seeing people respond positively to digitalisation. They are prepared to disrupt themselves despite profitability or revenue trade-off because they recognise that is necessary to stay competitive.
Q: What is IMDA’s role in empowering industry transformation?
KH: Our mission is to help Singapore remain at the forefront of technological innovation. And being an industry developer and regulator for telecommunications, media and personal data, we have a holistic appreciation for technology changes and technology needs. We are also at a vantage point to see and respond to emerging trends. For instance, our media sector today is very different – from advertising formats and news dissemination modes to content consumption habits. These changes call for different regulation frameworks to protect the interests of consumers.
In 10 to 20 years from now, as machine learning or artificial intelligence (AI) becomes more pervasive, we will increasingly confront the challenge of how to protect the privacy of individuals even as we make sense of data. With the Personal Data Protection Act 2012 (PDPA) under the purview of IMDA, we are in a strong position to ensure our regulations remain pro-innovation and pro-business, and at the same time, protect an individual’s rights in this rapidly evolving space.
Q: How else does IMDA advance Singapore towards the Smart Nation goal?
KH: To realise the Smart Nation vision, having a digital government and a digital economy is not enough. Our society must also embrace digital in a very inclusive manner. Technology has the power to benefit everyone regardless of age or physical abilities. However, not everyone enjoys the same accessibility for various reasons. It is thus our job to make technology available to them and include them in our pursuit of a Smart Nation. To which end, we have roped in partners from the private and people sectors to enable outreach to more vulnerable segments of the community. For example, while the Silver Infocomm Junction helps seniors pick up useful technology tips for their daily lives, the infocomm and assistive technology workshops at Enabling Village empower people with disabilities to participate more fully in society.
On the Local Tech Scene
Q: How can tech professionals benefit from the digital revolution?
KH: Growing at about 6% annually and creating many new jobs, there are exciting opportunities in the tech sector. Importantly, the tech sector has far-reaching potential to bring about transformation in every industry in our economy – from solving business problems today to capitalising on opportunities for the future. To harness the transformative power of technology, we need tech professionals to apply their mind and skills to solve business problems today, think about opportunities for the future as well as reach out and help the vulnerable segment of our society.
Q: What is your advice for tech professionals to stay relevant in the fast changing digital landscape?
KH: Technology is changing at an increasing pace. Topics that we are concerned about now may become irrelevant or very different in three to five years’ time. Therefore, tech professionals ought to stay curious and always be prepared to learn and relearn, adopting best practices and new innovations. This also applies to professionals in other sectors as technological disruptions are far-reaching. Intrinsically, a nimble mind, an expansive worldview and a sense of humility are what will keep us rooted, relevant and progressive.