A new chapter
SPEECH BY MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION DR YAACOB IBRAHIM AT THE MCI WORKPLAN SEMINAR 2013, THURSDAY, 4 APRIL 2013, 1.50PM AT FLOWER FIELD HALL, GARDENS BY THE BAY
Staff of MCI and Statutory Boards
Members of our Boards and Committees
Ladies and Gentlemen
1. I am happy that we can come together for MCI’s Workplan Seminar. The theme “A New Chapter”, is a fitting one.
2. Just five months ago, three ministries – MCI, MCCY and MSF were established from the restructuring of MCYS and MICA. In making the decision, PM wanted us to focus better on key portfolios - social and family issues for MSF, community bonding and sports for MCCY, and communications and information work for MCI. Given the needs of an evolving society in a dynamic global landscape, it is timely for ministries to have a sharper focus on their areas of responsibilities.
3. We are living in exciting times and there is probably no better place to be now than here in Singapore. For us at MCI, we must observe and ride the waves in three areas – Technology, Business and People. I want to touch on these three trends before moving on to our priorities for the year. The dynamics of Technology, Business and People will constantly evolve. How we make sense of them and help shape the future for Singaporeans will determine our roles and relevance as MCI.
Technology has changed lives
4. We live in an era of Technology. Information and communication – that technology enables – are intertwined. Information is necessary for us to function. Its smooth delivery is expected. Indeed, we tend to take for granted how communications basically underpins today’s society.
5. Info and communication are critical in many aspects of our lives, from something as day-to-day as being able to withdraw cash from the ATM machines, to seamless travel in our buses and trains with a tap of our EZ-link cards, to highly risky procedures like advanced medical surgery where lives are at stake. Technology has also become highly personal – so much so that one can feel handicapped without a device, a slow device or loss of connection.
6. Thus in our work to build info-comm infrastructure, we must remember the critical role that info-comm services play and our role in putting in place relevant policies that will ensure that Singaporeans continue to benefit from technological advancements that will make living, working, and playing a seamlessly enriching experience for all.
7. Let me illustrate with a simple personal example of how online shopping and mobile technology are taking the world by storm.
8. Two weeks ago, my family and I spent half a day here and I had bought my tickets online. At the end of the transaction, the website prompted me to print my ticket. I thought this was a bit strange. I took a chance, saved the ticket in my email, and turned up at the ticket counter later that day. The officer asked if I had a ticket with me, so I took out my phone, opened my email, and showed the ticket to the officer. It turns out that you can zoom in a little on the ticket, to reveal the barcode, and scan it off the screen. We got in and it turned out to be a wonderful, paper-less transaction all the way.
9. A 2011 study by the Nielsen Company found that one in five consumers was visiting e-commerce sites through mobile devices. Yet only one in four Singapore businesses had mobile-friendly sites. The same study found that two-thirds of users would actually give up a transaction simply because it was too difficult to key in details on a small screen. In 2011 alone, mobile spending increased eight-fold to $328 million, and it is anticipated that this will reach $3.1billion by 2015. At the same time, the mobile app market has grown phenomenally. It is estimated that there were 45 billion downloads of mobiles apps in 2012, with 81.4 billion downloads expected in 2013.
10. It is hard for us to crystal gaze and really predict the future in even just the next five to 10 years. Our infrastructure needs to keep up, our networks need to be secure. Our businesses must innovate quickly to capitalise on new opportunities such as the mobile market.
The changing business world
11. That brings me to the second area which will shape the future – Business. We are living in a challenging business environment where business models are constantly changing to survive. The uncertain global economic outlook, rising costs and a tight labour market in Singapore is a big concern to companies. For companies to ride out a downturn, they need to be nimble and innovative. Particularly, increasing productivity is a critical point in this year’s budget. Although the same principles apply to all types of companies, there is a greater bearing on SMEs because they lack the scale and resources that large companies enjoy. Our SMEs need to be well-supported to cope with the rapidly changing digital world.
12. Singapore has about 170,000 SMEs. They are vital because they provide critical sources of employment and innovation. In Singapore, SMEs employ about 70% of the workforce and contribute to about half of our GDP. At the same time, SMEs struggle because they lack economies of scale or the capacities to export high volumes of products.
13. For the Infocomm Technology, Media and Design Sector, SMEs make up about 99% of the all the companies and employing 67% of the workers. DPM Tharman reported that our national productivity growth registered a negative 2.6% last year. The infocomm, media and design sectors were better off, with about 4.9% of productivity growth. But I do not take this as a consolation because we have previously seen signs of decline.
14. Clearly, we need to do more with less, streamline our processes and increase our efficiencies. SMEs will need to innovate quickly. Some have started to adopt data analytics to understand user needs better, and enable them to work smarter as a result. SMEs need to develop their human capital, band together and collaborate so that they can enjoy economies of scale in solutions such as ICT services. Companies have also discovered the potential of markets outside of Singapore to expand their customer bases.
15. We can help SMEs develop exportable, high-value solutions. We can also facilitate the mass adoption of scalable, cost-effective solutions. This is what IDA’s recent call for collaboration aims to do, and I will talk about this in further detail later.
People – adapting to needs
16. The third aspect that we need to bear in mind in our work - and in fact the most critical - is that of our People. Everything we do – at the end of the day – must benefit our people.
17. The changing info-comm landscape has not only changed our lifestyles, but it has greatly impacted the way we learn and interact. A study in the US says that each person comes across 34 gigabytes of information a day, whether through the internet, TV or through our mobile devices. This is the equivalent amount of information that you can fit into 174 sets of newspapers. This is five times more than 20 years ago. How can we possibly process so much information? Can we really take all this information in? This bombardment of information on each person has brought about many implications, and I will go into just a few of them today.
18. There is something quite alluring about reading a length of text, embellished by music and video that can be accessed quickly via hyperlinks, compared to a static article. This is information on the Internet. It has transformed the way we read, learn and interact. E-reading allows you to check meanings of words at a touch, or watch related videos. As we read about one thing, we can learn about related subjects quite easily. And that kind of distraction is something people enjoy. But at the same time, we will just as easily switch to something else when our interests wane.
19. The implications of such behaviour are serious. It’s a double whammy of an information overload and a severe shortening of attention span. To get critical information through and engage the public, we need to adjust and expand our skill sets. We must make ourselves understood through shorter, simpler informal words through platforms that are popular, such as Facebook and Twitter. We need to provide sufficient information in a timely manner so that they stay relevant to our people. In this regard, we cannot compromise on the hard facts and reality which are essential ingredients in having well-informed audiences. We want to engage our people in meaningful discussions and feedback which is increasingly becoming a key to good governance.
20. While children enjoy playing games on smart phones, watching videos, or surfing the internet, there is a need to ensure they read, and are engaged in storytelling that will cultivate the basic reading habit. It is a necessary foundation to learning. Our libraries need to continue the good work in this aspect. Perhaps to cater to changing preferences, the modes of delivery may have to be innovative. This is inevitable, but we must still remember that these fundamentals are important.
21. Even as we cater to the digitised generation, we cannot forget those who depend on traditional media and face-to-face communication. Many of us rely on local newspapers as well as TV and radio for news and current affairs. This is because they are credible and trusted sources and it is important that they continue to reflect the news accurately and present balanced perspectives.
22. It is also a more challenging time for public communicators. Greater public discourse and more intense scrutiny of Government policies has become the norm. Public sentiments for a more transparent and consultative government have further reinforced the need for a rethink of how the Government communicates with the public. Diverse public interests have sharpened the need for public communicators to explain policy trade-offs and help build consensus. Certainly, it is not enough for government to communicate just the why and how of policies, but to involve the public in the policy-making process as well.
The role of MCI
23. So, the question is whether MCI is on track. Are we changing quickly enough to keep up with all these challenges? Our agencies are working even more closely with each other, with the private and people sectors, on initiatives that will help us face these challenges.
24. Public engagement is an important area which needs to be strengthened. This does not mean just listening to the public, but also understanding the feedback received so that we can inject greater robustness into policy making and decisions. We must realise that it is less about what we have to say than it is about considering how others may interpret our words and actions. This means intensified efforts in reaching out to various audiences, having deeper understanding of the issues that affect people and having greater empathy in our messaging. MCI must invest efforts and resources to scale-up the professional capabilities of Information Officers in various aspects of public communications, and help fellow public sector agencies to meaningfully engage an increasingly diverse society. More and more opportunities will be opened up for Singaporeans to have a say and take a stake in our common future. At the same time, we will record our memories through various efforts including the Singapore Memory Project – helmed by NLB and supported by individual Singaporeans, friends of Singapore, and groups from various walks of life. As we look to the future, we will not forget the values and experiences that have shaped us as a people.
Media Convergence Review
25. As I mentioned during the recent budget debate, there is room for innovation through convergence across media, and we have explored this through the media convergence review. The digitisation of media content, an extensive broadband connectivity, and the proliferation of devices with Internet access are all transforming the way content is distributed and consumed. We should help the industry benefit from the interactive and distributive capabilities of our infrastructure, while reviewing policies to support the changing media landscape well.
26. Our content regulation policies will need to keep up with these technological changes, and continue to ensure that our young children can grow up in a safe media environment. We will be studying the Media Convergence Review Panel’s recommendation to harmonise classification frameworks across the different forms of media. This will help make the system more intuitive and useful, especially to parents, in a more complex and converged media environment.
Joint InfoComm and Media Masterplan
27. In a similar vein, infocomm and media platforms are converging. As we plan for the future, we recognise the increasing need to look at our future masterplans for the infocomm and media sectors in a more holistic and integrated way. The Joint Infocomm Masterplan will help us to synergise efforts in developing the industry. To chart the strategic direction of the joint masterplan, a comprehensive approach with extensive consultation efforts with industry players and stakeholders will be held this year. We are taking this very seriously. This process will be led by a Steering Committee with representations for all sectors.
28. These are some of the bigger steps we’ve taken to work closely with other sectors. Our media convergence review panel and the joint master plan steering committee are jointly led by the different sectors. This is also how we’ve also approached the challenge of promoting responsible internet behaviour. Our community as a whole values our shared spaces for interaction and discourse, whether online or offline. The people sector brings valuable insight and practical recommendations. We have thus partnered community groups and supported their efforts to deal with the real-life challenges that people face – from Internet addiction to cyber-bullying, to threats to our social cohesion.
IDA’s SaaS CFC helps SMEs increase productivity
29. Just as we work together with private and people sectors, we do our best to help private sector players work together to build valuable services that can benefit them. IDA has been helping SMEs in the adoption of ICT. Its iSPRINT programme launched in 2010 has already supported over 5,000 SMEs adopt infocomm solutions for their business.
30. To spur the demand for high-impact Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions that address sector-specific requirements, IDA issued a Call-for-Collaboration (CFC) last June. A total of 84 proposals were received, and I am pleased to note that 13 projects targeting six sectors – Early Childhood, Real Estate, F&B, Travel, Private Education and Retail have been awarded. Other projects targeting sectors such as Construction, Logistics, Professional Services and other Services will progressively be awarded by Q2 2013. In total, this multi-agency collaborative effort is expected to support over 600 companies, mostly SMEs, in subscribing to sector-specific SaaS solutions. Through mass adoption, user companies will see significant increase in productivity through the reduction of man-hours required and more streamlined business processes.
31. For example, in the real estate sector, projects that have been supported will help agencies to increase operational efficiency, and provide mobility solutions for their sales agents. These projects are expected to support more than 80 SMEs in the real estate sector, helping companies save up to 20 per cent in administrative and processing time each year.
32. As for the Early Childhood sector, projects in School Management Systems will support more than 200 SMEs operating Child Care Centres and Kindergartens. The pre-schools will potentially reduce 70 per cent of time spent on daily administration and improve labour productivity by an average of 600 hours per year.
Opening of the third SME Infocomm Resource Centre
33. Just last month, IDA set up the third SME Infocomm Resource Centre. The centre will provide consultancy and advisory services to SMEs and sector champions in the retails and services sectors on how to raise productivity by leveraging ICT. This is offered to them at nominal or no charges. The centre will be run by Nanyang Polytechnic’s Singapore Institute of Retail Studies.
Design can help grow businesses and enhance lives
34. Design is the other enabling tool to help businesses increase productivity and develop innovative products and services that meet user needs. We will be able to foster greater collaboration between designers and businesses when the National Design Centre (NDC) opens at the end of the year. This integrated design hub will house the DesignSingapore Council that provides assistance on programmes and services tailored for businesses and designers. This includes business advisory services, design thinking training, prototyping workshops, design showcases, and resource sharing.
35. The NDC is located at the former site of St Anthony’s Convent, which is now a gazetted conservation building. You may view the model of the building at the exhibition. With the NDC and a plethora of design activities lining up, the design scene in Singapore will be more vibrant than ever.
36. In addition to helping businesses, design also plays an important role in enhancing our everyday lives. For example, we can employ design to our physical and social spaces to improve the lives of communities. Let me elaborate using the example of the Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park. The project received the President’s Design Award last year for Design of the Year. The park used to have a concrete storm water canal running through it. The landscape designer then transformed the canal into a free flowing body of water that meanders through the park. This was made possible using an innovative soil-bioengineering technique. Now park users, young and old get to enjoy new ways of interacting with the naturalised stream.
The people can help shape public spaces, such as the library@orchard
37. To meet the demands of a growing population, we are embarking on the next phase of library development that will help chart the direction for library network expansion. This would ensure that the growing population in some younger new towns will have better access to libraries.
38. With the growing diversity in our social make up, there is a need to build a cohesive society through common social spaces such as our libraries. I’m excited to see how the library@orchard will turn out –it would be one of the first libraries to be developed through extensive public consultations. NLB collaborated with Singapore Polytechnic to employ design thinking in conceptualizing the space and new service offerings. This has entailed interviews with shoppers in the Orchard Road area and putting up an exhibition of prototypes for public feedback. We hope to continue to build shared spaces that can reflect the community’s needs and preferences through new libraries of the future.
Enhancing user experiences with DigitalTV
39. With changing user demands and technological developments, it is timely to begin our transition to DigitalTV. Digital broadcasting will bring about more high definition TV programming, as well a greater variety of content and services such as electronic programme guides and surround sound. We must ensure that the transition is as seamless as possible for all.
40. Our population is growing. It is clear that in the near future, there will be a great strain on resources and infrastructure, and this will test our resilience as we learn to appreciate the challenges that come with an increasingly diverse society. At the same time, we have new technologies that can improve productivity and quality of life. Social media and the online world can bring together like minded people, and there are opportunities to create even more avenues through which people can come together and bond over common interests.
41. I hope, as you proceed to discuss your workplan areas for the year, that you consider this - at the end of the day, we must be working towards a common goal. Yes, we must ensure quality growth in our infocomm, media and design sectors. They must be well-supported, and they in turn, should support other sectors well. Our regulation and policy frameworks must uphold society’s values while ensuring we can still deliver quality content to our people. In doing so, we must be sure to remain an inclusive society. Our libraries must continue the good work in promoting reading and learning, while our engagement efforts will help us better understand people’s needs and concerns. We are doing this to improve the quality of life of our people, and at the very core, to build a better Singapore. And this is what I hope you will remember in the course of your work.
42. With the many challenges ahead, MCI will do well if it continues to build on the strong relationships with the many stakeholders in the people, public and private sectors. By working together, we can do more and be better engaged with the needs of Singaporeans in this new chapter.
 Loh, T. (2012), PayPal and the m-commerce market in Singapore, asiaone Business http://www.asiaone.com/Business/SME%2BCentral/Tete-A-Tech/Story/A1Story20120625-355200.html (18 Mar 2013)
 Gartner. (2012), Gartner says free apps will account for nearly 90 percent of total mobile app store downloads in 2012, http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/2153215 (20 Mar 2013)
 Bohn, R. (2009), How Much Information? 2009 Report on American Consumers, Global Information Industry Center, University of San Diego, http://hmi.ucsd.edu/howmuchinfo_research_report_consum.php (14 Mar 2013)
 Alleyne, R. (2009), Welcome to the information age – 174 newspapers a day, The Telegraph http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/8316534/Welcome-to-the-information-age-174-newspapers-a-day.html (14 Mar 2013)