Speech by Dr Lee Boon Yangat the National Infocomm Awards Gala Dinner at Shangri-La Hotel

22/10/2004

Co-chairs of the NIA Steering Committee:
- Mrs Tan Ching Yee, CEO IDA
- Mr Saw Ken Wye, Immediate Past Chairman of SITF

Ladies and Gentleman, good evening

1.      I think it would not be wrong to describe tonight's event as the Oscar of the Infocomm Sector. So there is an air of palpable excitement and anticipation among our guests tonight. But more than just the National Infocomm Awards, this upbeat mood is a clear reflection of the recovery in the tech sector. Last month, I attended the Hewlett-Packard Retreat where I met many captains of the infocomm industry. After the Retreat, I went to the Bay Area where I had dinner with about 20 venture capitalists and technology start-ups. The mood at the HP Retreat and around the dining table was very positive and optimistic. Nearly everyone felt confident about the future of the IT sector. The buzz is back in Silicon Valley and Highway 101 is clearly getting congested again.

2.      The IDC IT and Telecom Spending Blackbook projected a jump in IT and Telecom spending from S$804m in 2004 to S$950m by 2007. This is a strong indicator of the confidence in the industry and growing market. Similarly, in Singapore, our infocomm sector has regained its growth momentum. This year, the outlook for the industry looks bright with companies projecting growth of 5.6 per cent, and an even higher growth rate of 7.4 per cent in 2005.

Tech is Back
3.      So the buzz is back. IT is in vogue. I think this is great for you and Singapore. In Forbes' ranking of the 400 Richest People in America this year, four out of the top ten names are individuals who made their billions from technology. Besides household names like Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Michael Dell and Larry Ellison, there is also a group of 'Maverick' billionaires, who are young and entirely self made; with more than half of them having made their name and money from technology. There is Amazon's Jeffery Bezos, the garage book-seller who struck gold; Pierre Omidyar from the online auctioneer eBAY, and the dynamic duo from Google, Sergey Brin and Larry Page.

4.      Beyond the obvious "techies", the Forbes Top 10 list also included those whose companies were clearly leaders in applying technology. Five of the top 10 are members of the Walton family, owners of the Wal-Mart chain. Wal-Mart is not a glamorous hi-tech business. It is a supermarket operator. But what differentiates Wal-Mart from others in the business is its pursuit of business innovation. Wal-Mart has recently taken the bold step of mandating its top 100 suppliers to use Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags by January 2005 to enhance its supply-chain efficiency. This mandate by Wal-Mart will spark off new opportunities for RFID tech-companies.

5.      These success stories offer us a couple of good lessons. First, there are many opportunities to deploy technology to keep ahead of competitors. RFID is a prime example. Another example would be grid technology, whereby computing resources are pooled to provide more powerful computing capability within an organization without costly hardware investments. Grid technology can contribute to our strategic thrust in biomedical research and development. For instance it can accelerate the process of evaluating the pharmacological properties of new drugs and shorten the time to market bringing hopes of cure or relief to millions. In fact, during my recent visit to San Francisco, I visited QB3 at Mission Bay, a R&D facility that does quantitative biomedical research and development, using solutions developed by IBM. I was impressed by the quality of work they do. The second lesson is that the 'Maverick' billionaires share a common trait - they are all individuals who zeroed in on an unfulfilled need and created new ways of catering to such a demand. They succeeded because they were able to offer innovative solutions to meet consumers' needs.

Innovation for economic growth
6.      Clearly, innovation is the key driver for wealth creation and economic competitiveness. Those who come up with disruptive innovative solutions can expect huge financial rewards and the satisfaction of realizing their vision. In a globalised economy, a city, region, or country wanting to succeed and prosper, must have such innovative and creative individuals to maintain a competitive edge. So it is no surprise that Michael Porter has called innovation "the central issue in economic prosperity".

7.      The past two decades were marked by unprecedented innovations in all fields of human endeavour. For most of our recent history, Singapore has benefited from imported innovations. But today, some of our home-grown companies and Singaporeans working in multinational corporations have begun to make their mark in innovation. For example, Singapore's Creative Technology has produced the Zen Touch MP3 player to rival Apple's iPod. Mr Sim Wong Hoo is challenging Apple head-on and his MP3 products with many advanced differentiating features is enjoying explosive sale. We are also host to HP's global R&D centres for inkjet printers and networking products with Singaporean engineers and designers providing innovative inputs. Government too has been innovative in using RFID technologies in our electronic road pricing, library automation systems and offering a plethora of e-government services on-line.

Singapore - the Innovation Hotspot
8.      But to be frank, we have not won many laurels. Hence, we cannot be complacent. We must look beyond the success of icons such as Creative Technology. We need to increase efforts to ensure that innovation is pervasive in all our business and public sector. We must be plugged into the global innovation network. In a recent Business Week report, Singapore was listed as one of the world's rising innovation hot spots. Our strengths are in broadband, grid computing, biotech, handheld devices and computer peripherals. According to the report, the number of patents we filed in the United States in 2003 was 438, compared to only 39 in 1993. This sounds like good progress and R&D has become a core competency in our evolving business environment.

9.      But competition in the global business environment is fierce and relentless. Compared to our 438 patents, Taiwan has filed a staggering 5,300 patents in the US during the same period. Even emerging economies like China and India have filed more than 300 patents each. And their patents are likely to grow rapidly, given the amount of investments that these countries are putting into R&D.

10.    Singapore cannot afford to stand still. We need to continue innovating, adopting and developing new technologies. More importantly, we must learn to quickly commercialize new ideas and technology to realize their economic potential. This is where the government and companies can collaborate to compress the product or technology cycle. A case in point is the collaboration between IDA and key technology players like HP, IBM, Oracle and SUN to explore the emerging technologies of grid and utility computing in Singapore. The deployment of these technologies can spur new growth areas such as online games and digital media to benefit local start-ups.

11.    The surge in new technologies not only creates new opportunities but can also help spur economic growth in other sectors. An initiative like BackPack.NET by IDA and Microsoft Singapore helps to drive research, development and testing of the use of innovative infocomm technologies, such as tablet PC-based applications and services, in education. Similarly, IDA is also looking into exploiting RFID technology to strengthen the manufacturing, logistics, distribution and retail supply chain in Singapore, thereby maintaining our global competitiveness as a trading hub.

12.    One interesting development about these new growth areas is that they breathe new life into old technologies. Radio frequency (RF) is old technology. Indeed, I was told that our universities no longer teach their students as much about RF as they used to do. Yet, the new use of RF in RFID devices is likely to herald a next wave in development and deployment of the Internet - or what some industry experts called the "Internet of Things". By linking numerous remote sensors into a pervasive and intelligent network wirelessly via the Internet - new applications and value propositions can be created in diverse sectors ranging from logistics to industry automation. Even farmers in remote rural areas can benefit from such technology for post-harvest processing and handling. When that happens, imagine the spin-offs that will be generated in related technologies such as storage and information management. So even "traditional" IT fields such as database technology may see a new lease of life.

Innovation at Enterprise level
13.    For Singapore companies, there are three key principles for success. Innovate, innovate and innovate. Put in another way, we must innovate or risk being overtaken and made redundant.

14.    Four years ago, a handful of techies were inspired by a common vision of a video editing tool to enhance communication. This was their innovation. They poured their energy and scant resources into turning vision into reality. They have since commercialized their video production software, earned accolades and awards, sold their product in over 77 countries, and most of all, built alliances with the big boys like HP and Sony.

15.    This is not a story of a garage-start-up in Silicon Valley or elsewhere. This story took place right here at home, at the then Kent Ridge Digital Lab. You may, by now, be familiar with the work of Muvee Technologies. Indeed, Muvee Technologies is one of the winners in the inaugural National Infocomm Awards. They, like all the other award winners, are indeed inspiring examples of innovation.

Celebrating the innovative spirit at NIA
16.    Tonight, we will see that the spirit of innovation is not only alive and well but flourishing in our industry. I have been told that the quality of the entries in this year's National Infocomm Awards is very high.

17.    I took a quick glance at the profile of the 11 finalists tonight. They hail from a wide range of industries, comprising services in ship repairs, logistics, real estate and public health, amongst others. These organizations have leveraged on the transformational powers of infocomm technology to create competitive business advantages in areas such as customer service, supply chain management, resource allocation, record-keeping and information security services.

18.    You will hear more about these companies and organizations later tonight. The judges were clearly impressed by the dynamism and creativity of the entries. As one judge rightly sums up: "Innovation seems to cascade through the organizations due to strategic intention to be world-class. This is inevitable in a rapidly globalizing industry."

19.    For Singapore to maintain its competitive edge, we need to tap on such innovative spirit and entrepreneurial foresight to compete among the best in the world. MICA and IDA will continue to work with infocomm players to grow the industry and also help other sectors to leverage on technology. We will support your bold vision and creative ideas. We will invite key players to jointly develop a long term action plan to bring about a truly innovative and connected Singapore.

20.    On this note, I wish you a pleasant evening, as we look forward to honouring the winners of this year's National Infocomm Awards. I congratulate all the winners. To those who did not qualify for an award, do not be discouraged. Remember to innovate, innovate and innovate. Then next time, you too may be up on stage to receive your award.

Thank you.

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