by Zafar Anjum

Singapore ups IT budget to accelerate digital transformation

Jun 29, 2021

The 2021 spend of S$3.8 billion will seek to improve citizen services, increase government efficacy, and make it easier for smaller businesses to participate.

Singapore skyline, central business district
Credit: NanoStockk / Getty Images

The Singapore government plans to spend up to S$3.8 billion on information and communications technology (ICT) procurement this year, which is an almost 10% increase from FY20’s procurement value of S$3.5 billion.

According to a government announcement on 23 June 2021, this public spending will be targeted at “transforming government digital services used by both citizens and businesses, and reengineering government digital infrastructure to support modern application development”.

Following up on its efforts in the ongoing ICT initiatives in the challenging environment of a pandemic-hit Singapore, the government said it would allow small and medium businesses to participate in nearly 83% of the total potential procurement opportunities.

Increased spending on cloud and AI

Of the S$3.8 billion, 70% of the funds (S$2.7 billion) will be spent on 250 projects to transform, integrate, and streamline digital services across various sectors.  These projects include the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority’s new national business registry and regulatory system, GovTech’s LifeSG app that will provide users with a personalised dashboard, and the GoBusiness platform, which has helped an average of more than 150 food and beverage establishments each month to register for their business licences, with time savings of between 10 and 14 days in turnaround time.

About 44% of this S$2.7 billion is expected to be spent on digital application services developed on the cloud. For example, more than S$100 million will be invested into the Singapore Government Technology Stack (SG Tech Stack) in the next two years to streamline and simplify the government’s software development process.

More than S$500 million (13% of the S$3.8 billion) will be spent to accelerate the adoption and deployment of artificial intelligence for the public sector, such as in support of video analytics, natural language processing, fraud analytics, and personalisation to help agencies reduce the cost of onboarding AI tools.

Strong signal to the tech sector

According to P. Ramakrishna, CEO of CIO Academy Asia, the newly announced ICT budget sends a strong signal to the tech sector that Singapore will continue to invest and accelerate its efforts on digital transformation. “It’s interesting that S$2.7 billion (70% of the budget) will be spent on digital services projects targeted at citizens and businesses across different sectors, of which, nearly half (44%) will be on the cloud,” he said. “ This complements CIO Academy Asia’s recent South East Asia’s Tech Priority 2021 Survey findings about companies putting more emphasis on customer centricity, agility, and resilience for businesses to thrive during this pandemic crisis and beyond. With the government leading the way, it will spur more local companies to accelerate their migration to the cloud to be more competitive and at the same time deliver more agile and innovative products and services to the market.”

Chong Yoke Sin, president of the Singapore Computer Society, also views the increased budget allocation as much needed by the ICT sector to bolster the upgrade of Singapore’s digital infrastructure. She sees it as a clear mandate to include the private sector in coprovisioning services to businesses and citizens. “The legacy infrastructure and systems would need to be revamped to digital platforms with interoperable access by external entities,” she said.

“Technologies such as cloud computing, artificial intelligence, internet of things, and quantum computing are key enablers to the digital transformation,” said Martin Chee, general manager of both IBM ASEAN and IBM Singapore. “The increase in budget can certainly help to build Singapore’s AI and cloud capability to grow the economy, support industry competitiveness, create jobs, and improve lives.”

Chong noted that “AI solutions can fuel insights and create new capabilities. For example, schools can use AI-enabled applications for auto-marking exam papers, thereby freeing up more teaching resources and time for teachers. Another such example is the new trade platform.”

Highlighting the need for public-private alliances, Haji Munshi, group CEO of enterprise cloud infrastructure provider Cloud Kinetics said, “The budget has also earmarked workforce development as a priority, and public-private partnerships can help to equip Singapore’s workforce with the right tools to take on future challenges.”

Appreciating the government’s focus on improving citizen services, Gunasekharan Chellappan, general manager of Red Hat Singapore said, “The increase in ICT spending has to be balanced with improving the citizen side by boosting accessibility and reach to the nondigital public using other channels. The government should also look into services to help bridge the digital divide by making digital services available beyond mobile apps and the internet, leveraging newer channels such as chat to deliver services (beyond FAQs) and integrating and exposing more government services as APIs so that the industry can build more innovative applications by leveraging the public ICT infrastructure.”