The Next Lap Of The Digital Journey

SGTech Chair Wong Wai Meng shares his views on technology’s role in global sustainability efforts and why Singapore cannot become complacent in the digital race.

Technology has been a panacea for many of the world’s problems. One famous instance of this occurred when technology proved English economist Thomas Malthus’ theory that population growth will always tend to outrun the food supply wrong. Through advancements in irrigation and agriculture, it turned out that food production was able to increase and keep pace with population growth globally. Similarly, I believe human ingenuity will triumph again when it comes to achieving the planet’s sustainability goals.

In particular, there are two areas where technology can be an enabler for sustainability growth. The first one is by being a game changer in key sectors. These include advances in Agritech, Foodtech and the electrification of our transport system. These three areas alone will cut global carbon emissions considerably, and all are enabled by advances in technology.

The second area is through efficiencies driven by the tech sector. As the leading trade association for Singapore’s tech industry, SGTech is rallying the local Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector around key projects in better management of e-waste, reducing waste via better practices in ICT packaging, and adopting green procurement standards.

Beyond this, each sub-sector in tech is doing its part. In the Data Centre space for example, the tech industry is embarking on a sustainability journey to improve the efficiency of these facilities. Our Data Centre Committee is forming a technical taskforce made up of industry representatives to co-innovate solutions that can drive further efficiencies, as well as share our capabilities with other industries. 

One example is the use of systems that control the speed of fans according to the cooling requirements of a data centre’s mechanical systems. Data centre operators are looking for such solutions to cut their electricity consumption, which, in turn, translate to greater cost savings. In addition, we are exploring a green data park initiative to leverage economies of scale and bring forward Singapore’s green ambitions.

SGTech works closely with key industry players when it comes to our sustainability efforts. For instance, our Sustainability Committee is led by representatives from Meta and HP, and the exco members come from leading technology MNCs, SMEs, Institutes of Higher Learning, and a social enterprise.

Fostering digital transformation

Beyond promoting sustainability, one of SGTech’s missions is to help Singapore businesses with digital transformation.  While much of the focus of government assistance schemes has been on adopting solutions, true digital transformation only happens when strategy, skills and solutions align to truly transform the business. As such, we first need to align on what digital transformation truly means and communicate this clearly, especially to our SMEs.

Significantly, the journey towards digital transformation must happen across the organisation, starting at both the top and bottom. At the top, the CEO needs to drive the digital journey by asking hard questions, turning processes on its head, kicking out legacy systems and questioning assumptions.

At the bottom, the newer generation of talent joining the workforce are more in touch with what is new and relevant. As such, organisational policies need to encourage ideation and testing, as well as recognise the importance of failing. We need to become a society that doesn’t just celebrate successes, but also unsuccessful efforts that help to push boundaries. As the saying goes, if you don’t buy a ticket, you will never win the lottery.

Taking the lead in Digital Trust

Singapore is considered a global leader when it comes to the development of a digital economy, but we cannot be complacent if we are to maintain this position in the long term. This is due to our early investments in connectivity, infrastructure and digital literacy. However, what took us 20 years to achieve may only take other countries half the time.

For example, our move from PCs to laptops and now personal mobile devices spanned roughly two decades. Today, however, the rest of ASEAN is  going straight into mobile devices as their first interaction point in their digital journey. We cannot rest on our laurels. Many economies in Asia are much larger, and have access to a larger pool of ambitious, younger talents, as well as other resources and opportunities.

To cement our position as a technology leader, we must continue to be attractive to leading global companies, position ourselves as a trusted hub, and be open to talents from all over the world; especially in emerging areas such as blockchain and artificial intelligence.

One key area that could differentiate Singapore is our trusted reputation globally, which can be transposed to the digital space. Indeed, we envision Singapore becoming the global leader in Digital Trust — where data is transferred across companies, platforms and borders in a trusted manner.  We have an opportunity to take leadership, define and build the digital trust industry in ASEAN.

The role of TACs

Trade associations and chambers (TACs) like SGTech will play an important role in realising Singapore’s digital ambitions. TACs must be the nexus of where important discussions happen; a space where the industry comes together to ideate and experiment with important areas, and form pathways to take us to the next lap.

In this way, TACs are not only instrumental in helping the government conceptualise national blueprints, but also in galvanising industry players to support the nation’s efforts and facilitate the realisation of plans. SGTech will be a key mobiliser in Singapore’s ongoing digitalisation effort.

In this new era of constant and unprecedented disruption, it is even more important that the government and TACs work closely together to tackle current and future challenges.

Adapted from an interview with SGTech Chair Wong Wai Meng

Mr Wong Wai Meng is currently the Chief Executive Officer of Keppel Data Centres Holding. He has almost 30 years of experience in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industry and currently spearheads the company’s thrust towards being one of the leading data centre developers and solution providers in Europe and Asia Pacific. Mr Wong now serves as Chair in the Executive Committee of SGTech, having taken positions as Councillor, Honorary Treasurer and Honorary Secretary in the past. Mr Wong also currently serves as Singapore’s member to APEC’s Business Advisory Council (ABAC) where he co-chairs the Cross Border Privacy Rules (CBPR) Workgroup.