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A change of life

A change of life

The way the Singapore government sees it, this first half of the 21st century is a brave new world for CIOs, with the increasingly interactive digital environment offering a whole new meaning to their lives. For those who realize and take up the opportunities, the government believes the future is as bright as a plasma television screen.

Singapore Media Development Authority CEO Christopher Chia, in particular, is very enthusiastic about the outlook for CIOs, particularly in spaces of converged media where services can be offered, based on content being created, managed and then distributed to end-users.

"It creates new opportunities for CIOs from traditional media fields, people who work in the business or maybe manage content, or CIOs who have been distributing content to end users," Chia says.

"How do we get the television content into a form that could be useful from a mobile devices perspective? That, in itself, allows CIOs working in companies to actually innovate by turning traditional media content into a new form. They are now having to work with other CIOs in other spaces who can then carry it into a whole new way, new devices. It could have been on a television screen once upon a time, but now it goes onto a mobile screen, or computer screen.

"So any permutation or combination of content, communication technologies and computing technologies; any mix of them creates new options."

A national library transformer

Chia made his mark, during his 20 years (and continuing) government service, by transforming the Lion City 's library system into one of the world's most technologically innovative. During his stewardship of the National Library Board, annual library visitorship grew six-fold to 31 million and library borrowing tripled to more than 32 million items annually. Among other innovative processes and systems, Chia headed the Singapore Library's massive implementation of radio frequency identification (RFID) checkout terminals. He's credited with having transformed the library into "a lifestyle destination for half the population".

He outlined his vision for CIOs at the 20th CIO Workshop--this year's rendition of an annual event organized by the Singapore IT Management Association (ITMA) and Accenture -- which was held in Singapore and Seoul on consecutive days in July, during his "Opportunities in Interactive and Digital Media" presentation.

The MDA chief cited growth projections for the world media market, extrapolated from PricewaterhouseCoopers' Global Entertainment and Media Outlook 2005--2009. This showed that the global "core" media market was expected to grow from an estimated US$1 trillion today, to US$2.5 trillion in 2015. The key growth engines were new interactive digital media revenue streams, and the Asia-Pacific, which was the fastest-growing region, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11.6 percent.

It's interactive and digital

Chia says everything is 'moving more and more to a certain interactive and digital environment'.

"What that means is that at the middleware layers, as well as the basic layers of storage and communications, is common to everything, so for those (CIOs) who actually realize that it means their expertise and experience in those areas can be brought to bear, so that they can supply common services to everybody else in the new area," he says.

"I think tremendously it gives a whole new meaning to the life of a CIO , from a very small focus on what they've been traditionally doing for the last 20 to 30 years, and moving to the interfaces between their role and somebody else's."

"It is going to be a bit of a mind shift, but I don't think it's a big leap, because it's a much shorter step moving forward into that new space than it would have been 20 years ago where the base of people wasn't even there. The base is now here, and it's just a matter of understanding the opportunity and moving to it as quickly as you can, before the rest of the world."

Chia's enthusiastic view about the future for CIOs is also backed by Singapore 's second minister, ministry of information, communications and the arts, Vivian Balakrishnan.

Singapore's harnessing infocomm

In a recent American Chamber of Commerce luncheon address entitled "Positioning Singapore as an ICT Hub in the 21st Century", Balakrishnan stated that " Singapore aims to be a world leader in adding value to both the economy and society by harnessing infocomm."

And the minister had the figures to back his vision.

According to the Infocomm Development Agency (iDA)'s 2006 Survey on the Infocomm Industry, the total revenue of Singapore's ICT industry grew by 20 percent to reach S$45.42 billion (US$29.85 billion) in 2006.

In the same year, the Lion City 's infocomm manpower increased by 7.5 percent from 110,000 to about 120,000. Definitely a ripe environment for innovative CIOs.

Independently, Singapore is also highly regarded as an IT innovator. The island nation ranked first in Accenture's e-Government 2007 study as well as in the World Economic Forum's Global IT Report in the area of Government Usage and Government Readiness.

Balakrishnan says Singapore aims to double the amount of value-added to the local infocomm industry to S$26 billion, to triple the amount of local infocomm export revenue to S$60 billion, and to create 80,000 new jobs.

90 percent broadband penetration

The Government has set a target to achieve a 90 percent household broadband penetration rate and to ensure that every household with school-going children would own a computer with connection to

the internet.

The Next Generation National Broadband Network, also known as NGNBN, was targeted to reach 95 percent of all homes, businesses, schools, hospitals and community organizations by 2012, with speeds of up to one Gigabit per second.

The Wireless@SG program was launched in December last year and now about 430,000 active users in Singapore enjoy free wireless broadband at more than 3,400 hotspots spread out across the island.

"We are on track to increase the number of hotspots to more than 5,000 by the end of this month," Balakrishnan says.

Balakrishnan says Singapore is very well-placed to be a multinational IT headquarters, with major companies, such as Credit Suisse and DaimlerChrysler having recently chosen Singapore as the base for their IT nerve center.

"The top engineers and researchers in India and China all want to go to the US, but, for those who don't meet the quota, where else would they like to work?" he says.

On the IT radar screen

"Singapore appears on that radar screen of both the Indian and the Chinese researchers and engineers. So, Singapore is a good place to site such a facility if you're looking to build a multinational team. It's an ideal place if you're going to assemble a team of people from America, from Europe India or China, literally to get them to plug and play and be productive from day one, in an environment which is familiar yet exotic enough to be interesting, safe and reliable and business-friendly."

"On the government side, what we need to do is to make sure we do not stand in the way as far as recruitment of staff is concerned. I'd much rather have the problem of a bustling economy with enterprises and people jammed pack into this place looking for opportunities. "

Research and consulting house Accenture supports the Singapore Government's upbeat vision, but with some warnings.

A globalization model

Mark Foster, Accenture's group chief executive, management consulting and integrated markets, visited the Lion City in August. He says Singapore is "almost an example of how you need to think of your strategy in a world of globalization".

"The key thing is the quality of consumers that is emerging here," Foster says.

"They're becoming very wealthy and therefore the wealth opportunity here is very attractive to many markets.

"The emergence of Singapore wealth and the focus that is driving into the health care and leisure industries is going to be a critical part of the picture. There's also the fact that Singaporeans are all busy spending their money rather than saving, which is obviously a good thing for everybody else."

He says Singapore has a very technology-savvy consumer base that is currently growing up.

"So, the new consumer trend around mobility, mobile solutions and e-solutions, is going to land here very, very easily. That's a big opportunity for Singapore-based companies to grasp. Of course, it also makes it a very attractive place for competitors."

Foster says Singapore 's consumer market will grow faster than other developed countries over the next 20 years, driven by rapidly rising incomes, a declining savings rate, growth of credit and an appreciating currency.

Young, wealthy consumers will drive further growth in the new media industry, with e-commerce and multimedia commerce, providing new channels.

The future of Singapore 's workforce lay in the high-end manufacturing and service sectors. The country's position in the regional value-chain should allow it to harness the rapid growth of its neighbors.

The 'big six' emerging nations

Accenture research, entitled 'The Rise of the Multi-Polar World', shows that Singapore is close to three of the 'Big Six' developing countries: China, India, South Korea, Brazil, Mexico and Russia.

The study found that "the world is moving from an era of geographically concentrated economic power to one characterized by multiple centers of economic and business activity". It maintains that 'today the developing world accounts for 49 percent of global GDP , up from 39 percent in 1990, and is likely to surpass the developed world within the next two decades'.

The number of emerging-market based multinationals has, according to the study "mushroomed over the past decade or so, with 62 such companies now featuring in the Fortune Global 500 list of the world's biggest companies by revenue, compared with just 20 in 1995". China is home to 20 of the 62, including such names as Sinopec, China National Petroleum, China Mobile Communications and Bank of China. Of the others, 12 are from South Korea, six from India, and five each from Mexico and Russia.

Accenture states that the emergence of Chinese, Indian and Russian multinationals is notable. In 1995, the Global 500 had included only three Chinese and one Indian company.

'An alternative ranking of the top 100 emerging-country multinational companies, compiled by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) on the basis of size of assets, puts Hutchinson Whampoa (Hong Kong), Petronas (Malaysia), Singtel (Singapore), Samsung Electronics (South Korea), and the CITIC Group (China) as the top five,' the study states.

Risks for Singapore

On the risk side, Foster says Singapore is very dependent on imported oil and therefore vulnerable to volatile energy prices. The island nation's limited supplies of land and water could also pose challenges in the future.

He says it is imperative for Singapore to reduce dependence on oil by seeking alternative and renewable fuels, to invest in new technologies to drive energy efficiency, and to shift into higher value added products and services to reduce energy intensity.

The government also needs to maintain openness to foreign investment and international trade, boost immigration, to tap offshore talent pools to ease demographic pressures and to strengthen links with neighboring countries to maximize growth opportunities.

Foster says Singapore would also be advised to raise innovation potential through investment in education and research and development, while also nurturing links between business, universities and the public sector.

Building community links

At the July 31 opening of the Republic Polytechnic, Singapore prime minister Lee Hsien Loong showed that the Government was already mindful of building these community links.

"Our polytechnics are close to industry, respond to changing industry needs and collaborate with industry to solve real world problems," the prime minister says.

However, innovation could not be developed just by enrolling in a class or module.

"Innovation is a way of life, a mindset, and needs to be cultivated from the early years of life," he says. "Innovation also requires fresh inputs to generate fresh ideas. Lifelong learning should become second nature to us all."

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