Singapore Gets Smarter

During his keynote at OgilvyOne Singapore’s Disrupt Or Be Disrupted conference, Yeoh Keat Chuan, Managing Director of Singapore’s Economic Development Board, outlined some of the innovative work that will be necessary to make the Smart Nation initiative a reality. In doing so, he also offered a tantalising glimpse into Singapore’s cultural and economic future.

“For us, a smart nation includes smart cities, smart infrastructure, and smart industries,” says Yeoh. He believes that Singapore is uniquely positioned to foster development in this space; while the city-state only extends 700km2, it houses several thousand companies from the US, India, China, and across Europe and Southeast Asia. It also boasts “a growing, increasingly vibrant start-up ecosystem,” making it the “ideal platform on which to catalyse and test new innovations.”

The Singaporean government has committed to spending $19 billion on R&D across areas such as the digital economy, healthcare and sustainability. $1 billion has been set aside for investment in talent; every year, a crop of up to 40 PhDs return to Singapore from top universities all over the world, to contribute their expertise to the public sector.

The Digital Economy


Yeoh notes that there is a growing level of eCommerce spending in Asia-Pacific, with 10% of all retail revenues in the region now originating online. In Singapore, penetration of mobile devices is at 150%, and a great many people own more than one smartphone. Bearing all of that in mind, digitisation is a top priority.

The EDB has partnered with Baidu to building up its research capabilities in natural language processing; Yeoh remarks how the diverse population and mix of Asian languages makes Singapore hugely different from a western context.



1 in 12 Singaporeans is over the age of 65, and that number is set to rise to 1 in 5 by 2030. Accommodating the needs of an ageing population is not to merely build more hospitals, says Yeoh; “the solution lies in technology.” At the core of all current trials being designed is the goal to help the 80% of Singaporeans who live in apartments hold onto a greater degree of independence and autonomy.

For instance, patients who have undergone intensive heart surgery can be discharged sooner than usual, and given a series of devices; a weighing scale, a blood pressure monitor, and a digital tablet. Their data is recorded and transmitted to caregivers every day, who can respond immediately to irregular readings. Not only do tablets gather and store data, but they can also deliver programming in self-care to patients, reducing the likelihood of readmission to hospital.



Singapore is currently preparing to launch an electric car share programme, which will encompass thousands of electric vehicles and charging stations around the city. The manufacturer of these vehicles has also announced that it will open up its platform to testing for new services.

But this is merely “a pre-cursor to autonomous vehicles,” says Yeoh, who foresees driverless trucks disrupting Singapore’s transportation and logistics sectors. “Singapore is a regulatory sandbox,” he says. “If it is successful, it is allowed to expand.” This is where Singapore differs to larger regions like the US, where laws and perceptions surrounding driverless cars differ from state to state.

By 2030, 60% of the global middle class is expected to come from Asia-Pacific, with 55% living in cities. Singapore is highly representative of this emerging demographic, says Yeoh. This is why the EDB has established an institute, the first of its kind, to study pan-Asian preferences, attitudes and values, and to track how these viewpoints change over time.

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