EIU Iswaran

Technology For Change: Digital Inclusion

The Economist’s “Technology For Change Week” kicked off the past week with a ministerial keynote by  S. Iswaran, Singapore’s communications and information minister.

The keynote was in an interview format, where Chief Economist of the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), Simon Baptist, asked the minister a number of questions about digitalisation for Singapore, among other things.

There were a few things that this journalist would note – the first being how digital inclusion is not just a vision for the island nation, but is being translated into tangible action steps for citizens to be able to realise the full benefits.

The digital inclusion effort itself has to be an inclusive effort.  Iswaran said, “There is a role for the private sector, there is a role for the public sector, but actually there is also an important role in working together. You need to be able to create a social and economic space to pursue digitalisation initiatives.

“If we go too fast and we leave significant segments of the population behind the political pressure created by inequalities or digital divides can be very difficult to manage.

On the other hand, businesses also need to be able to take along with them, workers and SMEs in their ecosystem for example, on this pathway. I would say overall, it is a joint effort.”

Tangible action

There are some  examples of this tangible action that the minister speaks of. Tech skills accelerators have rolled out to help mid-career individuals take advantage of the digital economy. There are also programmes where  over 1000 senior citizen ambassadors are embedded into the community to help their peers adopt technology.

Yet another is the CTO-as-a-service programme that matches chief technology officers from IT consultancy firms to SMEs, according to their skills and expertise.

Announced in early March, this programme is slated to launch later this year, as part of the Singapore government’s efforts to help businesses go digital.

“CTOs are common in large organisations, but not for small- to medium-sized enterprises,” Mr. Iswaran said, further explaining that this programme helps create digitalisation at scale, not just breadth-wise, but also depth-wise.