Innovation

Driving innovation and growth through partnership

24 May 2017 | Brad Kelly

Driving innovation and growth through partnership

Technology has created new opportunities in Singapore for both multinational companies (MNCs) and local small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), as the country’s commitment to building a Smart Nation creates a boom in collaboration.

One area ripe for investment is the Internet of Things (IoT), a term used to describe the increasing connectivity between an ever-expanding range of computer-enabled devices and wearables. With 50 billion devices expected to be connected to each other by 2020, IoT is poised to become the next growth sector in technology innovation, and will have far-reaching implications for how Singaporeans live, work and play.

While lifestyle applications such as bike-share schemes and fridges that monitor groceries might appear gimmicky, IoT is set to underpin innovative policy solutions for healthcare, transport, energy and a host of other sectors. Singapore’s increased computing capability and abundant connectivity will also enable MNCs to constantly innovate.

However, successful implementation of new ideas often requires collaboration with a local partner.

Partnerships drive innovative solutions

In 2015, Intel joined with Singapore-based healthcare start-up ConnectedLife to develop a smart home sensor system that could remotely monitor elderly people in their homes. Packed with in-home sensors connected to a data collection centre, a wrist-worn wearable can detect patterns of movement and respond to any abnormalities. It also collects information such as heart rate, steps and location, and sends that back to the data centre for monitoring. The analysed information can be forwarded to medical centres for analysis and family members for peace of mind.

ConnectedLife CEO David Ng said the partnership with Intel was a key factor in the development of the product, enabling his company to tap into Intel’s technical expertise, as well as benefit from its guidance on business development, logistics and support for expanding into regional and global markets.

“Through co-innovation, large companies like Intel can provide test beds for ConnectedLife's technologies and become our potential reference customers, allowing SMEs like ourselves to refine our products and build up a business track record for growth and expansion,” Ng said.

Collaboration brings innovation to life

Prakash Mallya, Intel’s managing director, South Asia, said that Intel’s partnership with ConnectedLife reflected the company’s core belief in collaboration as a key driver in innovation.

“Intel has a philosophy of partnership and collaboration with the ecosystem as one of our foundations. We are a technology and innovation brand, and the best way to bring innovation to life is through partnership with the ecosystem,” he said.

Mallya explained that Intel selected ConnectedLife as an innovation partner after identifying a real need to overcome the shortage of hospital beds in Singapore and evaluating the strength of the start-up’s technical capability and business model.

“ConnectedLife is a small healthcare-oriented company…How we could address [the shortage of hospital beds] is in the form of local companies who have remote patient care or monitoring systems for people who are at home,” he said. “Those were the kind of IoT-oriented opportunities, where a small, homegrown company could really make a difference.”

The collaboration also allowed Intel to road-test its hardware and systems. Ng said, “The benefit of such a partnership cuts both ways. Our trial of the product in Singapore homes and real-time customer feedback allowed Intel to constantly improve its hardware for everyday practical use and software application.”

The collaboration between Intel and ConnectedLife comes on the back of another high-profile collaboration between Procter and Gamble (P&G) and Singapore’s GWIA in the high-end manufacturing sector.

When P&G established its Singapore Innovation Centre in 2011, it needed a company to build small batches of its R&D products for testing. They reached out to GWIA, a Singapore-based manufacturing company, to source materials and build bespoke products.

P&G’s director of corporate research and development, James Kaw, said the partnership was mutually beneficial because GWIA brought the right type of mindset to the collaboration. GWIA’s approach included flexibility and agility, and a willingness to experiment, perfect and invent new products in an innovative environment, which was often lost on some larger companies.

Singapore’s digital ecosystem fuels innovation

The success of collaboration will not be realised without the digital infrastructure, expertise and standardised software platforms needed to drive innovation and growth – in other words a digital ecosystem where new ideas can flourish.

In February, Southeast Asia’s first IoT network was rolled out in Singapore, allowing enterprises to connect devices to the network across the nation. In addition, Singapore’s semiconductor companies are also set to benefit from their role in the digital ecosystem as they work with MNCs to develop the technology to install computing capability in a growing range of products.

The recently announced Committee on the Future Economy report flagged collaboration between MNCs and Singapore’s SMEs as one of the keys to the nation’s growth in the next five to 10 years. And with the city-state being the leader in digital infrastructure in this region, initiatives such as the Partnerships for Capability Transformation (PACT) scheme are bringing together more multinationals and local SMEs to develop market-based solutions to solve real-life problems.