Key innovation trends transforming Singapore

12 Jun 2017

Under the government’s Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) 2020 plan, Singapore is investing in its smart future, with around S$4 billion (US$2.8 billion) to be used for boosting research and innovation each year from 2016 to 2020. The commitment reflects the city-state’s drive to maintain its competitive edge in building a knowledge-based economy and society. This will also support the growth of start-ups and encourage tie-ups with an increasing number of multinational corporations calling Singapore home.

We spoke to Paul Daugherty, chief technology and innovation officer at Accenture, about Singapore’s innovation drive and what trends are emerging from the company’s Technology Vision 2017 report that are relevant to the Southeast Asian nation’s future.

Paul Daugherty, Chief Technology and Innovation Officer at Accenture

Q: What are some of the technology trends in Accenture’s Technology Vision 2017 report that would be relevant for Singapore?

There are three trends from the Technology Vision 2017 that are very relevant for Singapore: Artificial Intelligence, Ecosystem Power Plays and Design for Humans.

Both the private and public sector in Singapore are increasingly exploring and adopting artificial intelligence technologies to better serve customers and citizens. For example, DBS Bank leverages IBM Watson Engagement Advisor to provide customised services. In particular, IBM Watson analyses volumes of data, e.g., research, product information, customer profiles, to enhance the bank’s wealth management advisory services. Singapore’s Infocomm Media and Development Authority is exploring the development of intelligent software-based conversational computing so citizens can complete online transactions quickly.

Aspirational consumers and high digital adoption in the region raise the importance of adapting technology to people and their behavior. And high digital adoption is reshaping how consumers learn about and buy products.

TREND 1 – AI is the new UI

Q: How will AI change the way businesses operate?

There are misconceptions around the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) to replace people with machines. While some jobs will be eliminated, we believe that AI will not only change traditional ways of operating, for business and individuals, but it will also create new categories of jobs to create, train, and maintain AI systems. Machines offer strengths and capabilities (scale, speed and the ability to cut through complexity) that are different from – but crucially complimentary to – human skills. We believe that AI represents an entirely new factor of production that enables people to make more efficient use of their time and do what humans do best – create, imagine and innovate new things. Put another way, with AI, our goal is not to create superhumans, but to make humans super.

We see 2017 as the coming of age for artificial intelligence’s maturity. Moving beyond a back-end tool for the enterprise, AI is taking on more sophisticated roles within technology interfaces. From autonomous driving vehicles that use computer vision, to live translations made possible by machine learning, AI is making every interface both simple and smart. By acting as the new user interface underpinning people’s transactions and interactions with systems, AI will gradually become the face and key differentiator of every digital brand, delivering value at each connection made.

Q: What are some examples of AI in Asia that provide great AI experiences?

Singapore’s Bus Uncle chatbot is a great example. Electronic bus timing boards and bus timing apps provided too much unnecessary information that hindered user experience, but a chatbot that used Facebook messenger connected users to the Land Transport Authority’s DataMall data base. The chatbot took on the persona of a “Singaporean Uncle,” interacting with people using colloquial language while delivering real-time information. The results speak for themselves, with 97% accuracy in location identification through AI, and more than 1 million chats being made with the chatbot within 3 months of its release.

Another example is Thailand’s Bumrungrad International Hospital that leverages IBM Watson for Oncology to deliver high-quality, personalised cancer care. The technology analyses voluminous information, including patient’s profiles, medical evidence and research, and presents key findings and treatment options specific to each patient’s case.

Q: What opportunities does Singapore offer for businesses looking to develop innovative AI solutions?

Singapore is a connected city, and the more connected a country is, the more opportunities there will be to create solutions truly designed to solve people’s problems by connecting services across industries. Take healthcare, for example. Imagine connecting your diet, to your gym, to your doctor, and managing your health proactively instead of waiting for problems to occur. What if in an emergency any car could be designated as an ambulance and have the stop light timed to get them to the hospital faster? 

The possibilities are endless, all enabled by Singapore government’s commitment to innovation and developing a digitally enabled workforce. Its focus on realising its Smart Nation vision helps to create an environment open to disruptive technologies. Singapore is also a great test-bed for start-ups; working in this relatively small, but highly developed market allows start-ups to go through a thorough R&D phase before scaling quickly across the region.

TREND 2 – Ecosystem Power Plays

Q: How do you see the Ecosystem trend progressing in Asia?

Our survey findings reveal that 42 percent of ASEAN business and IT executives (vs. 31 percent globally) view it very critical to the success of their business to adopt a platform-based business model and engage in ecosystems with digital partners.

We are already seeing this Ecosystem trend play out in Singapore. The autonomous vehicle manufacturer nuTonomy partnered with Grab to offer rides with its “robo-car” fleet of self-driving vehicles (SDV). Combining nuTonomy’s SDV software and technology system with Grab’s proven fleet routing and mapping enabled companies to study end-to-end user experience of on-demand hailing of SDVs. The one-year public trial allowed both companies to collect information to improve the performance and safety of nuTonomy’s self-driving cars, as well as refine Grab’s routing technology and mapping for vehicles.

TREND 3 – Design for Humans

Q: What does trend of Design for Humans mean for businesses?

Design for Humans means taking a different mindset to developing and applying technology, moving from our current focus on the features and functionalities of the technology and moving towards designing technology that is adaptive, responsive and aligned to goals that will enhance our lives. It’s about being human-centric – making technology adapt to people, versus people having to adapt to technology.

To truly succeed, technology must be designed to account for human behaviour. By combining rich data from IoT with technologies like AI, human capabilities are augmented, enabling people to achieve more while simultaneously creating a totally different worker or consumer relationship than we could have ever achieved in the past. Through this shift, businesses have an unprecedented opportunity to create rich, responsive journeys with customers and employees, transforming relationships into true partnerships.

Q: How much is Singapore a forerunner to these three trends?

Across every industry and every geography, we are entering an era of the intelligent enterprise. The digital revolution is disrupting industries everywhere with the rapid pace of technology change and the continuously evolving customer expectations. We are already seeing businesses and government in Singapore harness the incredible potential and promise of trends and technologies like AI, Ecosystem Power Plays and Design for Humans, among others. Singapore is making huge strides forward as it sets out to become a Smart Nation by 2030. Technology for people in this intelligent era unfolds tremendous opportunity and value – Singapore is well-positioned to harness this opportunity. The future is here.

Key Findings from Accenture’s Technology Vision 2017 report

  • AI is the new UI: AI is becoming a digital spokesperson for companies, taking on more sophisticated roles and acting as the face of a company’s digital brand and a key differentiator
  • Ecosystem power plays: Companies are integrating core business functionalities with third parties and their platforms, leveraging these relationships into new digital ecosystems to unlock strategic growth
  • Workforce marketplace: Driven by a surge of on-demand labour platforms and online work management solutions, legacy models and hierarchies are being replaced with open talent marketplaces, creating an on-demand enterprise key to future changes
  • Design for humans: As technology shrinks the gap between effective human and machine cooperation, accounting for unique human behaviour is improving the experience and also effectiveness of technology solutions
  • The uncharted: Businesses are shaping new digital industries, requiring a leadership role to shape the new rules of the game or risk being left behind.