Singapore SMEs to get AI push

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Is it time for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Singapore to bury the old paradigm
and focus on newer technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) to help them bridge the
gap?

Traditionally, SMEs have lagged behind bigger enterprises in scale and resources and while
they are usually reluctant to embrace new technologies, AI can help SMEs solve complex
problems, such as making sense of big data, augmenting human decision-making, or
providing customers with expert advice.

AI has been identified as one of the four frontier technologies that are essential in realising
the country’s Smart Nation vision through a Digital Economy. Last year, AI Singapore, a
national initiative to develop deep AI capabilities – was set up and the Government is
pumping in up to S$150 million to “catalyse, synergise and boost Singapore’s AI
capabilities”.

Growing these frontier technologies – including cybersecurity, immersive media and the
Internet of Things – is one of the thrusts of the recently launched Infocomm Media Industry
Transformation Map (ICM ITM), Singapore’s roadmap to powering its future Digital
Economy.

Cyber Security is one area where SMEs could do with a push from AI. The Cyber Security
Agency of Singapore published statistics earlier this year that found almost 40% of the 146
cyber-attacks in 2017 involved SMEs.

The government is trying to get local companies to adopt technologies such as data analytics
and AI. A study by the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) showed that about a third
of businesses have not adopted data analytics and 80 per cent have not adopted AI, due to
factors such as a lack of awareness or expertise, or concern about breaching data protection
regulations.

According to Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Singapore’s Minister for Communications and
Information, the government is making it easier for SMEs to deploy AI solutions. The SMEs
Go Digital programme gives SMEs access to proven digital solutions to grow their
businesses. Over time, the Info-Communications Media Development Authority intends to
raise the standards of these solutions with new technological capabilities such as AI.
Currently, it provides access to solutions with capabilities such as cybersecurity and data
analytics.

Dr Yaacob said it is important to prove to local companies that adopting such technologies
will benefit them, such as enhancing profitability. He added that efforts are being made to
bring companies together to foster partnerships where businesses identify common problems
and share data to resolve them.

Recently AI Singapore signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with global software
and digital transformation consultancy ThoughtWorks to promote training, research and
development in the areas of analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) adoption, deployment
and best practices.

AI Singapore (AISG) is a national programme launched by the National Research Foundation
Singapore (NRF) to catalyse, synergise and boost Singapore’s artificial intelligence (AI)
capabilities to power the nation’s future, digital economy.

AISG is driven by a government-wide partnership comprising NRF, the Smart Nation and
Digital Government Office (SNDGO), the Economic Development Board (EDB), the
Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), SGInnovate, and the Integrated Health
Information Systems (IHiS).

AISG also brings together all Singapore-based research institutions and the vibrant ecosystem of AI start-ups and companies developing AI products, to perform use-inspired research, grow the knowledge, create the tools, and develop the talent to power Singapore’s AI efforts.

“Building partnerships with companies with a strong track record in agile software
development such as ThoughtWorks will contribute to the AI ecosystem in Singapore.
ThoughtWorks’ vast knowledge and technical experience in this field can help enterprises in
Singapore interested in developing AI systems for their businesses create concept proofs that
are not only feasible but also commercially viable,” says Laurence Liew, director of AI
industry innovation, AI Singapore.

“Our mission is to connect Singapore-based research institutions and AI startups and
companies. These collaborations will grow the knowledge and capabilities, powering
Singapore’s AI efforts forward.”

Under the MoU, AI Singapore will be able to tap into its partner ThoughWorks’ technical
expertise and approach in software design thinking, engineering practices, agile
methodologies, advisory and technical feasibility.

Under the MoU, AI Singapore will also be able to leverage its partner’s suite of in-house
capabilities, design methodologies and software experts to further establish and ground its
infrastructure and development methodology in AI systems and analytics. The collaboration will also develop specialised engineering and training resources to enable the AI community in Singapore, as well as contribute to the development of AI Singapore’s programmes.

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