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Is Singapore ready for the rise of robots and automation?

By Manish Shah

It is true. Singapore is a smart nation. The Government continues to aggressively drive its digital agenda, ramping up in all areas. For example, the recently launched Digital Industry Singapore (DISG) Office will look to encourage public and private partnerships to help companies digitise more quickly in keeping up with the rapid pace of technical change.

The new office is said to bring broader benefits to Singapore’s digital ecosystem including the creation of 10,000 new jobs, in areas like engineering, software development and automation. They will offer training in artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, data science, and networking engineering. The office will also build up enterprise technology to help further digitalise Singapore and strengthen businesses’ capability in developing new solutions in cloud computing, AI and payments.

This follows Singapore’s recent push for more digital technology and automation including the installation of robotics, particularly in the healthcare and construction industry. Singapore is second only to South Korea in terms of installation of industrial robots, with 488 robots per 10,000 employees, according to an International Federation of Robotics report.

And the fact that Singapore has reclaimed its spot as the world's most competitive economy, an accolade it last won in 2010, is another reminder of how digitally ‘smart’ the nation is. Singapore's rise to the top highlights its advanced technological and digital infrastructure, availability of skilled labour, favourable immigration laws and the efficiency of setting up new businesses.

It is clear that Singapore is strides ahead in the early adoption of automation technology and building a sophisticated digital infrastructure and ecosystem around this.

But will this prove enough through this next phase of automation and rising robots?
Absolutely. Singapore is perfectly poised for the rise of AI-driven innovation such as robots. A recent study by Oxford Economics predicts that there will be 20 million robots in use by 2030 – 10 times the number currently. Whilst the impact of this will be significant on countries that are unprepared for the onslaught, Singapore’s advanced ecosystem and supportive regulatory structure sees it well-placed to benefit from new generation robotics.

A study that we conducted recently confirmed this too, reporting that 54% of surveyed companies have adopted AI-technologies. Singapore is fast becoming a hotspot for AI experimentation and innovation and Singaporeans accept that robots are here to stay. A strong investment in digital infrastructure, a growing pool of IT expertise and a hyper-connected population mean that Singapore is seeing outsized gains in a new technological landscape, making the country fertile ground for MNCs to grow their business.

We anticipate that this trend will continue and Singapore will carry on living up to its Smart Nation vision. The key now is to ensure that at a micro-level, businesses are just as equipped to navigate the changing technological landscape as Singapore is at a macro-level.

How can companies prepare for the rise of the robots and other AI-driven technologies?
Businesses can experiment with the latest digital technologies and take a chance at being early adopters of technologies such as AI-driven innovations. But there are still a number of things that Singaporean businesses need to do to get “AI and digital ready”.

Here are our 6 tips for businesses to get AI-driven innovation right:

Firstly, be ready for the digital frontier. Technology will fundamentally change business models and the workforce as we know it. Leaders must adapt the way they do business and how they structure their workforce. The good news is, there are plenty of programs available to support the reskilling and training of people to meet the evolving demands of the economy.

Deploy resources wisely. With a growing acceptance of AI and an increase in the use of digital platforms, businesses need to allocate the right resources at the right locations to work effectively with AI technologies. Leaders then need to map out what are the future resources and skills required to work in around new technologies to be able to enhance them.

The hybrid workforce is key to success. Automate interactions that are mundane, allowing staff to handle the more meaningful ones. But be sure to get the balance right between digital and human. Invest in digital skills and capability development. Empower your employees with technology that makes their life easier and ensure that they are trained in the new way of doing things.

Automate with purpose. Engage your workforce. Let employees know that automation is here to increase productivity, not take their jobs. Don’t forget human interactions are key for high value scenarios, so prioritise the learning and development of your employees while providing them with the tools they need to deliver a high level of service. Employees themselves need to know they are valued and respected.

Remember though, no technology can replicate human empathy. Technology might for instance, be able to recognise that you’re trying to report a lost item, but the emotional axis is entirely un-programmable. Instances like this can create high-stress moments for the customer that only another human can comprehend. It’s these inquiries that are high on the emotional spectrum that stick with the customers so it’s critical to determine which customer service functions technology can handle on its own, and which cases need to be handled by a human and given a personal touch.

At the end of the day, it’s (still) all about the customer. Organisations must work harder at better understanding their customers’ preferences and provide an experience to suit these preferences. The customer experience must be truly omni-channel. Customers switch between channels and engage their service providers whenever they want – on-demand in terms of what best suits them. Customers are more comfortable with digital and online services, but organisations still need to ensure that they cater for person-to-person contact too.  

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