#Asia Smart Nation is the future: Governance key to innovating


Smart Nation means people and businesses are empowered through increased access to data, interoperability, and shared standards


The problems we face today are larger and more complex than our ancestors could have ever imagined and our institutions, designed for a different age, have failed to keep up with the scope and the pace of change.

We have often relied on remarkable individuals with significant courage, to lead the way forward.  However, when the combined actions of billions of individuals impact the entire planet, we all know that it will take the combined creativity of us all to address them. On our side, we have powerful tools to connect, organise and coordinate human behaviour. We also have unprecedented tools to imagine, prototype and build new social and governance systems.

To achieve this, we must consider our non-negotiable ‘license to operate (risk)’ components that can cause the collapse of trust and affect the reputations and access to opportunities for our companies, our industries or our countries.

We must also consider our ‘license to grow and innovate (opportunity)’ components that differentiate and create competitive advantage through the power of our network and strength of relationships.

Also Read: Jurong Lake District to lead Singapore into becoming a ‘Smart Nation’

When we look at these two sides of the coin, it is clear that the governance systems that we put in place are the enablers that help us to acquire, secure and sustain our legal license to operate. The growing market uncertainty, changes in regulatory requirements and rising stakeholder expectations will continue to drive the manner in which businesses operate, making governance an on-going concern. But it is our social license to grow and innovate that is now the critical foundations for our survival.

So how can companies address them both?

I was privileged to join Dr. Janson Yap and the team at Deloitte for the unveiling of the House of Governance last Tuesday night at the Singapore Arts House.   Singapore’s oldest Government building, the Arts House is the former Parliament House, where for more than 34 years the very laws that uphold Singapore’s society were architected. It was an apt setting for our conversation on governance and innovation.

The event brought together government, futurists, entrepreneurs, companies and their investors to rethink governance for the future:

  • Dr. Janson Yap, Deloitte’s Innovation Practice Leader and the Managing Director ofDeloitte SEA and Asia Pacific;
  • Jacqueline Poh, Managing Director of the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore, 
  • Deevya Desai, Regional Head of Public Affairs Grab,
  • Darius Cheung, Founder, and CEO of www.99.co and
  • Dr. Sergeui Nettesine, The Timken Chaired Professor of Global Technology and Innovation at INSEAD and the Research Director of the INSEAD-Wharton alliance.

As coauthor of the book “Foresight and Strategy in the Asia Pacific“, and with more than 30 years of experience across the region, Janson shared his views on the cultural and strategy considerations for good governance and innovation.

“Despite technology being a key enabler and disruptor in a number of industries, we believe there is a fundamental aspect of any innovation. In fact, we must resist the temptation to answer all business related questions with technology. We are not saying technology should be ignored, but technology definitely should not be the first step in our journey to innovation.

These current uncertainties and disruptions are opportunities to some and threats to others. You need to think through your strategy and business model and ensure you turn these uncertainties into opportunities. Deloitte’s Smart Governance initiative is focused on governance as a system, a structure and a model in which strategies are formulated, business models are designed and operated and growth is achieved, ” he said.

Also Read: How to build a product that suits your diverse customer base

Instead Professor of Global Technology & Innovation, Dr. Serguei Netessine,  challenged our thinking about our business models, sharing 3 messages:

  1. Most business models become obsolete over time, but companies rarely have a process to systematically re-evaluate their business models.
  2. A business model audit is critical to discovering inefficiencies in your current business model.
  3. The process of business model innovation does not cost a lot of money, but it requires a different governance structure: it must be driven by the CEO and Board and not by the R&D department.

Serguei states that “Who, What, When, and Why” are the four questions that will define our Companies. While hardly unique to the business world, he states that they are not used to subject a Company’s business model to scrutiny frequently enough.

Serguei warns that if a company does not review their own business models and adapt, their competition will.

“Fast fish (disruptive) will eat the slow fish (complacent)!”

The panel discussion focused on “the role of governance in innovating businesses to survive and thrive in an Asian Century”.

Jacqueline Poh

Jacqueline Poh, Managing Director of the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore


Honorary Speaker, Jacqueline Poh, Managing Director of the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore shared the story of the Singapore Government’s own transformation of their business model.

This has resulted in the restructuring of Singapore’s Infocomm and media authorities, to better position the nation to seize new opportunities in the converging media and Infocomm space, and to have a dedicated agency looking into the digital transformation efforts in the public sector. The Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) and the Media Development Authority (MDA) will be restructured to form the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) and the Government Technology Agency (GovTech) in the second half of this year.

GovTech will focus on a citizen-centric user experience and encourage the participation of citizens in the co-creation of public digital services.  The agency will also look at new technology trends such as driverless vehicles, underground data centres and home-integrated sensors. Governance is a critical enabler to the realisation of the Government’s Smart Nation vision.

The Smart Nation Platform is one of the anchor initiatives that will enable everyone and everything, everywhere, to be connected all the time in Singapore. Pervasive connectivity, along with infrastructure and common technical architecture will allow citizens, businesses, and government agencies to leverage technology towards improving lives in a Smart Nation.

Also Read: How to ask for what you really want in the business world

Jacqueline shared that a Smart Nation means people and businesses are empowered through increased access to data, interoperability, and shared standards.  A more anticipatory government that utilises technology to better serve citizens’ needs also engenders a more participatory society through the contribution of innovative ideas and solutions. The idea is that with a conducive ecosystem that attracts industries and talent to join Government on the journey, that together, we can co-create a Smart Nation. She stated that “Good governance, infrastructure, and capabilities development are key pillars to our success.”

Darius Cheung

Darius Cheung, Founder and CEO of 99.co


Darius Cheung, the Founder, and CEO of www.99.co, shared their journey of   investing in acquiring and sustaining their licenses to operate. Today www.99.co is the fastest growing property search company in Singapore and is backed by top investors, Eduardo Saverin and Sequoia Capital.

He stated pragmatically that there are key areas of regulation that will enable his business and some that will block it. For example, the grey area around the legality of crowd funding real estate platforms is not an area of innovation that www.99.co seek to explore at this time. However, the collection and analysis and sharing of consumer’s search data is a critical component to the company’s innovation and consumer relevancy.

“This makes governance around consumer protection and privacy, top priorities for both our legal and regulatory license to operate and the company’s social license to grow and innovate.”

Deevya Desai

Deevya Desai, Regional Head of Public Affairs for Grab


Deevya Desai, Regional Head of Public Affairs for Grab, shared her compelling story of their social mission: improving lives one ride at a time in order to sustain their licenses to operate. Grab do this by focusing on safety, accessibility of transport and improving drivers lives through micro-finance, access to smart phones and better income.

Where laws are yet to exist, Grab have been proactively collaborating with Governments to forge and test policies and share data to enhance the lives of its citizens. One of these is Grab’s data partnership with the World Bank which helps governments solve traffic safety and congestion issues. These such initiatives are working to support Grab in both acquiring and sustaining their start up’s licenses to operate.

With the picture that has been painted for our Smart Nation, innovation, and disruptive transformation are key to thriving in our Asian century. But, only within the context of good governance.

The views expressed here are of the author’s, and e27 may not necessarily subscribe to them. e27 invites members from Asia’s tech industry and startup community to share their honest opinions and expert knowledge with our readers. If you are interested in sharing your point of view, submit your post here .

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