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What makes Singapore an innovative engineering hub?



From a maritime trade port to one of the most advanced urbanisations in the world, the evolution of the Republic of Singapore in just the last fify four years since independence has been dramatic, led by technological advancements, industrialisation and infrastructure development. Today the city-state is a world leader in a multitude of areas including technology manufacturing, medical manufacturing, autonomous vehicles, oil and gas fabrication, chemical refinery and big data analytics.

For engineering and technical professionals, there are plenty of opportunities to work on pioneering projects for everyone from multinational firms to burgeoning tech start-ups with big ideas. For a relatively small area, it produces a huge amount of future-thinking development. But what makes this data-driven city state such a prosperous technological hub?

Singapore's open data policy makes it beneficial to tech companies
(Image via Pixabay)

The connected city

In 2014 Singapore launched the Smart Nation initiative, with a further $2.4 billion invested in 2017 for a further 4 years of development. The plan was to turn the entire city-state into a technological hub, ahead of the rest of the world. It would cover all aspects of life through the use of open data shared between the public and private sector - with integration of connected technologies intended to improve areas such as mobility, healthcare, public safety and productivity. 

This open data policy allows tech companies to use an unprecedented amount of data on a huge array of factors that affect the lives of everyday Singaporeans - allowing them to develop new ideas and processes faster and more effectively than almost anywhere else in the world. 

“Analysts tend to focus on the technical underpinnings of building a data-centric world,” said Dr Windsor Holden, head of forecasting and consultancy at Juniper Research. 

“We can’t overlook the importance of the real human benefits that smart cities have. Connected communities, municipal services and processes have a powerful impact on a citizen’s quality of life.”

Singapore puts a substantial focus on technology and big data to create a connected city
(Image via Pixabay)

The result is an onslaught of new technology companies setting up in the city-state, with new innovations being implemented into people's lives faster and more efficiently than ever which in turn provides new data sets that can be used for future developments. It is a city run on the economy of Big Data.

For this data to be usable, it has to be analysed, which is where data warehousing comes in. 

Data warehouses consolidate data from many different sources for reporting and analysis. They can create usable, practical information from complex queries that dig into vast swathes of data. They’ve long been recognised as a fundamental asset for enterprises, but the effect of hundreds of companies operating throughout a connected city has driven the need for more even more complex, higher capacity forms of these - known as Big Data Warehouses or BDWs.

BDWs are a fairly new concept, developing from techniques and technologies to surpass the limitations of traditional DWs. They’re considered critical for Smart Cities, and in Singapore have become a significant industry in themselves.

Big data analytics attracts numerous companies to Singapore, launching new technologies and creating more data
(Image via Pixabay)

The need for increasingly large virtual structures storing data from many different sources - some of them historic data warehouses themselves - and being able to analyse the full breadth of that data as required will continue to grow and Singapore is currently ahead of the pack as a data hub for Southeast Asia.

The industry is estimated to be worth $1 billion per year, with major projects such as Facebook’s $1 billion data centre and Alibaba’s first joint research institute outside of China contributing significantly both in monetary value and global recognition. 

For the industry, the challenge is not just finding the right system but knowing how to use this data to produce the information that will help you. Singapore’s education structure - as part of the Smart Nation initiative - is geared up to continue dominating the global data analytics trend. Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and the National University of Singapore (NUS) both have their own initiatives focused on data science and artificial intelligence, in partnership with the private sector to develop big data talent that can be immediately snapped up by tech firms. The government has also launched the Smart Nation Scholarship that pushes students towards ICT related disciplines including computer science, information security and mathematics.

Singapore's openness to data-focused business has enabled it to embrace sharing economy businesses
(Image via Pixabay)

Impact on the economy

Why is Singapore so focused on big data and city wide connectivity?

Aside from the global business that it brings, the transformation towards the Smart City Nation has completely opened up the economy to embrace new, more technology-focused ways of doing business.

Sharing economy systems such as Freight as a Service businesses are now a vital part of Singapore's economic infrastructure
(Image via Pixabay)

The integration of networking processes disrupts traditional industries, while creating new marketplaces such as “sharing” economy systems used in services such as Uber and AirBnB. Just one such concept with its roots in a sharing economy is Freight as a Service.

Hailed as “the next key transformative technology trend” by ABI Research in 2017, Freight as a Service (FaaS) uses sharing economy business models - what some call the “uberisation” of business - to lead cost reduction and resource utilisation improvements to the delivery and trucking industry in the last-mile freight delivery segment through on-demand transportation, freight brokerage and ridesharing. In personal terms, and facilitated by the growth of the e-commerce industry, FaaS businesses look at new ways of delivering goods - such as drones, robots, direct-to-car or direct-to-home deliveries - that can be organised through a central point. On a larger scale, this helps Singapore - a city led by its role as a logistical hub for South-East Asia - improve the flow of goods passing through its ports through solutions such as supply chain visibility, lead time optimisation and enhanced service levels through responses to demand surges and external variables.

From personal deliveries to large-scale freight management, FaaS is a key element of Singapore’s Smart Nation initiative that demands a varied range of skillsets, opening up new opportunities for businesses and workers across the city.

New technologies drive new businesses and open up new ways of thinking - resulting in a higher need for a wider range of skillsets within the city
(Image via Pixabay)

FaaS is just one example of the way in which new technologies control the economy of Singapore’s connected city. Led by big data, the growth of artificial intelligence businesses, autonomous robots, the Industrial Internet of Things all contribute to the disruption of traditional businesses and create an economic wave for technical engineers to take advantage of. The city thrives on the idea that technology will help it do business internationally, opening up greater prospects on a global scale.

“Whether it’s East or West, Singapore wants to be a place where business can be done and people can be healthy,” said Steve Leonard, Executive Deputy Chairman of Singapore’s Infocomm Development Authority before launching the Smart Nation initiative at the CommunicAsia 2013 Summit.

“What we don’t want to do is develop a standard that might work for us but exclude us from something that originates in another part of the world. We want to be open to things that evolve.”

Since the Smart Nation initiative was put into action, this message has remained a key factor for businesses in the region, and is expected to continue with new investments in these industries.

According to Startup Genome’s Global Ecosystem Ranking Report 2017, Singapore is now the top place for start-up talent - having overtaken Silicon Valley. The number of tech start-ups has grown 50% from 2,800 in 2003 to 4,300 in 2016. And over the next five years, the government will be investing S$19 billion (US$13.9 billion) in R&D capabilities, enterprise innovation and entrepreneurship through its Research, Innovation and Enterprise plan (RIE).

Jurong refinery in Singapore
(Image via ExxonMobil)

Traditional business

Despite the huge growth in tech and data companies, and the planned investments to continue it, there are many traditional businesses that are still creating job opportunities within Singapore.

In fact the largest industry remains the manufacturing sector, which accounts for around 20-25% of the country’s annual GDP. This sector primarily deals in electronics, chemicals, biomedical sciences, logistics and transport engineering, with electronics and precision engineering growing in exposure thanks to high demand from the international markets.

ExxonMobil's Liza Destiny FPSO was converted at the Keppel fabrication shipyard in Singapore - one of the most prolific conversion shipyards in the world
(Image via Keppel)

It is also one of the world’s top five oil and gas trading and refining hubs, with an estimated total market size of $80 billion according to the Singapore Government Trade Statistics. It is also one of the market leaders for floating production, storage and offloading (FPSO) conversions - a major factor in the growing deepwater oil and gas production sector - and offshore jack-up rigs. The Keppel Shipyard - for example - is responsible for the completion of more FPSO, FSO, RSRU and FLNG conversion projects in the world to date, including the recently launched Liza Destiny FPSO for ExxonMobil’s Liza field operation offshore Guyana.

The increase in use of these vessels in new exploration activities across the global industry suggests that this will continue to be a valuable prospect.

With Singapore set up as a technological hub, as the oil and gas industry begins to embrace digitalisation in order to improve efficiencies over the coming year, it seems all but inevitable that by retaining a vested interest in this industry, there will be many companies on hand to take advantage of these changes and bring together these two industries. As a connected nation and a technological hub, this city-state represents a wealth of future opportunities across a broad spectrum of engineering and technical professions.

Do you want to work in Singapore’s pioneering engineering field?

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Recent Comments
Love the opportunity to do a contract there with over 25 years in O&G Planning and Project Controls I believe I would have added value to many projects and your clients Best regards Andrew Nolan
Andrew Nolan, 14 August 2019
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What makes Singapore an innovative engineering hub? - Time to read 8 min
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