A customer uses the GrabTaxi app on her smartphone to book for a taxi in Hanoi, Vietnam September 9, 2015. A young, tech-savvy population short on cars have taken off among Vietnam's rapidly expanding middle class as they provide four-wheeled comfort in a country better known for chaotic swarms of scooters and Southeast Asia's most expensive taxi fares. Picture taken September 9, 2015. REUTERS/Kham - RTX1RS2U

Singapore’s hard-fought economic transformation is dependent on the ability of its enterprises and people to learn, unlearn and relearn new capabilities and skillsets.

Fortunately, Singapore enjoys a strong track record of collectively preparing for new economic realities, one example being the strong momentum from its national skills-upgrading program, SkillsFuture. SkillsFuture saw S$22.5 million (US$17 million) worth of training subsidies tapped in 2016 and demonstrates the country’s willingness to invest in the development of its workforce.

Meanwhile, the Singaporean government’s 2018 fiscal budget has set out initiatives such as a S$148 million enhancement to the “Tech Innovator Accelerator” as well as the Open Innovation Program, which will allow local firms to crowdsource digital solutions from experts and to eventually acquire deep digital capabilities for themselves to thrive in the new economy.

And to that end, educational institutions from both the public and private sectors can play an important role in contributing to this national effort.

Being future-ready starts at school

One of Singapore’s leading tertiary institutions, Ngee Ann Polytechnic, is helping its students prepare to speak the language of the digital world by becoming fluent with the use of data.

Experts opine that more data was created in the last three years than the previous 5,000 years of humanity. The type of data created is expanding rapidly across a wide range of industries: the Internet of Things, health care, cybersecurity, social media, telecommunications, manufacturing, gaming, entertainment, and so forth. Yet less than 0.5% of that data is actually being analyzed for operational decision-making.

Experts opine that more data was created in the last three years than the previous 5,000 years of humanity

To prepare students to be fluent with the use of data, the polytechnic introduced Tableau Software, a self-service visual analytics platform to teach students in its School of Business and Accountancy how to see and understand data for themselves. The popularity of this visual analytics course has led to the institution expanding it to more students. Now, more than 500 students take the course annually.

In its bid to continue equipping working adults and fresh school graduates for the digital economy, private education institution PSB Academy will be commencing programs that are co-delivered with experts from the digital industry.

In one such PSB Academy diploma program in the field of digital marketing, students will even receive an additional certification in Google Analytics.

While individuals receive the skillsets that are needed to do well in the digital economy, local enterprises that invest in acquiring these deep capabilities can also reap rich rewards.

From education to enterprise

A recent International Data Corporation (IDC) study commissioned by Microsoft predicts that about 60% of the Asia-Pacific region’s gross domestic product will be derived from digital products or services by 2021.

By harnessing digital capabilities like data analytics, management consulting firm McKinsey found that businesses were able to enjoy 5-6% more return on investment in profitability and productivity. This was consistent with another study from research firm NewVantage, which found that 73% of respondents received measurable value from harnessing data. This trend suggests that more value is being achieved as companies grow familiar with harnessing these data-analytics platforms.

Grab is one of Singapore’s most iconic disruptors and Southeast Asia’s leading ride-hailing app. It is also a big proponent of self-service analytics. More than a thousand Grab employees across 40 cities were granted access to Tableau’s self-service analytics platform to visualize and analyze millions of data streams related to transport and cashless payments.

By enabling more than 60% of its workforce to receive real-time visual analytics on relevant business performance indicators on their mobile devices and Web browsers, Grab has been able to build a nimbler and smarter workforce, and by extension a company for the digital economy.

The emergence of artificial intelligence, machine learning and other new digital technologies can facilitate important shifts for traditional enterprises to become Industry 4.0-ready and compete effectively in new spaces such as e-commerce and the sharing economy.

Having relevant skillsets and capabilities will enable companies to harness these new technologies by mastering data through self-service analytics.

In doing so, enterprises can look forward to raising their level of productivity by empowering an entire workforce – and not just the ICT department – to become skilled at tapping these advancements, and make productive decisions by seeing and understanding data for themselves.

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Marcus Loh

Marcus is Director, Asia Pacific Communication at Tableau Software (NYSE: DATA), the world's leading visual analytics platform. He is passionate about making brands matter in the data age and takes joy in giving back to the community by serving in various advisory capacities for academia, industry and non-profits. His views on brand strategy, data literacy and public affairs have been published in The Diplomat, Channel NewsAsia, The Straits Times, The Business Times, Singapore Business Review among...