Currently running through the Asia-Pacific business community is a sense that the region is on the hunt for its Silicon Valley or Tel Aviv. Many cities and nations are heavily investing in technology innovation, in the hope of encouraging entrepreneurs and businesses to build operations within those cities.

Singapore’s government has proven to be one of the most keen to invest of all, and from that investment, private enterprise has met the challenge, and Singapore has established itself as the most innovative nation in the region.

The country has few natural resources, and therefore relies on the industry and innovation of its people in order to be competitive globally. It has succeeded in this endeavour, becoming one of the true hubs of technology innovation in the South East Asian region, and its technology and ingenuity is being exported globally.

Section Two: Singapore's tech ranking

Through an increase in government spending, and a strong economy encouraging highly skilled thinkers from around the world to come to Singapore, the growth of the nation as an innovation hub, across all fields, has been notable. The Global Innovation Index, in 2015, ranked Singapore overall into seventh position, and first in the Asia Pacific region, ahead of other technology hubs such as Hong Kong, Korea, Australia and Japan.

The only area where Singapore is lagging as an innovator is in the efficiency ratio, where it ranked 100th globally.

The Innovation Efficiency Ratio represents the Output Sub-Index over the Input Sub-Index; in other words, it represents five key inputs:

And two key outputs:

Section Three: Finding Efficiency

Where Singapore’s challenge lies is in the outputs, which are relatively weak on a global basis. According to Marissa Lee in an article in The Straits Times: “The challenge of moving the Singapore economy up the innovation ladder, from being one that is “value-adding” to a “value-creating” one, will be a key focus of the team set up to chart the Republic’s economic direction.”

This is not a challenge that can be resolved through simply throwing money at it; creating more inputs into a market with inefficient outputs is a slow, and ultimately ineffective, way of generating additional innovation, and would leave Singapore liable to being overtaken by fast growth nations with a more efficient
Efficiency Ratio. In Asia Pacific alone, Hong Kong, Korea, Australia and Japan each have greater Efficiency Ratio than Singapore, for example.

An imperative goal for Singapore in the short to medium term, then, is to lay the foundations to improve its outputs, even as it maintains the existing inputs. A greater focus on structures to support investment will also go a long way in helping the city lift its Innovation efficiency ranking.

Section Four: The Need For Collaboration In Innovation

In sectors which investment does not happen in isolation, Singapore is effective in efficiently targeting innovation.

One of Singapore’s key challenges in developing as a global innovation hub is to build an environment that can bring together innovators and entrepreneurs, and allow them to exchange technology and ideas.

A good case study that can serve as model for the development of Singapore’s overall development in Innovation Efficiency is OpenLab, by Huawei. OpenLab not only enables research and development activities, but it also operates as an independent verification zone that allows partners to safely and securely verify their solutions.

The technology and processes that Huawei has developed for OpenLab has been met with global appeal; for example in the Philippines, Ayala Group makes use of Huawei’s safe city technology and solutions to ensure safety, improve urban traffic management and enhance communication in cities including Makati and Bonifacio Global City.
“ICT advancements in the digitalisation era are optimising business models and opening up new market opportunities. Huawei’s Southern Pacific OpenLab empowers enterprises to quickly respond to new market opportunities and develop competitive, commercialised solutions by testing technical solutions in a real network environment," Lei Hui, CEO, Huawei International, said.

"This open, collaborative platform enables enterprises to capitalise on the aggregate value of industry-leading technology and expertise while facilitating development of the industry ecosystem to create greater value for customers,”

Through OpenLab, Huawei aims to help enterprises transform their IT systems through leveraging leading technologies around key fields, including big data, cloud computing, and the Internet of Things (IoT), while at the same time maintaining a leading approach to security, controllability, and cost-effectiveness.

Understanding the appeal of Huawei’s OpenLab is easy, as it plays a critical role in the development of modern IT ideas. With the technology security environment under ever-increasing pressure from both governments and non-government actors (i.e. state-owned and independent hackers), there needs to be a place where solutions and innovations can be tested without exposing the business to malicious threats.

However, few organisations have the capabilities and resources to build testing environments within their own businesses. OpenLab’s ability to provide a safe environment to a large number of organisations makes it a natural partner for any business with an innovation agenda, Todd Sun – vice president, solutions sales and marketing dept, Huawei Southern Pacific Enterprise Group, said.

“Now ICT systems are too complex. You need big teams and management processes. At Huawei we have the most comprehensive product set and we wanted to leverage that to build infrastructure,” Sun said.

“We have OpenLabs in all ten of our key regions, but this is the largest OpenLab here in Singapore - we have set up different zones in the labs for different areas of technological focus, and we’re actively inviting partners to verify with us whether their solutions work.

“The thing is, the benefit from our investments here isn’t just for us. The impact that the solutions have after coming through OpenLab is global.”

In being a focal point for innovation, OpenLab operates in a secondary capacity as a genuine hub for technology ideas. In bringing innovations together in an incubator-like environment where technologies can be safely tested and innovated on in collaboration with other technologies, OpenLab becomes a critical piece of the innovation infrastructure of the city.

The development of smart, innovative cities mandates that the technology industry operate within proximity to one another.

The ability to “bump into a new business partner at the café” tradition is what drove both Silicon Valley and Tel Aviv to become innovation powerhouses. Through OpenLab, Huawei is able to foster a similar collaborative spirit, and become a centrepiece of Singapore’s growth as a globally recognised innovation centre.

Section Five: The Safe City - An Example Of OpenLab Success

Already, OpenLab has been the driving force behind innovation, with the Safe City concept being a direct result of a collaboration between ten different partners, and the OpenLab resource.

The Safe City project brings together leading companies, including Hexagon, Shanghai DS, Milestone, and Tyco, to collaborate on developing products and solutions that help protect our cities, including preventive and predictive security protection, emergency command, and incident analysis and investigation.

Huawei realised that an investment of the scale of OpenLab was essential in facilitating an environment that could counter the increasingly complex security threats facing the world.

“Terrorists are forming networks. ISIS is the Uber of terrorism – where previous organisations, such as Al-Qaeda, are closed membership, ISIS is mobile, social, and collaborative. It takes good networks to beat bad networks.” Koh Hong Eng, Global Public Safety Expert at Huawei, said.

“Our idea of a Safe City is end-to-end: it has 3000 pieces of technology, and that requires the work of multiple partners, as well as the customers, to properly implement.”

In providing a one-stop ICT infrastructural platform, and a cloud-based ICT architecture, featuring cloud pipe-device collaboration, OpenLab has been an instrumental component for all partners in delivering efficiency in the R&D process.

In developing Safe City solutions, partners were able to use OpenLab as a resource for solution R&D, testing and verification, as well as developing the go-to-market strategy and final service delivery.

Other benefits are more soft, but every bit as critical to the success of the project. OpenLab’s capacities across all stages of the development cycle has helped it to serve as a focal point for technology vendors working in the space. On numerous occasions joint solutions have been discovered and innovated on simply because vendors with similar goals have been working in close proximity to one another. For projects as comprehensive as the Safe City idea, this ability to pool resources to built more comprehensive solutions has been a key factor in the creation of solutions that have resonated with the market.

Huawei OpenLab provides an open cooperation platform on which Huawei, partners, and customers can pool their efforts in joint innovations to achieve better outcomes. In order to realise the goals of the project, Huawei is itself actively supporting OpenLab and building out its functionality through significant investment.

This investment happens across three key areas:

Section Six: Helping Singapore To Shine

It is in Singapore’s ICT industry’s best interest for the city to become a global hub for innovation and creative approaches to technology. Asia-Pacific continues to be the growth story of the global economy, and currently there is no city or region in Asia that has the reputation of a Silicon Valley or Tel Aviv. Such a region will inevitably develop, with all the economic and social benefits that those bring.

Singapore is prime to be that global innovation hub. Already the city ranks highly on the global rankings for innovation. What is letting the city down is inefficiencies in getting innovation to market, when compared to the investment that goes into it.

This inefficiency is not driven by business or cultural failings. Rather, Singapore’s infrastructure around innovation is currently underdeveloped, and the key networking and collaboration environments that has underpinned the success of Silicon Valley has not yet transferred to Singapore.

This is changing, however. Driven by projects such as Huawei’s OpenLab, Singapore is now starting to develop an identity around innovation of its own. Safe Cities – a concept that has been able to bring many vendors together in order to create a wide range of innovations with global appeal – is really just the start of the kind of collaborative innovation that projects such as OpenLab will enable into the future.

With additional government and private investment into the hard and soft benefits of facilitating innovation “hub” environments, Singapore’s highly skilled workforce and natural industry will see it rapidly climb the efficiency rankings, and generate far more innovations that find an audience the world over.