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Speech by Minister Chan Chun Sing at IBM Think Singapore

Speech by Minister Chan Chun Sing at IBM Think Singapore

1. A very good morning to all of you. 

2. In the spirit of the IBM THINK conference, I am going to start off with a provocative question and I hope to get some responses from the audience.

3. The question is this: How many of you here think that IBM will still be around in 15 years?

4. This is a serious question and there is a serious reason why I ask this. Now, let me ask the question in another way. Many of you come from different organisations and different companies. How many of you think that your company will still be around in 15 years?

5. Let us pause for a moment. I was told that the average lifespan of an S&P 500 company has gone from 50 years in the last century to 15 years. So the question is this: What makes us think that IBM or your company will still be around? What will allow IBM or your company to defy the odds? This is a question that I do not just pose to companies, this is a question that I also ask about Singapore. Because I think there are many things that IBM and Singapore share and there are many things that we can learn from each other.

6. IBM has been around for more than 100 years. Not a short time by any standards. But let us think about it. Is the IBM that we know today the same as the IBM of 20 years ago?

7. How many of you can remember some IBM products that were still around 20 years ago but are no longer on the IBM product list today? The IBM Thinkpad. IBM used to build laptop machines but they are no longer part of IBM’s main line of business.

8. Now if we ask the question in another way: How many of you know what IBM will be producing 20 years from today? What will be the most important product for IBM in 20 years? I am quite sure that none of us know. Even the top management team in IBM may not know yet – but they are working on it.

9. Why do I start with this? IBM started off as the “International Business Machine”. Out of those three words, how many still apply today? “International”? I think so. “Business”? Not really. IBM has gone beyond just business. In fact today, “Business” does not really describe IBM. It is almost like a growing biological system. Is it about ”Machines”? No. IBM has gone beyond machines. Many of the things that IBM does today have nothing much to do with machines. They deal with services, platforms, solutioning and so forth. The only thing that seems to still apply today is “International”. 

10. If we all believe that IBM will still be around for the next 15 to 20 years, what will define IBM’s success? It will come down to two words and they both start with “I”.

11. One, whether we have an international environment that allows all the products and services of IBM to be integrated. Whether we will have a more integrated world. IBM, just like many other multinational companies, can only continue to succeed in the world today, if there is an integrated world, especially in the digital space. Today, the world faces a grave challenge. There are many parts of the world that do not believe in integration. Instead, we risk being fragmented and balkanised. 

12. And if the world balkanises, fragments or bifurcates, we will all be poorer for it. Companies like IBM, Google, PayPal, and any other company that relies on digital services, any company that relies on having data flow across borders to produce better products and services, will not survive very well. Whether IBM and IBM-like companies can continue to grow and flourish depends on the international environment. It depends on whether we will have a more integrated world or a more fragmented world. So this is the first “I” that will determine the fate of IBM. 

13. That is why I always urge all like-minded companies to come together to stand for integration. I urge the respective governments and companies to work for integration. The world is a better place if we are integrated rather than fragmented, a place where we can optimise our production rather than fragment our supply chains. The world is a better place if we can all share ideas, allow ideas to cross borders and come together to build something better for all of us.

14. The other thing that has put IBM in good stead for the last 100 years has been “Innovation”. As I shared earlier, the products that IBM had 20 years ago are not the same products as today. The products that IBM will have 20 years from now will also not be the same products as today. IBM, I believe, holds the highest numbers of patents in the whole world and innovation is what keeps IBM going. 

15. That is the same lesson that Singapore must learn. For us to survive and thrive, we will have to be on our toes to continuously integrate with the rest of the world and continuously innovate. Because what we have today came from the past. And the past is not a promise for the future. The products and the ideas that have worked well in the past are not a guarantee of success for the future. 

16. That is why in Singapore, we like to partner companies like IBM. As I was sharing with Harriet this morning, we like to partner companies that are never satisfied with the status quo. Instead, we are always working to find better ideas to serve our community and the world. 

17. If we can remember these two words “Innovate” and “Integrate”, I think companies like IBM and countries like Singapore will have a bright future. But the moment we lose these two “I”s, then we will be done for.

18. Having said that, while many things can change about IBM and many things can change about Singapore, there are some things that will not change, such as the values that we believe in. We believe in doing business with others within a rules-based system. We believe in transparency. And most importantly, we believe in investing in our people. That has been the reason for IBM’s success. One of the IBM stories not often told is how IBM trains its people from all walks of life. Drawing talent from across the world with all kinds of background but imbuing in them the IBM culture and the DNA to keep learning and thinking. That is the same spirit that we would like to see in Singapore as well. The ability to draw people from all walks of life, from all around the world, to do great stuff. For everyone to come together, to learn together, and to contribute together. For all of us to do business in an environment where we can trust each other within a rules-based system. These are the qualities that both IBM and Singapore share. And these are the qualities we will never want to change regardless of the products and service we are innovating on.

19. I would like to thank IBM for your partnership with Singapore. Your partnership does not just benefit us commercially but enriches the entire ecosystem in Singapore to develop our country and our talents. You are part of this journey to make sure that every Singaporean has the best chance to contribute to the fullest of his or her potential. 

20. Your journey of surviving as a company for more than a 100 years is also an inspiration to Singapore to continue this journey. We must always remember that the world is our hinterland. We are never constrained by our size or our geography. We are only constrained by our imagination and our ability to connect with the world.

21. Our future is not constrained by our past. Our future is constrained by our ability to innovate and bring products and services that are relevant and valuable to the rest of the world.

22. On that note, I wish you all the very best on your onward journey and I would like to congratulate IBM for organising this conference that has grown from strength to strength each year. 

23. One day, I hope IBM will stand for “Innovation Beyond Man” or “Innovation Beyond Machines”. That is what you have always flown the flag for. You are constantly at the forefront of innovation and that is what allows you to be around for the last 100 years. This is where Singapore can also draw inspiration. 

24. We will walk this journey with you and work with you to make sure that we have a world that is more integrated than fragmented. We will walk this journey with you to constantly innovate together as partners for ourselves and for the rest of the world. We promise you that we will share your values just as you share in ours – to constantly invest in our people and create on the basis of trust, quality and standards. 

25. Thank you very much. 

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