Speech by MOS Low Yen Ling at Crown Digital's Launch of Autonomous Coffee Kiosk and Robotic Baristic, Ella

Speech by MOS Low Yen Ling at Crown Digital's Launch of Autonomous Coffee Kiosk and Robotic Baristic, Ella

Mr Keith Tan, CEO and Founder, Crown Digital and Crown Coffee

Ladies and gentlemen,


1. Good afternoon. Thank you for inviting me to the launch of Singapore’s first autonomous robotic coffee kiosk - Ella.

a. I understand that Ella was first conceptualised three years ago when Crown Coffee sought to alleviate the challenges of high rentals and manpower shortages that were common among F&B firms.

b. Because of these challenges, the team decided early on to develop innovative business solutions to improve productivity and reduce cost. One of the ideas was to have an autonomous coffee kiosk that integrated robotics and artificial intelligence, and could be deployed in various settings such as public places, cafes and offices. 

c. Today marks the transformation of an innovative idea into reality. Congratulations to the team on achieving this significant milestone.

Digitalisation and innovation are key ingredients to emerge stronger from the crisis

2. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about unprecedented changes to the business landscape.

a. It has accelerated the adoption of digital technologies globally.

b. Businesses big or small, have realised that digitalisation and innovation are critical factors to surviving and emerging stronger from this crisis. They face the double challenge of fierce competition and evolving consumer preferences.

3. At the start of the Circuit Breaker period, many F&B firms had to quickly transform their operations and move to online platforms to continue engaging their customers over the Internet and diversifying their revenue streams.

a. For example, Crown Coffee launched its in-house mobile application so that customers could place advance orders and opt for drive-through collection.

b. This “contactless” initiative allowed Crown Coffee to serve its customers safely and in a timely manner, both during and after the Circuit Breaker period.

c. The reason why Crown Coffee was able to swiftly roll out these initiatives lies with its decision to digitalise and automate way before COVID-19. The company started its technology spin-off Crown Digital in 2018, which focused on the development of productive business formats using digital technologies.

4. Digitalisation and automation initiatives do not simply mean just retailing products online or creating robots.

a. Companies that embark on such efforts can also take the opportunity to fundamentally enhance the customer experience and create a strong business proposition.

b. Ella is a good example of a digital solution that focuses on the customer experience at its core. It recognises that customers increasingly crave for personalisation and customisation. And personalised customer services can now be offered with the help of technology.

c. For instance, Ella features an interactive screen that uses facial recognition technology to provide each customer with a unique experience.

i. Despite being a fully autonomous coffee kiosk, Ella is able to recommend new offerings or similar types of coffee, based on the customer’s previous orders.

ii. Customers can also play games on the screen while waiting for their drinks to be dispensed.

5. While COVID-19 has severely impacted our businesses and economy, it has also created the impetus for us to build stronger business capabilities and seek out new growth opportunities. As the Chinese saying goes, “机不可失,时不再来!”

6. I am happy to hear that Crown Digital is not resting on its laurels and has plans to expand by scaling and deploying Ella in public locations with high footfall.

7. I hope more F&B firms will continue to pursue digitalisation and innovate to stay ahead. We need to seize the opportunities in a post COVID-19 landscape.

8. The Government is fully committed to supporting companies in this endeavour.

a. We have been supporting and will continue to help SMEs in their digital transformation journey through the SMEs Go Digital programme and Productivity Solutions Grant (PSG).

b. We also rolled out the Digital Resilience Bonus earlier this year to enhance government funding for the adoption of digital tools in the food services and retail sectors. These two industries have been significantly affected by the safe distancing requirements imposed in the phased reopening of the economy.

Investing in human capital is critical to drive digitalisation and innovation efforts

9. The road to digitalisation needs to be complemented by well-trained talent so that changes are implemented effectively for a successful transformation.

10. As F&B firms develop more robotics and automation equipment to improve productivity, higher value jobs such as food technologists and business development managers will be created at the same time. 

a. Hence, it is important for firms to invest in training and upskilling of employees to equip them with the requisite skills to take on these higher value-added tasks.

11. As Minister Lawrence Wong pointed out at a dialogue last week, we should “double down on our human strengths”, such as the ability to think creatively, brainstorm and come up with innovative solutions as a team.

a. These are skills that neither robot nor machine can replicate or replace.

12. The Government remains committed to supporting firms in training and reskilling of their workers. I strongly encourage F&B firms to tap on the programmes and support available and pursue workforce transformation initiatives aligned with your business transformation plans.

a. For example, businesses can tap on the Skills Future Enterprise Credit, which provides funding support for many workforce transformation programmes, including job redesign initiatives, curated training programmes and the Professional Conversion Programme.

b. Workforce Singapore had also introduced the Job Redesign Reskilling Programme for the Food Services Industry earlier this year to encourage firms to redesign existing labour-intensive jobs and upskill their workers.

c. Equipping your employees with the relevant skills to take on enhanced job roles will not only support the transformation of your businesses more directly, but also provide wage and career progression opportunities to your staff and fellow Singaporeans.
d. This will in turn enable companies to be more competitive both in your business, and also in the labour market to attract, recruit and retain good workers.


13. Let me conclude by once again congratulating the Crown Coffee team on the successful launch of Singapore’s first autonomous coffee kiosk and robotic barista, Ella. My best wishes to Keith and the team in your business transformation journey. I hope that your story will inspire more F&B players to continue innovating and breaking new frontiers.

14. Thank you very much.

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