Remarks by Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing
At Press Conference during Company Visit to Ascent Solutions
12 April 2021
1 Today, I am visiting Ascent Solutions because there are aspects of their operations that I found interesting, and I hope to use them as an example to inspire a new generation of Singaporean companies. The first interesting aspect of their operations, if you look at their history, is that they were born global. What I mean by born global is that when they started their operations, they did not just look at what was available for the domestic market. In fact, their first step was to look at the global market. This is a very important point for all our companies seeking to grow their operations.
2 We have said many times before that the local market is only of a particular size. There will perhaps be a natural limit to what we can provide in the domestic market. However, if we have the correct mindset from day one that we want to conquer the global market, then the sky is really the limit for our operations and our market penetration. Now, having said that, to be born global is not just a slogan. It does require some preparations and capabilities within the companies.
3 If you look at the team from Ascent Solutions, they do have an international perspective of where their operations are and where their solutions can be applied. This requires their people to have the kind of exposure necessary for such operations to go global. That is why when they went into the African market, they have people who understood the needs of the African market and applied their solutions accordingly.
4 This tells us two things. First, the management team must have the correct mindset. The second thing is that the people in the company must have the capabilities to understand the diverse markets beyond Singapore, for us to be able to be born global with a vision to serve the global market. Therefore, this is the first point I wanted to emphasise from Ascent’s example.
5 The second reason that brought me here today is that they have very unique technological capabilities that allow them to develop solutions for the international market. I want to emphasise this and I have probably said this before. We cannot just be in this space to do arbitrage, where we apply others’ technology to solutions. That is possible, but this will always be limited because the proprietary technology still belongs to someone else. For Singapore companies, including many of our SMEs, if we aspire to do well, then we need to have our proprietary technology and intellectual property (IP), which can then be applied to the systems and services that we want to sell to other countries. That is why, if we look at the track record of Ascent as a company, they have filed for various patents that provides them with the unique IP as a competitive advantage, to compete in the global markets.
6 Now, having said that, having a few IPs is necessary but not sufficient. What helps Ascent to stand out is that they are continuously looking at developing new technologies and deploying them for new use cases, allowing them to continue to strengthen their suite of products and services for the global market. This is very important. We cannot just be in the arbitrage business, but we must be in the business where we have unique capabilities and unique intellectual property that can help us penetrate these markets.
7 The third interesting aspect of today’s company visit is that from what they have done overseas, they are now able to bring the technology back to Singapore during COVID-19, to apply many innovative and unique solutions to the kind of challenges that we are facing. For example, we know that contact tracing for people who are constantly moving around the island is a challenge. But today, as part of Ascent’s technology offerings, it allows us to have a wider suite of tracing and tracking capabilities that will help us to enhance our COVID-19 management measures.
8 Prior to coming for this media conference, we were talking and we mentioned that we constantly ask ourselves whether there are other ways in which we can apply basic technology to other use cases. Very interestingly, for example, we have the upcoming WEF meeting and also many other large-scale meetings happening in Singapore. So how we provide solutions to the event organisers that can then provide people with the peace of mind that they are interacting in a safe environment will be one key way for us to reassure the participants. The kind of technologies that they have provided and developed over the years can also, with a bit of work, be applied to some of the current challenges that we are facing, which then opens up new opportunities for the companies as well.
9 These are the three aspects that I am really impressed by the company, which is why I chose to visit this company today to share this with the rest of Singaporean companies, to inspire ourselves to follow the same direction:
a) First, it is to make sure that we are all born global, with a perspective to want to penetrate the global markets, and not be constrained by our local domestic market.
b) Second, we must constantly make sure that we have unique intellectual property that we own, so that we are not easily displaced by others, and we are not dependent on the arbitrage of others’ technology.
c) Third, if we have a keen sense of the opportunities and challenges in a particular market at this point in time, including Singapore, then we can apply these unique intellectual property that we have developed and seize the opportunities going forward.
10 I would like to round up and mention that CK and his team in Ascent is also one of the companies that have participated in the Scale-Up SG programme – where we help our local SMEs to bulk up and scale beyond Singapore. We hope that Ascent will continue to grow from strength to strength with the help of the Scale-Up SG programme. As part of the programme, we help chart out the direction of how to grow our companies, how to scale up our companies so that they can compete with the best in the world, and how to continuously help the management team to have a global perspective to constantly look for opportunities beyond Singapore. Today, the kind of solutions that Ascent provides for many countries from Southeast Asia to Africa is a testimony to the kind of efforts that they have put in, which have borne fruit for the company and the management team.