It was a rare occasion to have senior personnels from various government agencies talking about innovation, at the Technology Forum organised by "Environment & Water Technology-Centre of Innovation" (EWT-COI) at Ngee Ann Polytechnic.
The Director of EWT-COI presented the research projects that are in the process of commercialisation. We're proud to see local research institute doing amazing things, such as mask that has 99% filtration rate (the N95 mask by 3M can only do 95% filtration), fish-counting system, indicator (sticker) for detecting ripeness of fruits, etc. A pity their website doesn't seem to showcase these exciting projects though.
After all the presentations, there was a panel discussion by all the speakers (from SPRING, BCA, NEA, PUB), and moderated by Mr Victor Tay, Chief Operating Officer of Singapore Business Federation.
Mr Harry Seah, Chief Technology Officer of PUB (Singapore's national water agency), highlighted the need for private companies to be understanding in equal risk-sharing when co-managing R&D projects with government agencies. On a side note, it's amazing that Singapore as a small island has overcome water shortages, despite lack of natural resources such as big rivers in our neighbouring countries. Singapore now has multiple sources of water supply, from catchment areas, reclaimed (recycled) water, and desalinated water, in addition to water that we import. Our neighbouring country has commented before that we drink our "own pee" (because we collect and treat used water to become clean water again). But at least Singapore doesn't have to worry too much about water shortage, especially in recent weeks when there hasn't been much rain, unlike our neighbour-country. (Feel free to guess which country that is.)
Anyway, back to the contents of the forum discussion. Mr Simon Lim, Group Director at SPRING Singapore highlighted an interesting grant available for R&D projects. This grant, called PACT (Partnerships for Capabilities Transformation), will fund collaborative projects between large organisations (LOs) and local SMEs, involving "knowledge transfer", "Capability upgrading of LO's new or existing suppliers", and "development and test-bedding of innovative solutions between LO and at least one SME".
Another area that can be improved, is to get more R&D projects to become commercialised, commented Mr Tan Tian chong, Group Director at Technology Development Group, BCA (Building and Construction Authority). We agree too. What's the point of doing research for the sake of just putting up a research paper? We have so many skilled researchers in our research institutes working on various areas, and it's funded by taxpayers' money (our money). Research should be for the ultimate purpose of creating something that can be applied to improve lives, isn't it?
Mr Leonard Lee, Deputy Director of Environmental Technology Office, NEA (National Environment Agency) rightly highlighted that behaviour has to be changed before any technology can be implemented successfully. I've heard of cases where operators sabotaged technology just because they did not like the new way of doing things, and did not agree to management's decision to change the machines.
When it was open to audience to ask questions, I asked if the government agencies were doing enough to support local technology and/or local innovations. On many occasions, I hear of large government tenders being awarded to foreign MNCs, rather than local vendors. If even our own government doesn't take the lead in supporting local innovation, won't it discourage local enterprises from trying to develop their own products? Won't it be better to "play safe" and just be resellers/ distributors of name-brand products?
Fellow local enterprises are also conservative and don't like to be "guinea pigs" of untested technology, even if it is something potentially useful. If the Singpore brand of technology doesn't have much chance even on home ground, how can we expect more innovations from local enterprises?
The panelists didn't give a satisfactory answer on this issue. They seem to have skirted it by saying that government agencies have to take care to do "due diligence" so that "public money" is carefully spent.