Interview with Co-Chairs of the newly-formed Open Innovation Advisory Committee

With the recent launch of an Open Innovation Platform and push towards Open Innovation nationwide, SGTech speaks with Mr Benjamin Mah and Mr Mark Shmulevich, SGTech Councillors and Co-Chairs of the newly-formed Open Innovation Advisory Committee on what SGTech members can expect from initiatives to spur innovation in the coming months, and how SGTech can play a role in providing innovative digital solutions and growing the ecosystem.

Mr.  Benjamin Mah                                                                                  Mr. Mark Shmulevich

1. Why is Open Innovation important? How can SGTech help members with innovation?

Ben: With the new digital economy, there is no longer one solution provider. It always takes an ecosystem or a group of partners that come together to create a new business or solution. Larger corporations can hire a Digital Officer and start a committee to look at innovation. SMEs, however, can’t do that. 

Within SGTech, we want to create an inclusive community that engages (with one another). Amongst our members, we have large corporations such as Oracle and IBM as well as Facebook and DBS, who are building new tech platforms. We would also like to bring together the SMEs and more than 200 start-up members to come together and leverage on each other’s capabilities to create innovative solutions.

2. IMDA recently launched the Open Innovation Platform (OIP) and is partnering with SGTech to promote the co-creation of innovative solutions. SGTech has formed an Open Innovation Advisory Committee to help spur innovation and work on the partnership. Can you share more about the advisors you have brought together?

Ben: Our Advisory Committee comprises Mark Shmulevich, Taiger; Arthur Tang, Starhub; Chris Lee, Autodesk; Roselan Araf, Hammer Enterprise Holdings; Stanley Lim, FindJobs; Vernon Neo, Jussnap; and myself, WO Digital. 

Our committee is made up of global and seasoned practitioners. For example, Mark, can bring a global perspective and international partners and Arthur has experience in big tenders. We also have advisors joining from innovative start-ups and design thinking companies. We all have a common goal and share the same vision of inclusiveness. 

Mark: The Open Innovation Advisory Committee is a great start for us. Our advisors come from diverse backgrounds, geographies and business experience, representing different industries. Each of us understands innovation and the direction that we want to take. We want to use our collective networks, tech expertise and industry experience, as well as knowledge in matchmaking, to support our members and maximise the reach of the community. 

3. IMDA’s OIP was conceived as a crowdsourcing platform that connects and matches challenges from problem owners to a pool of problem solvers. You held your first OIP briefing with members at the end of July. How different and valuable is SGTech’s approach in using the platform to develop Innovation solutions for the industry?

Mark: Our approach can be framed in a larger context of how we can add value to Open Innovation. We see the initiative as an opportunity that enables SGTech to build an interconnected network of companies, who can connect members with one another so that they can form a consortia; and who can find potential partners with the expertise and capabilities in the fields that we want. 

The intimate dialogue format of our briefings enables us to dive deeper into the depth and components of the problems and explore in detail the technical requirements. This is extremely important for our members who see themselves as solution providers, they need to understand if they can be interested and can solve the problem. By providing as much information as possible to the potential problem solver, it will enable them to tailor their solution to the problem, and do the right due diligence. This is the best approach that can help them succeed.

Ben: Through the OIP, we are fortunate to be able to work with brands and problem owners such as BMW, OCBC and DHL. We get to understand them more intimately and can offer our members the opportunity of a closed-door briefing  session. IMDA will facilitate the process and help do the matchmaking. This is a unique proposition for SGTech members. We are crowdsourcing within a framework and process that allows our members a deeper understanding of the problems by speaking and interacting directly with the problem owners.

If members feel they are not ready, they can pair up with the Advisory Committee or work with the ecosystem. Our Advisory Committee can then provide the domain expertise, design thinking methodology and solutioning for complex and large scale problems. We will gather people who want to solve this problem and who are looking for partnerships. 

The ecosystem we build comprises not only the solution providers, but also start-ups and the Institutes of Higher Learning. We will provide members the ability and domain expertise they may not have. Each member of our Advisory Committee can help match make the smaller companies and identify the key roles they can play to fit the solution. We can “hunt together in packs’’ and be like a big systems integrator doing a consortium contract.

4. Why 2 co-chairs and how do you divide your roles as co-councillors?

Ben: We felt that it was good to have co-chairs. I will handle the relationships we have locally and in the region, while Mark handles the rest of the world. 

Mark: I intend to bring in the foreign innovation coming into Singapore and who are willing to participate in solving the challenges of problem owners and developing the ecosystem.

5. How critical is it for SGTech to have global participation in the OIP initiative?

Mark: It is important to understand that innovation is global and not constrained by geographical boundaries. A lot of our foreign partners and solution providers are already coming to Singapore. They can bring advanced knowledge and either have existing projects in Singapore or are planning to start an operation here. We want to help them make the process more attractive and efficient for them. They could be contributing in areas such as Cyber Security, Artificial Intelligence, Engineering or even in generic IT solutions. We want to be able to help them hit the ground quickly in Singapore and allow them access to our market and start working with SGTech members.

6. How do you see these Open Innovation briefings and your work on innovation evolving? 

Ben: Although we will do these briefings regularly with IMDA, this does not stop problem owners from reaching out to SGTech members directly. The platform we are creating enables SME solution providers and problems owners to interact so that more robust systems can be built. What’s unique is that problem owners are also involved in the journey, and not only at the end when they are presented with the product. As we journey on, I can see a lot of SMEs and business owners posting their problem statements as well. 

Mark: We are starting discussions with some associations abroad that might be our partners who can help provide connections with foreign companies, and in turn, we can give them access to possible partners in Singapore. These early discussions will help us set some initial goals for SGTech and the committee, and help us decide what to do next. 

Ultimately, we want to build the “family and place” where our members can find support and creative partnerships, and to be able to deliver the value not to just for the OIP programme, but for Open Innovation in general.

Interview by Raymond Tan, Arcis Communications
Published August 2018