Globalization and the Internet are causing the world-view of the economy to undergo a paradigm shift. Traditional economic wisdom fixated on the veracity of the land-labor-capital triumvirate is veering towards a domain where creativity, innovation and technopreneurship occupy important coordinates. This has led to what is now known as the knowledge-based economy, also known as the new economy or information economy.
In the new economy, traditional business structures and trade barriers are starting to dissolve, thus leveling the playing field. New opportunities are presented for nations to spawn economic growth as well as re-engineer the operations of traditional enterprises in a productive manner. Countries which are well positioned to address the challenges of the new economy will be able to enhance their competitiveness as well as capitalize on the oncoming opportunities.
As a tiny island (600 sq. km.) with no natural resources, Singapore places great emphasis on the effective utilization of its limited manpower (four million) as well as the judicious use of science and technology to overcome various constraints and problems (Tan & Subramaniam, 1998, 1999). Recognizing that the new world-view of the economy is conducive for the growth of nations irrespective of size and other constraints, Singapore has put in place an advanced telecommunications infrastructure as well as the necessary regulatory and legal frameworks in its efforts to ride on the emerging opportunities in the information economy.
The vision of the Singapore government with respect to information and communication technology is encapsulated in its Infocomm 21 plan (http://www.ida.gov.sg):
The aim is to develop Singapore into a vibrant and dynamic global infocomm capital with a thriving e-economy and a pervasive and infocomm-savvy esociety. As an infocomm capital, Singapore also wants to be the premier center of buzz and activity for infocomm industries and businesses, research and development, venture capital, intellectual capital, education and thought leadership. In addition, Singapore also wants to be a real life showcase and test bed to the world for innovative infocomm applications and services in the public, private and people sectors.
As Singapore was among the earliest countries in the world to adopt e-commerce, there was little guidance on best practices that it could emulate when it started out in 1996. The intent was to put in place a basic architecture and framework, and allow these to evolve as standards become well defined, technologies related to telecommunications mature, and e-commerce activities in the developed world move further upstream. In this regard, significant attention was placed on monitoring e-commerce developments in the U.S., and to see how these could be best adapted to Singapore's needs. While much of the architecture and frameworks in the U.S. was developed on an ad hoc basis by industry consortia and state governments in a somewhat uncoordinated manner (Kasarda & Rondiwelli, 1998), it was felt that reliance on the private sector in Singapore to stimulate such developments would not be conducive for promoting speedy development of an e-commerce culture in the business community. State intervention was deemed to be a strategic imperative if e-commerce infrastructure and frameworks are to be deployed at a rate that allows Singapore to be judiciously plugged into the international e-commerce grid which is fast taking shape. After all, globalization of markets and the connectivity provided by the Internet are engendering an open platform for trade—Singapore has to position itself rapidly and competitively in the e-commerce grid in order to open up another tributary to generate growth in the digital economy. Failure to do so would disadvantage the business sector, which comprises more than 7,000 multinational companies and more than 100,000 small and medium enterprises. It was also recognized that for a small country to have big footprints, to use a term coined by Vogel and Gricar (1998), state intervention was very important—as it is, Singapore has an external economy that is thrice that of its domestic economy and e-commerce initiatives will help it to reach out to more markets.
Frameworks and architecture for e-commerce have become well established in recent years, mainly due to developments in the U.S., which has become the epicenter of e-commerce activities. At the fundamental level, the following are deemed prerequisites: a digital telecommunications network, integration of electronic payments into the purchasing process, rules and regulations on the governance of e-commerce businesses, and building of consumer marketplaces (Zwass, 1996; Dutta, 1997; Kimbrough & Lee, 1997). Inagaki and Mahajan (1998) have further argued that e-vendors need to be located in areas of broadband connectivity whilst e-buyers need to be located in areas of connectivity. They further stress that regulatory and policy frameworks are location-dependent to some extent, notwithstanding the global reach of e-commerce.
The principal objective of this chapter is to share Singapore's experiences with respect to the infrastructure and policy frameworks required for the growth of intelligent enterprises, and assess how these conform to existing models in the literature. The chapter is organized as follows. Following this introduction, the advanced telecommunications infrastructure leveraging on the broadband network, which is at the heart of the landline and wireless information highway, is described. Modalities of the various policy frameworks for the support of e-commerce activities are then explored. The role of e-government as a partner for intelligent enterprises is highlighted next. M-commerce, as a key element of online commerce, is also surveyed in considerable depth. The discussion section is a commentary on the Singapore experience with intelligent enterprises. An assessment of the state of the digital economy and the future challenges for intelligent enterprises is presented in the section on conclusion.