Singapore aims to become Asia digital hub

Singapore is heading towards the future. And the future – unsurprisingly – lies in digital-land.

The Finance Minister of Singapore, Heng Swee Kiat, has presented a very clear objective in the Budget 2017 speech presented in late February: jump on the digital bandwagon, so to become the country of reference in Asia for the next future. And pulling out a hefty amount of money from their wallet: S$2.4 billion (US$1.7 billion)

If you happened to dabble in the economics of the area, this move was expected – and it is a response to the establishment of the Iskandar Malaysia economic development zone in the area around Johor Baru – just on the other side of the bridge from Singapore – and its robust enticements with grants and tax breaks aimed to induce the establishing of digital companies.

Digitally serving the Asian Middle Class

The Singapore Government has spent his time doing its homework, and it shows. They have clearly understood that Asia Pacific will be the home of the majority of the global Middle Class.

This is what the OECD is predicting: by 2030, the Asian middle-class will become dominant in the world. Around 66% of this group will be based in Asia. This means two persons out of three. They were less than one out of three in 2009, less than ten years ago.

And middle-class thrives on data and digital services and products. So, the Singapore establishment is betting on the future. And they are quite sure they would win – so they are betting big.

This investment will be focused into 5 different directives.

  1. SME support and development
  2. Boost to Intellectual Property
  3. Support to the companies’ global expansion
  4. Growth of the local digital skillsets
  5. Funds to bolster innovation

1 – SME support and development

Singapore is betting on nimble companies and startups. They wantto let them become the solid foundation which creates an enriching environment. And SMEs are quick to react and embrace the digital tools to compete in the world. The ‘SME Go Digital Programme’ wants to achieve just that: companies will be offered support to develop digital services, and to employ government-approved or off-the-shelf ICT solutions.

Companies and startups which are developing digital products will be able to receive funding and advisory support. Singapore wants to become the Silicon Island of the Pacific.

2 – Intellectual Property as a key to success

The tech companies will have access to a vast array of services to help them implement and develop IP programs and initiatives, through the assistance of the government research institute Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) – the target is to help 400 companies develop their products in the next four years.

Also, A*Star’s Headstart programme will allow SMEs to enjoy discounted licences, and it will be extended to 36 months.

3 – Developing internationally to compete globally

The International Enterprise (IE) Singapore asserts that 37,000 local companies received support last year  to increase their presence in international markets. Through the generous endowment of this plan, the Government intends to proceed full-force ahead, investing a staggering S$600 million (US$423 million) International Support Fund to help the companies scale up and internationalise.

And this action will come through a robust structural development of organizations and competencies.

The Singapore Government has set up the Global Innovation Alliance (GIA) as an aggregator of three three different elements. The first is called “Innovators Academy” – aiming to exchange local students with foreign students, and letting them work at tech companies.
The second is “Innovation Launchpads” – structures that will be established on different overseas markets, and will enable local companies connect with potential partners outside Singapore. The third is called “Welcome Centres” and will put in contact foreign companies with Singaporean companies to work on common projects.

GIAs are expected to be opened in Bijing, San Francisco, and other countries in ASEAN.

Another noteworthy project is the “Skillsfuture Leadership Development Initiative”, which aims to transform Singaporean workers into leaders, through specialized courses. The Government expects to train around 800 new leaders over the next three years.

4 – Raise up the local digital culture and critical skills

The digital capabilities are going to become a must: the Government aims to invest more than S$250 million (US$160 million) into developing this kind of skills, via different programs and courses (both long in-presence and short e-courses), and will focus on one critical field: data and cybersecurity.

As data becomes the most substantial investment and asset of the digital companies, there is going to be a huge demand for specialized workers in the field.

Also, to optimize the capabilities and skillsets of the Singaporean population, more efforts will be put into organizing nation-wide job banks and job matching services.

5 – More freedom for the pioneers

Singapore will become more flexible to accommodate the needs of the new technology players. It aims to establish areas where the companies could conduct their research uncluttered from local regulations (which to this day are very efficient, but somewhat strict), and will do its best to promote the adopting of new technologies for the good of the country.

Fields like Health and Transportation will be given a robust support, as well as the Financial and VC sector, especially if applied to innovative companies and products.

The government will also be investing money in innovation through established programs. These include a S$150 million (US$105 million) Public Sector Construction Productivity Fund, to develop better construction tech solutions; a S$500 million (US$352.5 million) to be placed into the National Research Fund (NRF); and last, a S$1 billion (S$705 million) for the National Productivity Fund (NPF).

All in all, it seems that Singapore is moving, and moving fast towards the future.

In the furniture sector: education and communication go digital

This influx of money, and the rationale behind it means that the Singapore Government is covering its bases to develop a robust digital infrastructure. And this means two main areas of intervention for the affected SMEs which operate in furniture: digital communications and e-commerce, so to present their productions in the area and overseas, and to profit from the digital demand of Asia, which is growing at much higher rates than the rest of the world; and the technical skills and infrastructure needed to achieve this goal, that is, the infusion of technical skills through training courses, especially in e-learning.

We can see that the modern development of web and social media have affected strongly the furniture industry in the most recent times. It is a new phenomenon – and it is evolving as it is developing, so it is a situation very similar to the Gold Rush of the 800s – everyone knows that there is a huge market, everyone is going there, but no-one has a real map of the opportunities offered by the development of the market, because we are still developing the tools that we are using every day to make it happen.

This is a very competitive – and interesting – market, and the ones who will profit more from the situation are the most innovative companies who want to expand further and occupy new markets and mindshares.
A sound digital strategy is – for sure – the key to beat the competitors.

And the combat ground will be on the displays of the mobiles.
The average ASEAN user already using the internet via mobile 21% more than the world average.
Techinasia, in this article, tells us that at the end of 2015 “there are already more mobile subscriptions than people around Southeast Asia” and the number is continuing to grow.

This means that the attention-grabbing actions to stay relevant will be fought mostly in the internet sector, ands the companies must be very attentive to that, if they want to continue to grow in the area or worldwide, that is. To profit from this long wave, the companies have to invest in developing a professional digital presence online. Glitzy websites in Flash and shoddy company e-mails based on public providers are not acceptable anymore to compete internationally – as their overall quality will be measured and defined by their web presence and social media interactions, which will become an all-important  factor, on a par with the quality of their products.



A mission, a success: Barel in South East Asia

“I have been introduced to Franz – from ICON –  during the Fuorisalone 2016. He told me briefly about his company and his specific area of interest – high end and luxury design furniture in South East Asia – and about the market possibilities for Italian companies.
Since the beginning, I was impressed by his thorough knowledge of the details of the local markets.
But what really amazed me was his attitude: he told me: “Rodolfo, please do not believe me! Come to Asia, and experience for yourself the potential of the markets where I operate”.
So, there I went. And after 10 days spent with him in the area of Singapore and Malaysia I can only say that he was 100% spot-on. There are endless possibilities for the real Made in Italy brands in the area.

I can testimony that Franz – and ICON – have three main strengths: they possess a great knowledge of the market; they know the local culture, needed to secure contracts in the area; and finally, they have an amazing array of contacts and references in the local furniture and retail industry.

This sector is closely tied to the construction industry, and in both Singapore and KL they build day and night high-rise buildings and large residential complexes. Surely, Singapore is a difficult, saturated market – a metropolis that still continues to expand. But I am pretty sure that in KL and Malaysia, where from the moment you land at the airport and on the way to the city you see almost more cranes than cars, the market will be booming as well.

Despite that Singapore is a very strategic city for International Affairs (one of the three largest ports in the world), the local designers work a lot more in China, Indonesia, Australia, Vietnam, and the Philippines than in the city, where the market is slightly more saturated (but nonetheless, much more open compared to Europe).

The most amazing thing is to understand the fact that about 5 billion people reside in Asia and 3 billion in the rest of the world: this says everything about where it is and will increasingly be the focus of the global business.

Thanks to the mission with Franz and the services of Italian Consulting, we at Barel have closed a partnership contract with one of Singapore design firms dedicated to the horeca sector, and the next March 23 we will be presenting the Barel brand in their showrooms. We have also started to work with Jarrod Lim, a Singaporean designer, and the next April we will present in iSaloni Milan a collection designed by him. More, we are in talks with a large buying group to begin working in KL – and we hope this is just the beginning.

What can I say more? Franz and ICON have delivered an astounding amount of value in their service“.

This is what Rodolfo Barel has said after his successful mission in South East Asia, organized by Italian Consulting, which helped him relate to a new, growing market in a big way. He had the opportunity of understanding the main themes of the local retail market , and of meeting up personally with designers, entrepreneurs, distributors and othe assorted stakeholders of the industry.

After a few months (end April 2017), we are very proud to announce that the Barel exhibit in Singapore has been opened, and its cooperation with its distributors is gaining up speed.


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The PDP is determined to rock the house – again


The PDP international designers.

The stellar results of the first edition of the Professional Designers Program (PDP) – presented in the last edition of the EFE in March, have been so noteworthy that the Malaysian Furniture Promotion Council (MFPC) has committed to renew it by launching the 2016/2017 Edition of the Project, in close cooperation with Malaysian Timber Industry Board (MTIB).
The PDP 2nd Edition 2016/2017, or PDP2, will rely on the same trustworthy team of Professional Designers of the First Edition, which will put their skills in action for four new Malaysian furniture manufacturers. These companies will receive a creative support to develop new products by the PDP team, comprising established designers worldwide and local rising stars coming from the well-known MTIB’s TANGGAM initiative, supplemented by the operative knowledge of the in-house designers of the companies.

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The design market is growing, especially in Asia

The meeting “Design Today: Challenges and Visions”, organized by the Altagamma Foundation during the first edition of the Brera Design Days, has been the occasion of a lively debate between several protagonists of the world of design – including Claudio Luti (Kartell), Antonio Citterio (architect), Alberto Alessi (Alessi), Roberto Gavazzi (Boffi). Also, it was presented  the second edition of the study Altagamma Bain Design Market Monitor, which registers a growth of the design market of +4%, and in particular, of the online channel (+24% at current rates): this has been the topic of a talk with Andrea Ciccoli (The Level Group/Wallpaper*) and Andrea Ghizzoni (WeChat).

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Italian design in Hanghzou, China

For D. Casa is a new showroom in Hanghzou, emerging Chinese metropolis and capital of Zhejiang province, South of Shanghai, selling and showing design furniture, international and made in Italy.

Conceived as a light and rhythmical architecture of frames, all spaces are visually connected by geometrical yet irregular patterns. Floating stairs in wood, bronze and glass host niches with products on display working as a contemplative and inspirational path, connecting the different floors.

The project features a Kartell bar, a 3-mt high caleidoscopic “Wunderkammer” for Barovier & Toso and a design landscape by Poltrona Frau, Cassina, B&B Italia, Molteni, and Baxter. On show also Armani Casa, Fendi Casa, Turri, Giorgetti, Rubelli Casa, Bottega Veneta Home, Gabarino and Agresti. Lovers of bespoke accessories and lightings can find inspirations by the showrooms of Christofle, Baccarat, Venini, Flos and Fontana Arte. For D. Casa hosts also international brands like Ralph Lauren Home, G.P & J. Baker, Georg Jensen, Fritz Hansen, Herman Miller, Arteriors and Kelly Wearstler.

The project develops on two facing buildings, each with 3 levels embracing Taihe and Zancheng plaza. The italian architecture studio Gruppo C14 curated the art direction, created the interior-design and custom-made furniture for common areas and designed the lighting.

Inside, instead of creating separated rooms for each brand, Gruppo C14 added custom-made furniture which links all the spaces to build a fluid design experience. The studio supported the brands to set their showroom and visually link their branding-image to the general complex. Floating stairs in bronze and wood features carefully lit niches that host design installations and books while special areas at the corners are set to rest and relax.

Tony Lu, owner of For D. Casa says: “Working with Gruppo C14 has been a very interesting experience, as they understand the Chinese market. Together we created an ‘international luxury’ project which goes beyond traditional concepts. Speaking of the development of the Chinese taste, I see that we are approaching the International taste. Italians are mature with their own taste, and ability to pick what they like. But now in China, since most of the clients still lack of this ability, interior design and service is what they need”.


South-East Asia – seen up close



(March 2015)
Forget the visions of an exotic holiday destination: South East Asia is one of the world areas where encouraging economic signs are coming from today, furniture field included.

In the World Bank Global Competitiveness Report 2014-15, Singapore – already in the topmost places for world economic freedom – occupies a stable first place in ASEAN, and second place globally; while Malaysia has risen towards the leading group, sitting squarely now between the top twenty world countries for competitiveness – one the most important Asian emerging countries, aiming to become one of the top hubs for international finance.
Among the most important markets in the world for furniture trade and manufacturing, Malaysia and Singapore are quite different, but both of interest to the professionals working in the field.

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Forget Billy, welcome Indonesia


I’ve read it last on old Marcus’ illustrious Dezeen magazine. Few have realized the importance of what lies behind that seemingly innocent article’s true story: that the big blue-and-yellow giant is taking a sharp turn (or pretending to) towards “real” design and one of the aspects that are the fundamentals of the real design (which, by the way is NOT just how a product looks) – that is, the research on materials.

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