DIGITALISING THE SERVICES SECTOR
Against a backdrop of geopolitical tensions and economic uncertainties beyond Singapore’s shores, it is ever more pressing for the city-state, as a knowledge-intensive economy, to brace itself for the notable changes in the shifting business landscape. Simultaneously, the emergence of “new” and “disruptive” technologies over the last few years and their resultant impact on every aspect of work, life and play cannot be ignored. Domestically, Singapore is at the crossroads of its economic transformation. The services sector has been increasingly contributing the lion’s share of nominal gross domestic product (now at 70%) and accounts for around 74% of total employment, according to the latest figures from the Department of Statistics and Ministry of Manpower, respectively. These figures, which are up from the 66% and 69% respectively in 1996, indicate the growing importance of services to the Singapore economy as well as in the lives of Singaporeans. Given the prominence and ubiquity of technological changes, the services sector will be impacted in one way or another. Hence, the accountancy sector, which is a part of the services sector, should think more deeply about its future. This includes how it can harness the new technologies and take advantage of the opportunities arising to create more value for stakeholders, and also to enhance the skill sets of individuals.
This is the first article of a four-part series by the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA), Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants (ISCA) and Singapore Accountancy Commission (SAC) for the accountancy profession in Singapore, on Services 4.0 and the future of accountancy. Here, we focus on the overarching concept of Services 4.0 and use one of its building blocks, cloud native architecture, to illustrate how it can facilitate and enhance the promulgation of Services 4.0.
INDUSTRIES GO DIGITAL
At the national level, Singapore’s digital journey was accelerated when in May 2018, the Digital Economy Framework for Action was launched to steer Singapore towards becoming a leading digital economy. This Framework complements the work undertaken for the 23 Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs) and Industry Digital Plans (IDPs), which are designed to enable industry-wide transformation. The Professional Services ITM, to which accountancy belongs, was launched in January 2018. In November 2018, the Services and Digital Economy Technology Roadmap (SDE Technology Roadmap) was unveiled with the objective to help Singapore capture opportunities created by emerging technological trends, and this article draws on the most salient points.
The purpose of the SDE Technology Roadmap is three fold:
- Identify key trends that will impact the digital economy, to help Singapore stakeholders formulate appropriate responses;
- Refresh the existing Technology and Research & Development roadmaps, to guide Singapore’s technology development, and
- Recommend the support needed for the digital transformation of industry sectors.
Services 4.0 has been identified by the government as the growth engine for Singapore’s digital economy. While Services 4.0 will transform the services economy, its impact will be felt at every level from the economy to businesses, and ultimately, the workforce. As announced by IMDA, the SDE Technology Roadmap continues the emphasis on harnessing technologies so that the profession can focus on higher value areas that demand creativity, analytical thinking and emotional intelligence. With this added impetus and the ongoing ITM and other initiatives, over time, Singapore can expect an enhancement in the skill sets of its workforce and a strengthening of its services economy. To better appreciate the expected transformation, it will be necessary to understand the drivers in technology.
While Services 4.0 will transform the services economy, its impact will be felt at every level from the economy to businesses, and ultimately, the workforce.
NINE KEY TECHNOLOGY TRENDS
The SDE Technology Roadmap has identified nine key trends (Figure 1) that will move the digital economy significantly over the next three to five years. Not all these trends are totally new, nor are they exhaustive, but there are some solutions that tap on the latest technologies which were not available before.
Figure 1 SDE Technology Roadmap: Nine key trends
Source: SG:D IMDA
1) Pervasive adoption of artificial intelligence
In the next three to five years, we can expect an exponential increase in commercial artificial intelligence (AI)-based application across three major categories:
- Product applications that embed AI in products and services to provide end-customer benefits;
- Process applications that incorporate AI into an organisation’s workflow to automate processes or improve them by augmenting worker effectiveness;
- Insight applications that harness advanced capabilities such as machine learning to uncover insights that inform operational and strategic decisions across an organisation.
2) More empathic, cognitive and affective AI
Machine intelligence represents the next chapter in advanced analytics. Its algorithmic capabilities augment employee performance, automate increasingly complex workloads, and develop “cognitive agents” that can simulate human thinking and engagement. Already, higher level AI is deployed in several sectors. For example, in financial services, cognitive sales agents can initiate contact with promising leads, qualify them against set criteria and do the necessary follow-up.
3) More man-machine collaborations
With technological advancements such as AI and sensor technology, robots have become more human-like with the ability to respond to ambient cues and movements, analyse moods and sentiments, and even identify lies. Such progress will drive the adoption of robots, such as humanoid robots and cobots, as well as human-machine collaboration, across industries.
4) More natural technological interfaces
Mixed reality elevates the potential of augmented reality, virtual reality and the Internet of Things by combining the best of digital and physical realities, and adds intelligence to digital content. It takes into account physics, gravity, dimensions and personality, blurring what is real and what is imagined. Market leaders are heralding a new era of engagement by integrating experiences with connectivity, cognition and analytics.
5) Greater use of codeless development tools
Previously, coding knowledge is a requirement for web development efforts. However, with technological tools such as Squarespace and Wix, anybody can build websites. The democratisation of technology has given the man in the street the power to accomplish tasks as if they were technology experts, making applications and services creation a breeze.
6) More seamless services enabled by XaaS
At the core, every service delivery model aims to satisfy different customer needs and deliver a seamless experience across the customer journey. Technologies today are realising such goals by harnessing the convergence of emerging technologies, most notably digital platforms and anything “as-a-service” (XaaS) architectures.
7) Cloud deployment matures with hybrid and multi-cloud
Hybrid and multi-cloud, the future of cloud computing, combine multiple public and private cloud capabilities to create a flexible ecosystem. Cloud computing benefits business in many ways. They can plan for seasonal upswings, support sustained growth, collaborate with partners, launch new business models, support business continuity plans, and make acquisitions and divestiture activities seamless.
8) Blockchain decentralises trust
Trust is the foundation of all business dealings. Maintaining it in a digitalised global economy, however, can be expensive, time-consuming and inefficient. Blockchain offers a solution by assuming the role of a trusted gatekeeper and the purveyor of transparency in a “trust economy” where a company’s assets or an individual’s online identity and reputation are equally valuable and vulnerable. In this respect, blockchain’s value lies in its traceability and immutability.
9) API economy takes off
Application programming interface (API) has made it possible for solutions and systems to communicate with one another. More recently, companies are repurposing this technology for reuse across and beyond themselves to drive higher return on IT investments, and ignite creative new ways for businesses to use existing data, transactions and products.
SERVICES 4.0 AND THE ACCOUNTANCY SECTOR
Just like how the manufacturing industry has experienced three complete revolutions in the past centuries, the services industry, too, is experiencing rapid changes. Services 4.0 is the vision that charts Singapore’s response to capitalise on opportunities available in the various sectors (Figure 2).
Source: SG:D IMDA
The services economy has evolved from the era of manual services (Services 1.0) to the era of efficient, Internet-enabled services (Services 2.0), and subsequently to self-services enabled by mobile, wireless and cloud technologies (Services 3.0). The next phase will be one of seamless services that are end-to-end, frictionless, empathic, and can anticipate customers’ needs in an unprecedented way using emerging technologies (Services 4.0).
The next phase (Services 4.0) will be one of seamless services that are end-to-end, frictionless, empathic, and can anticipate customers’ needs in an unprecedented way using emerging technologies.
Active steps have been taken to help the accountancy sector progress eventually towards Services 4.0. In June last year, the Accountancy Roadmap and new initiatives to develop the sector to be future-ready was launched at the ISCA Practitioners Conference 2018. This included a new S$2.4-million Digital Transformation for Accountancy Programme to help firms adopt technology, and the Professional Conversion Programme for financial forensic professionals. The Accountancy Roadmap charts the direction for the sector over the next five to 10 years, to develop Singapore into a leading global accountancy hub.
Advancing into the era of Services 4.0, businesses will need to meet evolving customer needs quickly, as well as innovate and create new value in order to differentiate themselves from competitors beyond price. Modern technologies will make it possible for businesses to automate repetitive tasks and achieve higher productivity. However, as customers still demand human interactions, businesses should unlock maximum growth by offering human-centric services enabled by those technologies. Skilled professionals and automation tools will ultimately lead to the creation of new and enhanced jobs for the workforce.
The accountancy sector is no exception, being an important part of the professional services industry. Accountants are rendering their professional services to their employers or clients, as the case may be. The advent of Services 4.0 will undoubtedly be relevant to accountants who are witnessing the growing impact that technology is having on the work they do. Already, robotic process automation is used to perform high volume, repetitive and rules-based work such as accounts payable processing, basic report generation, and bank and intercompany reconciliations. Automating these tasks have freed up more manpower to focus on higher value work. As more solutions powered by emerging technologies are made available, accountants can look forward to more exciting, relevant developments. One such technological advancement is cloud native architecture.
A NEW DEVELOPMENT: CLOUD NATIVE ARCHITECTURE
Cloud technology offers many advantages, but it is a mature and established technology with limitations. In the area of enterprise information technology (IT) development, cloud native architecture is, put simply, more than being cloud-ready. Significantly, it has been identified as one of the building blocks of Services 4.0.
Cloud native architecture is a reference architecture or system that embraces multiple technology stacks, such as the Singapore Government Technology Stack, where applications are built using component services (Figure 3). As the architecture is made up of different “parts”, improvements in one part of the code will not require code changes in other parts, unlike in monolithic applications; this makes it easier for IT departments or vendors to update their software quickly, when required. Being API-enabled, updated solutions will automatically communicate with each other, which boosts efficiency and minimises errors arising from manual updates.
Figure 3 Cloud native architecture
Source: SG:D IMDA
Services 4.0 involves delivering seamless services to consumers. With cloud native architecture, industry players can benefit from agility, flexibility and scalability to respond to fast-changing customer, worker and market demands. The resultant shorter time to market, potential for innovation, and cost efficiencies will make a difference to the bottom line.
There is a pressing need for businesses of every kind and not just in the accountancy sector to adapt to a new technology ecosystem, one that will help them evolve from rigid legacy systems to a more nimble, scalable microservices architecture such as cloud native architecture. Only by doing so can they accelerate the adoption of emerging technologies and facilitate access for all stakeholders.
With both accountants and their clients making a concerted effort to tap on the powers of technology, we are hopeful that the accountancy ecosystem is moving away from a paper-intensive business towards a knowledge- and insight-intensive one, to be aided tomorrow by advanced analytics and visualisation capabilities to further improve speed, accuracy and quality, as encapsulated by Services 4.0.
The second article of this series will discuss how Services 4.0 has enabled workforce augmentation in the accountancy and finance sectors. It will be published in IS Chartered Accountant Journal, August 2019.
This article was written by Info-communications Media Development Authority, Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants and Singapore Accountancy Commission.
JANIO: A CLOUD NATIVE ARCHITECTURE SUCCESS STORY
Janio was formed in Singapore in early 2018 when a group of young logisticians spotted a gap in the Southeast Asian ecosystem for simple, seamless logistics solutions. It set out to build Asia’s leading logistics network by providing an integrated cross-border delivery solution for merchants across the globe. At its core, Janio operates as a technology platform serving some of the biggest e-commerce marketplaces, business owners and logistics partners alike, connecting these key players across Southeast Asia’s e-commerce ecosystem.
Janio’s goal was to create an integrated network that would shrink Asia’s supply chain onto a single platform, and become the backbone that would support the region’s growing e-commerce environment.
Janio built its business on cloud services. This approach has given it speed and flexibility in its operations. In particular, there were three benefits. The first benefit was the ease of use that was enabled by the cloud-based web service that greatly simplified the set-up and reduced the set-up time. The second was rapid development that was brought about by the cloud development tool that enabled auto-deployment without disrupting operation. The last, but certainly not the least, was the ability to scale that was enabled by cloud resources that could be sized easily according to order and query loads. Cloud services from Google, AWS, Heroku and Semaphore – just to name a few – supported important functions in Janio’s operation pipeline and gave Janio its business cutting edge. As Nathaniel Yim, Chief Marketing Officer of Janio, puts it, “Cloud services allowed Janio to launch in just three months, scaling from just 10 to thousands of orders per day!”