Smart Solutions for Real Problems: Exploring Innovations in Southeast Asia’s Cities

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With over 70% of the world’s population predicted to live in cities by 2050, smart cities that use data, technology, and AI to streamline services are key to ensuring a healthy and safe environment for all who live, work, or visit them.

Fueled by rapid urbanisation, Southeast Asia is experiencing a smart city boom with an estimated 100 million people expected to move from rural areas to cities by 2030.

Despite their diverse populations and varying economic stages, ASEAN member countries are increasingly on the same page: they are all united by the belief that smart cities offer a solution to the complex urban and socio-economic challenges they face.

Read on to discover how Southeast Asian countries are using new tools to manage growth and deliver a better quality of life to hundreds of millions of people.

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ASCN: A Network for Smarter Cities

The ASEAN Smart Cities Network (ASCN) is a collaborative platform where cities in the region exchange insights on adopting smart technology, finding solutions, and involving industry and global partners. They work towards the shared objective of fostering sustainable urban development and enhancing livability in their cities.

As of 2024, the ASCN includes 30 members, with new additions from Thailand and Indonesia.

“The ASEAN Smart Cities Network provides the sort of open platform needed to drive the smart city agenda. Different cities are at different levels of developments and “smartness” and ASEAN’s diversity is well suited for such a network that allows for cities to learn from one another.”

Taimur Khilji
UNITED NATIONS DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMME (UNDP)

Singapore’s Tech-Driven Future

The Smart Nation Initiative harnesses technology and data to improve citizens’ lives, boost economic competitiveness, and tackle urban challenges.

Smart mobility solutions, including sensor networks, real-time traffic management, and integrated public transportation with smart cards and mobile apps, have reduced congestion and travel times.

Ranked 5th globally and Asia’s smartest city, Singapore is developing a national digital twin to for better urban management. The 3D maps and subsurface model, created by the Singapore Land Authority, will help in managing infrastructure and assets.

The Smart City Initiative promotes sustainability with innovative systems like automated pneumatic waste collection and investments in water management and energy-efficient solutions.

Malaysia’s Holistic Smart City Approach

With aspirations to become a Smart Nation by 2040 (outlined in their Fourth National Physical Plan – NPP4), Malaysia is making strides.

Five pilot cities, including Kuala Lumpur and Johor Bahru, are testing the waters by integrating advanced technologies to modernise infrastructure.

Pilots embrace sustainability, with projects like Gamuda Cove showcasing smart technologies for intelligent traffic management and centralised security within eco-friendly developments.

Malaysia’s Smart Cities go beyond infrastructure, adopting international standards like the WELL Building Standard to enhance resident health, well-being, and productivity. The Ministry of Housing and Local Government, collaborating with PLANMalaysia and the Department of Standards Malaysia, has established clear indicators for Smart City development.

Indonesia’s Green Smart City Ambitions

Eyeing carbon neutrality by 2060, Indonesia is pushing its Smart City initiatives.

Their National Long-Term Development Plan prioritises economic growth and improved quality of life through digital infrastructure and innovative public services.

The goal is 100 smart cities that integrate green technology and sustainable infrastructure, reflecting their climate commitment.

Leaving behind congested Jakarta, Indonesia is building Nusantara, the world’s first “smart forest city“. Spanning 250,000 hectares, Nusantara will boast high-capacity infrastructure, high-speed internet, and cutting-edge technology to support the archipelago’s activities.

Thailand’s Smart City Boom

Thailand’s national agenda goes big on smart cities.

They aim for 105 smart cities by 2027, with a focus on transportation, environment, and safety.

Key projects include:

  • USD 37 billion smart city in Huai Yai with business centres and housing for 350,000.
  • A 5G-powered smart city in Ban Chang for enhanced environmental and traffic management.
  • USD $40 billion investment to create a smart regional financial centre across Chonburi, Rayong, and Chachoengsao.

Philippines Fights Urban Challenges with Smart Solutions

By 2050, population in cities is expected to soar to nearly 102 million – twice the current figure.

A glimmer of optimism emerges with the rise of smart city solutions championed by local governments (LGUs).

Rapid urbanisation burdens the Philippines with escalating waste. By 2025, daily waste production could reach a staggering 28,000 tonnes. Smart waste management solutions are being implemented to optimise collection and reduce fuel consumption.

Smart city developer Iveda is injecting innovation. Their ambitious USD 5 million project brings AI-powered technology to cities like Cebu, Bacolod, Iloilo, and Davao. The focus: leverage technology to modernise airports, roads, and sidewalks, paving the way for a more sustainable and efficient urban future.

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Upskilling for the Future: Building AI Capabilities in Southeast Asia

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Southeast Asia’s massive workforce – 3rd largest globally – faces a critical upskilling gap, especially with the rise of AI. While AI adoption promises a USD 1 trillion GDP boost by 2030, unlocking this potential requires a future-proof workforce equipped with AI expertise.

Governments and technology providers are joining forces to build strong AI ecosystems, accelerating R&D and nurturing homegrown talent. It’s a tight race, but with focused investments, Southeast Asia can bridge the digital gap and turn its AI aspirations into reality.

Read on to find out how countries like Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, and The Philippines are implementing comprehensive strategies to build AI literacy and expertise among their populations.

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Big Tech Invests in AI Workforce

Southeast Asia’s tech scene heats up as Big Tech giants scramble for dominance in emerging tech adoption.

Microsoft is partnering with governments, nonprofits, and corporations across Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam to equip 2.5M people with AI skills by 2025. Additionally, the organisation will also train 100,000 Filipino women in AI and cybersecurity.

Singapore sets ambitious goal to triple its AI workforce by 2028. To achieve this, AWS will train 5,000 individuals annually in AI skills over the next three years.

NVIDIA has partnered with FPT Software to build an AI factory, while also championing AI education through Vietnamese schools and universities. In Malaysia, they have launched an AI sandbox to nurture 100 AI companies targeting USD 209M by 2030.

Singapore Aims to be a Global AI Hub

Singapore is doubling down on upskilling, global leadership, and building an AI-ready nation.

Singapore has launched its second National AI Strategy (NAIS 2.0)  to solidify its global AI leadership. The aim is to triple the AI talent pool to 15,000, establish AI Centres of Excellence, and accelerate public sector AI adoption. The strategy focuses on developing AI “peaks of excellence” and empowering people and businesses to use AI confidently.

In keeping with this vision, the country’s 2024 budget is set to train workers who are over 40 on in-demand skills to prepare the workforce for AI. The country will also invest USD 27M to build AI expertise, by offering 100 AI scholarships for students and attracting experts from all over the globe to collaborate with the country.

Thailand Aims for AI Independence

Thailand’s ‘Ignite Thailand’ 2030 vision focuses on  boosting innovation, R&D, and the tech workforce.

Thailand is launching the second phase of its National AI Strategy, with a USD 42M budget to develop an AI workforce and create a Thai Large Language Model (ThaiLLM). The plan aims to train 30,000 workers in sectors like tourism and finance, reducing reliance on foreign AI.

The Thai government is partnering with Microsoft to build a new data centre in Thailand, offering AI training for over 100,000 individuals and supporting the growing developer community.

Building a Digital Vietnam

Vietnam focuses on AI education, policy, and empowering women in tech.

Vietnam’s National Digital Transformation Programme aims to create a digital society by 2030, focusing on integrating AI into education and workforce training. It supports AI research through universities and looks to address challenges like addressing skill gaps, building digital infrastructure, and establishing comprehensive policies.

The Vietnamese government and UNDP launched Empower Her Tech, a digital skills initiative for female entrepreneurs, offering 10 online sessions on GenAI and no-code website creation tools.

The Philippines Gears Up for AI

The country focuses on investment, public-private partnerships, and building a tech-ready workforce.

With its strong STEM education and programming skills, the Philippines is well-positioned for an AI-driven market, allocating USD 30M for AI research and development.

The Philippine government is partnering with entities like IBPAP, Google, AWS, and Microsoft to train thousands in AI skills by 2025, offering both training and hands-on experience with cutting-edge technologies.

The strategy also funds AI research projects and partners with universities to expand AI education. Companies like KMC Teams will help establish and manage offshore AI teams, providing infrastructure and support.

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The Next Frontier: Southeast Asia’s Data Centre Evolution

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ASEAN, poised to become the world’s 4th largest economy by 2030, is experiencing a digital boom. With an estimated 125,000 new internet users joining daily, it is the fastest-growing digital market globally. These users are not just browsing, but are actively engaged in data-intensive activities like gaming, eCommerce, and mobile business. As a result, monthly data usage is projected to soar from 9.2 GB per user in 2020 to 28.9 GB per user by 2025, according to the World Economic Forum. Businesses and governments are further fuelling this transformation by embracing Cloud, AI, and digitisation.

Investments in data centre capacity across Southeast Asia are estimated to grow at a staggering pace to meet this growing demand for data. While large hyperscale facilities are currently handling much of the data needs, edge computing – a distributed model placing data centres closer to users – is fast becoming crucial in supporting tomorrow’s low-latency applications and services.

The Big & the Small: The Evolving Data Centre Landscape

As technology pushes boundaries with applications like augmented reality, telesurgery, and autonomous vehicles, the demand for ultra-low latency response times is skyrocketing. Consider driverless cars, which generate a staggering 5 TB of data per hour and rely heavily on real-time processing for split-second decisions. This is where edge data centres come in. Unlike hyperscale data centres, edge data centres are strategically positioned closer to users and devices, minimising data travel distances and enabling near-instantaneous responses; and are typically smaller with a capacity ranging from 500 KW to 2 MW. In comparison, large data centres have a capacity of more than 80MW.

While edge data centres are gaining traction, cloud-based hyperscalers such as AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud remain a dominant force in the Southeast Asian data centre landscape. These facilities require substantial capital investment – for instance, it took almost USD 1 billion to build Meta’s 150 MW hyperscale facility in Singapore – but offer immense processing power and scalability. While hyperscalers have the resources to build their own data centres in edge locations or emerging markets, they often opt for colocation facilities to familiarise themselves with local markets, build out operations, and take a “wait and see” approach before committing significant investments in the new market.

The growth of data centres in Southeast Asia – whether edge, cloud, hyperscale, or colocation – can be attributed to a range of factors. The region’s rapidly expanding digital economy and increasing internet penetration are the prime reasons behind the demand for data storage and processing capabilities. Additionally, stringent data sovereignty regulations in many Southeast Asian countries require the presence of local data centres to ensure compliance with data protection laws. Indonesia’s Personal Data Protection Law, for instance, allows personal data to be transferred outside of the country only where certain stringent security measures are fulfilled. Finally, the rising adoption of cloud services is also fuelling the need for onshore data centres to support cloud infrastructure and services.

Notable Regional Data Centre Hubs

Singapore. Singapore imposed a moratorium on new data centre developments between 2019 to 2022 due to concerns over energy consumption and sustainability. However, the city-state has recently relaxed this ban and announced a pilot scheme allowing companies to bid for permission to develop new facilities.

In 2023, the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) and the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) provisionally awarded around 80 MW of new capacity to four data centre operators: Equinix, GDS, Microsoft, and a consortium of AirTrunk and ByteDance (TikTok’s parent company). Singapore boasts a formidable digital infrastructure with 100 data centres, 1,195 cloud service providers, and 22 network fabrics. Its robust network, supported by 24 submarine cables, has made it a global cloud connectivity leader, hosting major players like AWS, Azure, IBM Softlayer, and Google Cloud.

Aware of the high energy consumption of data centres, Singapore has taken a proactive stance towards green data centre practices.  A collaborative effort between the IMDA, government agencies, and industries led to the development of a “Green Data Centre Standard“. This framework guides organisations in improving data centre energy efficiency, leveraging the established ISO 50001 standard with customisations for Singapore’s context. The standard defines key performance metrics for tracking progress and includes best practices for design and operation. By prioritising green data centres, Singapore strives to reconcile its digital ambitions with environmental responsibility, solidifying its position as a leading Asian data centre hub.

Malaysia. Initiatives like MyGovCloud and the Digital Economy Blueprint are driving Malaysia’s public sector towards cloud-based solutions, aiming for 80% use of cloud storage. Tenaga Nasional Berhad also established a “green lane” for data centres, solidifying Malaysia’s commitment to environmentally responsible solutions and streamlined operations. Some of the big companies already operating include NTT Data Centers, Bridge Data Centers and Equinix.

The district of Kulai in Johor has emerged as a hotspot for data centre activity, attracting major players like Nvidia and AirTrunk. Conditional approvals have been granted to industry giants like AWS, Microsoft, Google, and Telekom Malaysia to build hyperscale data centres, aimed at making the country a leading hub for cloud services in the region. AWS also announced a new AWS Region in the country that will meet the high demand for cloud services in Malaysia.

Indonesia. With over 200 million internet users, Indonesia boasts one of the world’s largest online populations. This expanding internet economy is leading to a spike in the demand for data centre services. The Indonesian government has also implemented policies, including tax incentives and a national data centre roadmap, to stimulate growth in this sector.

Microsoft, for instance, is set to open its first regional data centre in Thailand and has also announced plans to invest USD 1.7 billion in cloud and AI infrastructure in Indonesia. The government also plans to operate 40 MW of national data centres across West Java, Batam, East Kalimantan, and East Nusa Tenggara by 2026.

Thailand. Remote work and increasing online services have led to a data centre boom, with major industry players racing to meet Thailand’s soaring data demands.

In 2021, Singapore’s ST Telemedia Global Data Centres launched its first 20 MW hyperscale facility in Bangkok. Soon after, AWS announced a USD 5 billion investment plan to bolster its cloud capacity in Thailand and the region over the next 15 years. Heavyweights like TCC Technology Group, CAT Telecom, and True Internet Data Centre are also fortifying their data centre footprints to capitalise on this explosive growth. Microsoft is also set to open its first regional data centre in the country.

Conclusion

Southeast Asia’s booming data centre market presents a goldmine of opportunity for tech investment and innovation. However, navigating this lucrative landscape requires careful consideration of legal hurdles. Data protection regulations, cross-border data transfer restrictions, and local policies all pose challenges for investors. Beyond legal complexities, infrastructure development needs and investment considerations must also be addressed. Despite these challenges, the potential rewards for companies that can navigate them are substantial.

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5 Insights to Help Organisations Build Scalable AI – An ASEAN View

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Data & AI initiatives are firmly at the core of any organisation’s tech-led transformation efforts. Businesses today realise the value of real-time data insights to deliver the agility that is required to succeed in today’s competitive, and often volatile, market.

But organisations continue to struggle with their data & AI initiatives for a variety of reasons. Organisations in ASEAN report some common challenges in implementing successful data & AI initiatives.

Here are 5 insights to build scalable AI.

  1. Data Access a Key Stumbling Block. Many organisations find that they no longer need to rely on centralised data repositories.
  2. Organisations Need Data Creativity. A true data-first organisation derives value from their data & AI investments across the entire organisation, cross-leveraging data.
  3. Governance Not Built into Organisational Psyche. A data-first organisation needs all employees to have a data-driven mindset. This can only be driven by clear guidelines that are laid out early on and adhered to by data generators, managers, and consumers.
  4. Lack of End-to-End Data Lifecycle Management. It is critical to have observability, intelligence, and automation built into the entire data lifecycle.
  5. Democratisation of Data & AI Should Be the Goal. The true value of data & AI solutions will be fully realised when the people who benefit from the solutions are the ones managing the solutions and running the queries that will help them deliver better value to the business.

Read below to find out more.

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5 Insights on the State of the Sustainable Organisation – An ASEAN View

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Organisations are being driven to develop and demonstrate an ESG consciousness and a sustainability commitment in their actions and investments – by their customers, investors and by governments’ sustainability mandates. Early adopter organisations often realise several benefits – from achieving better financial outcomes to creating competitive differentiation. However, more organisations need to get serious about their sustainability journeys – and as regulations firm up, organisations will be forced to report on their sustainability initiatives.  

The Ecosystm Kyndryl ASEAN Digital Transformation Study 2022 was launched earlier this year to understand the pulse of C-level leaders and the business and technology transformation goals of organisations in the ASEAN region. This included a closer look on where organisations stand when it comes to setting sustainability goals and strategies, and their key challenges.
 
Here are 5 insights on the state of the Sustainable Organisation in ASEAN.

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5 Key Insights to Shape Your Cloud Strategy – An ASEAN View

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Digital transformation has been a key company objective over the last two years – and more than a third of enterprises in ASEAN have it as their key business priority in 2022-23. They are aiming to be agile and digital organisations – with access to real-time data insights at their core. 

Businesses have learned that their technology systems need to be scalable, accessible, easy to manage, fast to deploy and cost effective. Cloud infrastructure, platforms and software has become key enablers of business agility and innovation.

But the expansion of cloud applications has also seen an infrastructure and applications sprawl – which makes it essential for organisation to re-evaluate their cloud strategy. 

Here are 5 insights that will help you shape your Cloud Strategy.

  • Technology Change Management. Your cloud strategy must define the infrastructure and data architecture, security and resiliency measures, the technology environment management model, and IT operations.   
  • Building Scalable Enterprises. Focus on seamless access to all organisational data, irrespective of where they are generated (enterprise systems, IoT devices or AI solutions) and where they are stored (public cloud, on-premises, Edge, or co-location facilities).
  • A Hybrid Multicloud Environment. For a successful hybrid multi cloud environment, keep a firm eye on hybrid cloud management, a suitable FinOps framework that balances performance and cost, and integration.
  • A Technology-Neutral Approach. Partnering with a technology-neutral cloud services provider that leverages the entire tech ecosystem, will be critical.
  • “Hybrid Cloud” Can Mean Many Things. Work with a cloud services partner, that has broad and deep capabilities across multiple hyperscalers and is able to address the unique requirements of your organisation.

Read on for more insights

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5 Key Insights to Shape Your Digital Workplace Strategy – An ASEAN View

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For the last two years organisations have been forced to invest on digital services for their customers and giving their employees access to the right technologies to allow them to work from home – or from anywhere they choose to. Organisations find that they have to continue to evolve – and are now looking to build a ‘Digital Workplace’ that caters to the hybrid workplace.

As organisations in ASEAN define the work model that works for their business operations, work culture and organisational goals, there are a few areas that they must focus on.

Here are 5 insights from the Ecosystm Voice of the Employee Study that will help you shape your Digital Workplace.

  • Evolve the physical workplace. 72% of knowledge workers in ASEAN will work both remotely and from the office.
  • Build a true hybrid work culture. As organisations form their Digital Workplace strategy, they will have to ensure that the workplace is as comfortable as home offices!
  • Focus on employee wellbeing. Only 25% of organisations in ASEAN have made changes to their HR policies in the last two years.
  • Invest in the right technologies. To build that resilient hybrid workplace, organisations will first have to conduct a gap analysis and consolidation of their tech investments over the last two years.
  • Continue to monitor employee behaviour patterns. As organisations work towards a ‘Return to Work’ policy, they will see significant changes in employee usage behaviour patterns. If the right cyber practices are not in place, this could leave organisations vulnerable again.

Read on for more insights

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Ecosystm VendorSphere: Accelerating the Digital Futures at the Core of Oracle’s New Cloud Region

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Earlier this month, I had the privilege of attending Oracle’s Executive Leadership Forum, to mark the launch of the Oracle Cloud Singapore Region. Oracle now has 34 cloud regions worldwide across 17 countries and intends to expand their footprint further to 44 regions by the end of 2022. They are clearly aiming for rapid expansion across the globe, leveraging their customers’ need to migrate to the cloud. The new Singapore region aims to support the growing demand for enterprise cloud services in Southeast Asia, as organisations continue to focus on business and digital transformation for recovery and future success.  

Here are my key takeaways from the session:

#1 Enabling the Digital Futures

The theme for the session revolved around Digital Futures. Ecosystm research shows that 77% of enterprises in Southeast Asia are looking at technology to pivot, shift, change and adapt for the Digital Futures. Organisations are re-evaluating and accelerating the use of digital technology for back-end and customer workloads, as well as product development and innovation. Real-time data access lies at the backbone of these technologies. This means that Digital & IT Teams must build the right and scalable infrastructure to empower a digital, data-driven organisation. However, being truly data-driven requires seamless data access, irrespective of where they are generated or stored, to unlock the full value of the data and deliver the insights needed. Oracle Cloud is focused on empowering this data-led economy through data sovereignty, lower latency, and resiliency.

The Oracle Cloud Singapore Region brings to Southeast Asia an integrated suite of applications and the Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI) platform that aims to help run native applications, migrate, and modernise them onto cloud. There has been a growing interest in hybrid cloud in the region, especially in large enterprises. Oracle’s offering will give companies the flexibility to run their workloads on their cloud and/or on premises. With the disruption that the pandemic has caused, it is likely that Oracle customers will increasingly use the local region for backup and recovery of their on-premises workloads.

#2 Partnering for Success

Oracle has a strong partner ecosystem of collaboration platforms, consulting and advisory firms and co-location providers, that will help them consolidate their global position. To begin with they rely on third-party co-location providers such as Equinix and Digital Realty for many of their data centres. While Oracle will clearly benefit from these partnerships, the benefit that they can bring to their partners is their ability to build a data fabric – the architecture and services. Organisations are looking to build a digital core and layer data and AI solutions on top of the core; Oracle’s ability to handle complex data structures will be important to their tech partners and their route to market.

#3 Customers Benefiting from Oracle’s Core Strengths

The session included some customer engagement stories, that highlight Oracle’s unique strengths in the enterprise market. One of Oracle’s key clients in the region, Beyonics – a precision manufacturing company for the Healthcare, Automotive and Technology sectors – spoke about how Oracle supported them in their migration and expansion of ERP platform from 7 to 22 modules onto the cloud. Hakan Yaren, CIO, APL Logistics says, “We have been hosting our data lake initiative on OCI and the data lake has helped us consolidate all these complex data points into one source of truth where we can further analyse it”.

In both cases what was highlighted was that Oracle provided the platform with the right capacity and capabilities for their business growth. This demonstrates the strength of Oracle’s enterprise capabilities. They are perhaps the only tech vendor that can support enterprises equally for their database, workloads, and hardware requirements. As organisations look to transform and innovate, they will benefit from the strength of these enterprise-wide capabilities that can address multiple pain points of their digital journeys.

#4 Getting Front and Centre of the Start-up Ecosystem

One of the most exciting announcements for me was Oracle’s focus on the start-up ecosystem. They make a start with a commitment to offer 100 start-ups in Singapore USD 30,000 each, in Oracle Cloud credits over the next two years. This is good news for the country’s strong start-up community. It will be good to see Oracle build further on this support so that start-ups can also benefit from Oracles’ enterprise offerings. This will be a win-win for Oracle. The companies they support could be “soonicorns” – the unicorns of tomorrow; and Oracle will get the opportunity to grow their accounts as these companies grow. Given the momentum of the data economy, these start-ups can benefit tremendously from the core differentiators that OCI can bring to their data fabric design. While this is a good start, Oracle should continue to engage with the start-up community – not just in Singapore but across Southeast Asia.

#5 Commitment to Sustainability at the Core of the Digital Futures

Another area where Oracle is aligning themselves to the future is in their commitment to sustainability. Earlier this year they pledged to power their global operations with 100% renewable energy by 2025, with goals set for clean cloud, hardware recycling, waste reduction and responsible sourcing. As Jacqueline Poh, Managing Director, EDB Singapore pointed out, sustainability can no longer be an afterthought and must form part of the core growth strategy. Oracle has aligned themselves to the SG Green Plan that aims to achieve sustainability targets under the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

Cloud infrastructure is going to be pivotal in shaping the future of the Digital Economy; but the ability to keep sustainability at its core will become a key differentiator. To quote Sir David Attenborough from his speech at COP26, “In my lifetime, I’ve witnessed a terrible decline. In yours, you could and should witness a wonderful recovery”

Conclusion

Oracle operates in a hyper competitive world – AWS, Microsoft and Google have emerged as the major hyperscalers over the last few years. With their global expansion plans and targeted offerings to help enterprises achieve their transformation goals, Oracle is positioned well to claim a larger share of the cloud market. Their strength lies in the enterprise market, and their cloud offerings should see them firmly entrenched in that segment. I hope however, that they will keep an equal focus on their commitment to the start-up ecosystem. Most of today’s hyperscalers have been successful in building scale by deeply entrenching themselves in the core innovation ecosystem – building on the ‘possibilities’ of the future rather than just on the ‘financial returns’ today.

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