Today, innovation labs come in all shapes and sizes, whether it be:
concept development labs: fostering collaboration and co-creation between “intrapreneurs”, customers and startups, “ecosystems”, or
venture labs: where those with vision and capital put their money where their mouths are, like “skunkworks”, “showcases”, “makerspaces”, and “LINOs” (labs in name only).
They vary in their method of funding, time span horizon, level of formality and freedom versus employer ties. Some address market gaps or seek to solve tangible problems, creating new revenue streams or bolstering existing ones with improved productivity or speed, while others test prototypes, incubate outlandish startups or provide an environment in which customers can become better acquainted with cutting-edge technologies.
Whatever form innovation labs take on – excluding the PR stunt or “innovation theatre” varieties – they can be instrumental in taking products and services to the next level, getting ahead of trends and securing a foothold in the future landscape of the ever-evolving economy.
Looking to the globe, Singapore, in particular, has been abuzz with new developments in this field over the past three years or so. High-profile firms have chosen this island city-state to be home to their technology centers (think Microsoft), digital villages (KPMG) and studios (IBM). This selection seems anything other than coincidental, with many companies venturing out and establishing their first innovation labs in the Asia Pacific region precisely in Singapore. Visa, Citi and UBS all fall into this category. Thomson Reuters selected Singapore as the location of its first lab abroad: Refinitiv Labs.
Why the frenzy?
Has Singapore become the world’s next innovation hotspot? If its index scores are anything to go by, the ground is fertile.
The World Intellectual Property Organization’s Global Innovation Index 2019 saw Singapore take the lead in innovation in South-East Asia, East Asia and Oceania, reaffirming its long-held position among the GII top 10, while they ranked Singapore sixth most innovative economy in the world.
The government is taking the topic seriously, with ongoing initiatives to foster universities’ R&D endeavors and strengthen the economy’s innovation capacity. The SGD 19 billion in government funds earmarked for science and tech until 2020 are also providing uplift.
Fit for the future thanks to innovation, whatever the industry
Singapore’s diverse innovation lab landscape deals with both the classic digitalization era hot topics, such as big data, analytics, robotics and artificial intelligence, and other fields aiming to improve the customer experience and optimize service provision and products, from logistics and mobility to healthtech and insurtech.
Fintech has experienced a significant boost in recent years. Take the Mastercard Innovation Showcase, for instance. The companies’ latest digital innovations include an app which uses selfies to provide biometric authentication to verify credit card information, “Pepper”, a humanoid robot that takes food orders via voice command, and “Qkr! with Masterpass”, a mobile order-ahead platform for retailers and on-the-go customers.
Developments are propelled forward thanks to collaboration with government agencies, industry associations and SMEs. As PayPal is finding, partnerships with Singapore’s top universities – the National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University and the Singapore Management University – help to unlock opportunities in cybernetic authentication, AI-powered know-your-customer (KYC) processes and forefront cryptography technology. These are the fields of activity pursued by the PayPal Innovation Lab, harboring the potential to future-proof the online payment company’s risk and security management systems.
The travel sector is also tapping into technological developments to better understand online consumer behavior and the use of search and booking apps. The Expedia Innovation Lab unveiled in Singapore in 2017 uses proprietary scientific methods involving eye-tracking and electromyography (EMG) to do just that. The respective discoveries are to be fed back into website development to make the online and mobile experience more user-friendly and instill greater confidence in consumers. Expedia Inc. is investing aggressively in the region with a firm commitment to the local ecosystem, innovation and knowledge sharing.
Bringing hospitality excellence to the innovation hotspot
All in all, a studious yet inspirational atmosphere is brewing. The high-gloss sheen of sophisticated newness is juxtaposed with the laid-back air of throw cushions and bean bags. Spaces where creativity is free to roam and new ideas are afforded room to breathe and sustained with drive, expertise and financing.