SINGAPORE – American tech giant Dell Technologies officially launched a new US$50 million (S$66 million) research and development centre (R&D) here on Monday (Feb 22) that will, for the first time outside the United States, have a team dedicated to improving user experiences.
This includes developing a wellness tracker application built into a laptop that captures a person’s seating posture and delivers prompts and alerts to encourage the user to move or make adjustments to address challenges from working from home, such as neck and lower back pain.
The centre – dubbed a Global Innovation Hub and one of several in the world – will focus on making advances in digital transformation and experiences.
Dell’s investment in the hub, located in International Business Park in Jurong East and Changi Business Park, will also create more than 160 jobs – mostly for Singaporeans – in emerging tech, including for designers, developers and strategists.
More than 75 per cent of the positions have already been filled in the last one year and the PC maker expects to hire the remaining employees for the hub by the end of the year.
This complements Dell’s announcement on Feb 10 that it had launched initiatives to help train 3,000 students, fresh graduates and mid-career professionals here in practical digital skills in cloud computing, data protection and management, data science and data analytics over the next two years.
The innovation hub’s R&D areas include augmented reality (AR) to enhance customer experiences; cyber security to monitor threats and prevent security incidents; and digital analytics.
Other areas it will look into include edge computing, or computing at or near where the data is located, which will take advantage of the roll-out of 5G mobile networks. Another area is cloud-native architecture, or software and systems designed specifically to be deployed over a network, which can be used to support building smart nations and to help modernise a workforce.
Mr Amit Midha, Dell Technologies’ president for the Asia-Pacific and Japan, and Global Digital Cities, said that the company’s innovations in edge computing “will be driven from Singapore”.
He noted that in the next decade, edge computing is going to dwarf cloud computing, or the delivery of computer services and applications over networks.
“Next-generation innovation will be driven and built from Singapore for the world,” he said.
Edge computing will become important in the future, especially for smart cities, as it can, among other things, be cheaper to process and analyse reams of data where it is being collected and then send the results or selected data over a network.
This contrasts with sending a massive amount of collected data over the network to be analysed elsewhere, which can also be difficult if there is poor or limited network connection.
While Dell has other innovation hubs globally, the Singapore one is the first outside the US to have an Experience Innovation Group that does R&D to improve user experiences, including conceptualising and developing futuristic concept products and solutions.
The Singapore team works closely with the US team on this, including on the wellness tracker application and an AR assistant that people can call up by scanning a QR code located on all Dell servers, to guide them step by step on fixing and maintaining their enterprise hardware.
The US team was also behind products such as Dell’s Concept Ori foldable dual-screen laptop prototype showcased at last year’s Consumer Electronics Show. The device can act like a 13-inch tablet and then fold down the middle to be used like a laptop with a virtual keyboard on the bottom half.
Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing, who launched the Singapore hub on Monday at International Business Park, said the opening is timely as it complements Singapore’s efforts to emerge stronger from the Covid-19 pandemic in two main ways.
These are leveraging digital capabilities to enhance the country’s supply chain resilience and innovating to support industry and workplace transformation.
Mr Chan noted that as the pandemic disrupted supply chains globally, Singapore rolled out programmes such as the Research, Innovation and Enterprise plan to deepen companies’ R&D capabilities in supply chains.
In line with this plan, Dell successfully used tech to help keep Singapore supply chains resilient. The company’s artificial intelligence (AI) and analytics team modelled historical demand data from past pandemic events and ramped up consumer hardware supply.
This helped Dell to move stock quickly to fulfil orders for consumers.
The pandemic also accelerated many companies’ plans to transform digitally to reach a larger customer base, as well as have measures to work remotely, such as working from home.
For Dell, the Global Innovation Hub here will support the servicing of users remotely such as on IT issues; allow workers to collaborate across devices and workplaces; and support the well-being of users by monitoring their posture and mental wellness during work.
This is on top of the digital transformation work the hub will look into.
“The Government will continue to support and invest in such capabilities, to ensure that Singapore is able to distinguish itself on the global stage even amid the pandemic,” said Mr Chan.
While Dell did not disclose if it received co-funding from the Government, it said the Singapore Global Innovation Hub is supported by Digital Industry Singapore, a joint office of the Economic Development Board, Enterprise Singapore and Infocomm Media Development Authority that engages with the tech sector.
The US$50 million investment that went into the hub was done over three years since 2019, of which US$23 million will be invested this year.
The hub also houses existing R&D facilities for the development of digital products and solutions, such as the Singapore Design Centre that designs Dells products like its monitors, keyboards and mice; a hardware prototyping lab dedicated to product design and innovation; and an AI Experience Zone.
On why Dell chose Singapore for its Global Innovation Hub, Mr Midha noted that Dell has been committed to the Republic over the years – the company has been here for more than two decades since 1996 and the country is the company’s Asia-Pacific headquarters, with close to 2,000 staff here.
He believes Singapore is becoming a global hub, such as for finance and tech, adding that the country has great rule of law, as well as university and banking infrastructure.
“There is a significant opportunity in… using Singapore to create global innovation,” said Mr Midha of the new innovation hub here.