AI-Ready Infrastructure – Keystone of Digital Economies in Asia-Pacific

Jun 08, 2024
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Chris Street
Group Chief Revenue Officer
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Digital infrastructure can serve as a catalyst for job creation and talent development in the digital economy, by facilitating the upskilling of the workforce needed to meet the demands of emerging sectors like AI. PHOTO: PIXABAY


In the annals of economic history, transformative advancements in infrastructure have often ushered in new eras of prosperity and progress. Just as railways played a pivotal role in global economic transformation during the Industrial Revolution, the growth of modern digital economies of today are built on advancements in both current and future technology. For instance, the advent of fibre connectivity and data centres laid the groundwork for a digital revolution, providing the fundamental infrastructure for internet connectivity and cloud services, which are enabling businesses to flourish in the digital age. 


At the same time, the exponential growth of next-generation workloads such as artificial intelligence (AI) has resulted in accelerated demand for chips, servers, and networks. This has led to a surge in investments for these building blocks of digital infrastructure, which is becoming indispensable as the backbone of economic growth and thriving digital economies. Cushman & Wakefield notes that Asia Pacific markets continue to witness rapid growth in terms of both operational and development capacities for data centres, with operational capacity across the region surpassing the 10GW mark; around 800MW of new supply was added in the second half of 2023, thus bringing the total regional live capacity up to 10.6G1.


The demand for digital infrastructure is already pushing the limits of supply. Economies in the region are realising that embracing digital transformation and the burgeoning digital economy is imperative to avoid being left behind.  However, capitalising on these opportunities requires careful consideration.


Economic Impact of Digital Infrastructure


The digital revolution presents a historic opportunity for the growth of Asia Pacific economies. But to truly capitalise on this, the groundwork for robust, future-proof digital infrastructure needs to be built. Strong digital infrastructure foundations act as a magnet for investment, attracting both local and global investments. This influx of capital in turn fuels innovation and collaboration, fostering a vibrant business ecosystem. It facilitates access to essential services, fosters e-commerce opportunities and levels the playing field for participation in the global economy.


Supporting the notion that digital infrastructure can be an engine for economic growth, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) notes that countries can speed up economic growth by up to 33%, or the equivalent of two to three years of growth, by implementing digital public infrastructure (DPI) in the financial sector2, to improve financial inclusion across communities, and even in strengthening household economic resilience.


Digital infrastructure can also serve as a catalyst for job creation and talent development in the digital economy by facilitating the upskilling of the workforce needed to meet the demands of emerging sectors like AI. Singapore is already taking initial steps in this direction, allocating up to S$27 million from the recent Singapore Budget 2024 to triple the number of local AI practitioners over the next five years3, with the goal of equipping these practitioners with the to implement and deploy AI systems, models, and algorithms in organisations.


At the same time, we should also recognise the role of public-private partnerships in nurturing talent and cultivating a skilled workforce proficient in digital technologies, further solidifying the competitive advantage that AI-ready digital infrastructure brings. A notable example of such collaboration is the World Economic Forum’s Reskilling Revolution platform4 , which involves a growing network of 34 committed ministers across 17 countries and a multi-stakeholder community of 370 organisations. This initiative aims to equip the global workforce with essential digital skills including AI, big data, and programming, ensuring the future-proofing of their careers. Closer to home, Oracle recently announced they would be offering free training in artificial intelligence for up to 10,000 students and professionals in Singapore5.


What then should organisations and governments look out for when evaluating AI-ready digital infrastructure in Asia Pacific? Here are a couple of key considerations:


  • The state of AI readiness across markets: The state of AI readiness across markets requires careful consideration of the current landscape and the starting point for organisations and economies. Cisco’s AI Readiness Index underscores a significant gap between the accelerating pace of AI development and organisational preparedness for adoption6, with 41% of those surveyed lacking defined metrics for measuring AI impact and only 45% having a long-term funding plan for their AI strategy. Clear strategies are essential for AI implementation across organisations, addressing not only technology and infrastructure, but also ensuring that people are equipped to use the technology effectively.



    AI is increasingly prominent on national agendas across the Asia Pacific region. However, countries like Australia and Indonesia have been cautious, stopping short of enacting comprehensive AI laws, and instead issuing AI guidelines and national AI strategies to further encourage innovation and adoption, as well as looking into public-private partnerships to foster local ecosystems. More proactive engagement between governments and companies with strong AI competencies is crucial to enhance understanding and confidence in AI technology.


  • Sustainability and energy usage: Data centres today are drawing more power than ever; with data centre campuses in Asia Pacific offering 100 megawatt capacities becoming increasingly common. As such, it is unsurprising that data centres are facing face growing scrutiny for their substantial energy consumption. In comparison, data centre facilities from a mere decade ago generally offered just 10 megawatts for capacity.



    Despite advancements like NVIDIA's latest Blackwell GPU architecture, which promises improved AI performance and more efficient chip design, data centres still grapple with questions about their ability to meet the escalating demand for computing power while maintaining sustainable operations.



    Environmental considerations in the Asia Pacific region require special attention. In tropical countries like Singapore, where high temperatures and humidity prevail, cooling servers efficiently while conserving energy presents additional challenges. Consequently, operators are exploring alternative technologies such as liquid cooling to manage the significant heat dissipated by GPU-powered AI workloads while minimising the environmental impact. Initiatives like the Sustainable Tropical Data Centre Testbed (STDCT)7 in Singapore exemplify collaborative efforts between academia and industry to fast-track the adoption of innovative and sustainable data centre cooling solutions tailored for tropical climates.



    As we progress towards the electrification of sectors such as industries and transportation, insights gained from how data centres address escalating energy demands and sustainability concerns become increasingly relevant. For example, South Korea’s Eco Delta Smart Village in Busan8 collects energy data from citizens’ daily routines to inform future city planning for improved energy efficiency. Similarly, Singapore is set to launch its inaugural smart district, the Punggol Digital District, in 2024, leveraging AI for real-time monitoring and reduction of unnecessary energy usage. 


  • The cost of building new AI-ready infrastructure: Macroeconomic headwinds are making it a challenge to bridge the funding gap that exists in many parts of Asia. Building new data centre capacity to keep up with demand has become increasingly difficult amid rising interest rates, supply chain constraints, rising construction material costs, the complexities of securing land, power, and water supplies. At the same time, upgrading existing data centre facilities to support the demands of AI workloads is going to be just as costly.



    Green financing presents a viable solution to bridge these funding gaps and promote sustainable infrastructure development. This approach not only addresses financial challenges but also bolsters investor confidence by ensuring that funds are allocated to high-quality projects. This is particularly crucial given the ongoing concerns around greenwashing. STT GDC’s recent issuance of S$500 million in perpetual securities is a good example of that, as it is linked to sustainability commitments as set out in our 2022 Sustainability-Linked Financing Framework.


Economic Potential


Digital infrastructure stands as the linchpin of economic growth, particularly in the era of the AI boom. By seizing the opportunities presented by the growing adoption of AI, countries can innovate and compete on a global scale, charting a path towards sustainable growth and prosperity. The economic potential that AI brings is clear, but it nonetheless requires a solid foundation laid by investments in purpose-built digital infrastructure alongside ongoing collaboration between industry players, policymakers, and stakeholders. By harnessing AI-ready digital infrastructure, we can collaboratively shape a brighter future for all.


[1] APAC Data Centre Update | Insights | Singapore | Cushman & Wakefield (

[2] The human and economic impact of digital public infrastructure | United Nations Development Programme (

[3] Singapore to spend up to S$500 million on AI compute, S$27 million on AI training for students, Companies & Markets - THE BUSINESS TIMES

[4] Reskilling Revolution: Preparing 1 billion people for tomorrow’s economy | World Economic Forum (

[5] Oracle offers up to 10,000 training slots in S’pore to tap AI boom, to open new data centre in July | The Straits Times

[6] Cisco AI Readiness Index - Cisco

[7] World’s first tropical climate data centre testbed, led by NUS and NTU, will boost Singapore’s competitiveness in sustainable data centres

[8] How governments are using AI to address the climate crisis (


The writer is group chief revenue officer, ST Telemedia Global Data Centres; and vice-chair, data centre chapter, SGTech.


This article was first published in The Business Times on 8 June 2024.