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Gov-linked Singaporean services outfit NCS wants to become regional giant

Just splashed $236M on Oz SI, can't quite say how it plans to tackle China

NCS, a Singaporean IT serivces outfit part owned by state-controlled carrier Singtel, has advanced its plans to create an Asia Pacific regional services giant, but remained silent on how it will realize its vision of entering the Chinese market.

The company articulated its regional vision in July 2021 when it announced a plan to focus on "growing digital services, scaling its government and telco business segments and capturing new growth opportunities in the enterprise sector." Singapore, Australia and Greater China were named as prime targets where the group would capitalize on the "growth spurt" underway in the global digital economies.

"There isn't a more opportune time for us to make the pivot from a traditional ICT service provider to a digital and technology services firm in Asia Pacific," CEO Ng Kuo Pin said at the time.

NCS explained that a discrete organisation focusing on digital, cloud and platform services called NCS NEXT would drive its evolution and complement its existing offerings in applications, infrastructure, engineering, and cyber security.

The company cited recent launches and acquisitions – a Shenzhen innovation center, a Singapore-based mobile app digital consultancy, Singtel's big data and mobility analytics unit Dataspark, and partnering with US AI company C3 AI – as proof it is all coming together.

NCS NEXT also acquired two companies in 2021: cloud consultancy Riley and cloud transformation specialist Eighty 20 Solutions.

At the time, NCS said it planned to hire 2,000 tech people to achieve its overall expansion goals.

Strategic business groups were set up for the government and telco segments while the company said the enterprise segment would focus on the deep-pocketed verticals all services organisations covet: healthcare, transportation, financial services, industrial, commercial, communications, media and technology.

In both mainland China and Hong Kong, the company said it would build digital capabilities in 5G, digital twins and blockchain.

Australia gained the company's attention as it is the region's third-largest IT services market and is home to solid tech talent that could be acquired.

Which is just what happened on Monday, when NCS announced it had acquired Australian IT services giant The Dialog Group for A$325 million ($236M) – its largest acquisition to date.

The Australian IT consulting, application development and managed application services company adds 1,200 consultants across seven major cities on the continent to NCS's existing 10,000 staff members.

NCS confirmed to The Register that its absorption of IT operations specialists from Dialog counted toward that 2,000 number mentioned earlier. That leaves 800 hires to go.

In its canned announcement of the acquistion, CEO Ng Kuo Pin called the acquisition "a significant step in the regionalisation of NCS."

In written answers provided to The Reg, NCS stated the acquisition of Dialog "has opened a significant market for us and given us a strong talent pool. Together with earlier acquisitions of Riley and Eighty20, we have a strong base to grow and scale in Australia."

Singtel already owns Australia's second largest telco, Optus, with which it partners with for its NEXT organization. Optus already operates enterprise tech services in Australia.

NCS did not answer questions regarding any overlap with Optus by the time of publication.

Nor has the company explained how global customers would perceive a difference between NCS and other services players in the region. Most global giants are already in Asia to chase the fast-growing region's many opportunities.

The Singaporean firm's China plans are also unclear. The company would not share substantive information on how it plans to work in the Middle Kingdom – an item of concern as China requires foreign companies to partner with local firms.

NCS has, however, touted its Shenzhen innovation facility as a link between China and Singapore and promised rotation programs for staff and shared lessons on smart city initiatives.

At the innovation centre's launch, Ng said it "forms the perfect gateway for us to serve Singaporean clients who are looking to enter and expand into the Chinese market, and for our Chinese clients to venture into south-east Asia and the Asia-Pacific" before the audience was shown flashy demos of 5G and IoT robot fleet management systems and self-driving mobile vending machines.

"Through the SCI, both sides are enhancing digital connectivity and building stronger linkages between our technology and business ecosystems," said Singapore minister of state for trade and industry Alvin Tan at the launch.

"As Shenzhen grows into a global innovation powerhouse, there will be greater opportunities for collaboration between Singapore and Shenzhen (such as this one)," the minister added. ®

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