Catering to the various appetites of technology adoption in Singapore’s food centres

26 Jul 2021 Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences Humanities, Social Sciences

SUTD - Nilanjan Raghunath

SUTD study shows that involving hawkers and food stall owners early in the technology implementation process is key to quicker technology adoption at their workplaces.

A hawker centre in Singapore which offers a variety of local food at affordable prices.

The pandemic has changed the way we work, with many of us turning to digital spaces to collaborate, create and connect with our co-workers.

However, hawkers and food stall owners in Singapore have still been struggling to keep up with technological advancements in their work settings, despite the latest push due to the pandemic to get on to digital platforms.

In a paper published in Science, Technology and Society, Assistant Professor Nilanjan Raghunath from the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) examined the hawker work culture and the reasons behind the resistance in adopting technological advancements which have been developed to streamline and automate repetitive, manual workflows.

“Hawker centres and coffee shops play a very important role in Singaporeans’ lives, with most of us readily acknowledging them as our extended kitchens. A big part of what makes a coffee shop experience so comforting is the social interaction,” explained Assistant Professor Raghunath whose research work is focussed on automation and the future of work at SUTD.

“There is so much social culture intertwined with our hawkers’ and food stall owners’ work culture. These food places depend heavily on complex human interactions, which can hinder technological implementations that were actually meant to simplify work processes,” she said.

In line with Singapore’s Smart Nation initiatives, the Government has been investing in increasing productivity while reducing costs for hawkers through initiatives such as cashless payment systems, centralised dishwashing facilities and tray return systems. While this has helped to accelerate the technology implementation in such informal work places, the slow adoption of these initiatives can also inadvertently lead to lowered productivity.

“We have to get used to technology and its rapid pace of advancement whether we like it or not. The key question then is how to get these people involved and on board in a sustainable manner?” added Assistant Professor Raghunath, highlighting that hawkers usually belonged to a generation who preferred limited interaction with technology.

One of the solutions that could mitigate these challenges is to include hawkers and food stall owners early in the decision-making process when implementing technology. In doing so, technology could be more effectively implemented with better integration and acceptance from the key stakeholders themselves. This would also in turn allow them to benefit from the improved service, productivity and safety that technological advancements could offer, even more so in times of a global disease outbreak.

Technological Adoption as a Social Process in Food Centres in Singapore, Science, Technology and Society. (DOI: 10.1177/0971721821995596)