CBF, misunderstood

Our country’s fascination with acronyms is something “Uniquely Singapore”. From school names (RGS, ACS), shopping malls (J8, MBS) to day-to-day slang (BGR, O$P$) and even government policies (FAS, eGAP), sometimes I just need to ROFLOL at the bureaucracies ability to churn out so much acronym.

The best one is this: CBF. Unfortunately vulgar, exceptionally misunderstood.

CBF (“cheaper, better, faster”) was coined around three and a half years ago by Lim Swee Say to discuss the different ways Singapore workers need to adapt to changing world economic processes.

To this day, the concept is still misinterpreted:

Cheaper Better Faster



Cheaper Better Faster

Most people who only hear the acronym and don’t actually read the idea behind it think this means the government wants employees to be cheaper, faster, and better, i.e. cutting our pay and making us work longer hours to churn out even more work.
What it actually means is that the Labour Movement (different from the government) urges businesses (and not workers) to make their products and services CBF.

Basically the main idea revolves around the fact that Singapore is operating under very difficult global economic conditions; there are bigger countries out there who have the manpower and the land to diversify their economy, allocate human resources, and produce large quantities of products.

Singapore, meanwhile, can compete, but only if certain key principles are applied:

  • Cheaper products and services
  • Better products and services
  • Faster to market product and services

As you can see, there’s nothing there about exploiting people or making their lives harder. It’s all about giving businesses incentives to improve workers’ working conditions so that their contribution to the economy is strong and sustainable in the long run.

Here are 3 everyday examples that clearly show what CBF is all about:

1. Better coffee:

Cheaper Better Faster

No doubt the old-school coffee sock produces some amazing coffee.

But think about the increased productivity that can be achieved by using machines in parts of the coffee-making process. Instead of having to wait for the coffee to be brewed and steeped in hot water, baristas these days can just add hot water or milk to the already processed coffee powder.

Instead of brewing 10 cups of coffee in 20 minutes, technology can raise this to 15 or even 20 cups! This extra time allows employees to devote their time to activities that require more skill and attention, thus increasing their value to the company.

By equipping employees with the necessary skills to use the coffee machines and increasing their capabilities, coffee houses can ensure consistency in the quality of the drink that they serve to their customers. You won’t have to worry about it being too diluted one day and then too strong the next, since the amount of coffee powder is regulated by machines.

The ability to stay adaptable to current trends – for example, training employees to do coffee art or cold brews – ahead of competitors also keeps the customers (and the $$$) rolling in!

2. Faster libraries:

Remember the good old days in the National Library when we held our books and waited in line for the librarian to scan them, before chopping the due date on the white slip in the front pages on every book?

Cheaper Better Faster

In addition to servicing those borrowing books, the librarian also processed the returned books and took care of other administrative matters (library card issuance, payment of fines, etc.).

These days, 5 or 6 self-check-out units fill the same space as 3 librarians, thus allowing library visitors to manage the entire process on their own.

It’s as easy as slotting in a library/ez-link card and then placing the book on the scanning pad, after which the machine generates a receipt to show you the books that you have loaned and their respective due dates.

It’s so simple that even a child can do it!

Cheaper Better Faster


Returning your books has also become easier with the implementation of book drops, which means no more queuing, and a faster turnaround time for the books to be returned back to the shelves for the next borrower.

What this means for the employees is that there is a clearer and more distinct job description, and they can better spend their time ensuring that all visitors have a better user experience.

For example, in keeping up with the latest trends of tablets and e-readers and the dramatic shift in publishing and reading, users of the library can now set up digital accounts to borrow e-books from the local national library.

3. Cheaper infrastructure:

Jobs as tedious and physically-demanding as road paving can also leverage on technology to not only speed up the entire process, but also reduce our reliance on foreign workers.

Cheaper Better Faster


Following the idea of a progressive wage model, companies can train their employees to operate road-paving machineries and raise their skill levels and competencies, which then command a higher pay.

This is feasible in the long run as the cost savings from employing less manpower and handling more projects within the same timeframe can be redistributed back to the existing pool of workers.

Watch this video to get an idea of how efficient such tasks can be:

Hopefully this article will help everyone out there the chance to really understand what Cheaper, Better, Faster is all about!

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