Digital Service Centre Inauguration ceremony

31.03.2016

Panel discussion summary: Accelerating the adoption of smart technologies

While various cities around the world are increasingly adopting smart solutions to tackle issues associated with rapid urbanisation, aging population and sustainability, challenges associated with implementation and acceptance may hinder the proliferation of such technologies.

 

Singapore is well on its way to realising the vision of being the world’s first truly Smart Nation, and in this panel discussion, we found out more about the considerations and measures needed to overcome these challenges.

Moderated by Mr. Ishan Palit, CEO of TÜV SÜD Product Service. The session was attended by the following panelists:

  • Mr. Goh Chee Kiong, Executive Director, Economic Development Board of Singapore (EDB)
  • Ms. Jacqueline Poh, Managing Director, Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA)
  • Prof. Dr. Peter Edwards, SEC Director, Singapore-ETH Centre
  • Dr. Andreas Hauser, Director, TÜV SÜD Digital Service

Below is a summary of points discussed:

What is the Singapore government doing to realize the Smart Nation initiative?

The idea of a Smart Nation was examined as early as 3 to 4 years ago as a way to bring technology to improve the lives of citizens and businesses in Singapore. Over the development of the initiative, it became important that companies are able to take advantage of it to develop new solutions that can be pioneered and sold in many other countries.

In that sense, Singapore could be a living lab or test bed for the development of technologies that addresses challenges in aging population, urban density, congestion and healthcare.

At the beginning, government agencies were primarily opening up their assets to collaborate with companies. Since then, many of the assets have been privatized and the government has taken it a step further to extend the living lab strategy to the private sector.

EDB has played a crucial role in fostering partnerships between the government and companies to develop, test and commercialise these innovative solutions. On top of being a regulator, IDA has a strong developmental role in the building of the Smart Nation, working with vendors and industry partners to build the systems and platforms.

What does a smart city involve and how will it impact society?

Beyond the idea of a smart city, the Singapore government is beginning to think about smart societies. If societies and individuals don’t feel that smart technologies have made a difference in their lives, there is a danger that the smart city development will become an infrastructure without a purpose.

In a smart nation, people want 2 things:

  • Delight: People want technology to delight them in some ways. The Singapore government has developed an application that crowdsources life saving, called myResponder, where volunteers are notified of anyone who is suffering from cardiac arrest nearby, and can help to save them.
  • Trust: They want technology that is safe and that they can trust. Generally, individuals in Singapore are quite trusting of technology. They consider, for example, more surveillance cameras as a sign of more safety and a way of verifying if an incident that has taken place. There is a basic level of trust that Singaporeans have with their government, how data is used and how technology is applied. This can be seen in the implementation of the Smart Home and Autonomous Driving technologies the country.

Another important term is “responsive city” because the benefits to the people and community should be emphasized, rather than the smartness of the technology. People will take advantage of a connected society and the world will change as a result. It is an evolution and we want to make people’s and society’s responses to it good and beneficial rather than harmful and negative.

As new technologies are rolled out, we respond in different ways and different levels:

  • First phase: The immediate benefits of digital technologies. We use connected technologies to improve energy efficiency, track stolen goods, find out where there are leaks in pipes. This is now being driven by governments and cities to optimize the way things work. In the process of rolling out these solutions, more and more data is being collected and there is a possibility of linking these data together.
  • Second phase: Response of a city and individual. People are able to dig through the data, explore relationships and understand things we never understood before to improve planning for the future.
  • Third phase: New economic activities. When these data is made available to entrepreneurs and innovators, they will be able to discover uses and benefits from the data, leading to huge, new economic activities.
  • Fourth phase: Public use of data. In the past, the public and communities may be dependent on government and researchers providing services and investigations. With access to these data, the relationship between community, citizen and government will change, making it more interactive.
     

Singapore will be competing with the rest of the world to be a living laboratory for these technologies. How does Singapore attract companies to the country?

Companies look for convenience to develop, test and commercialise smart and sustainable urban solutions in a real life setting and they typically collaborate with Singapore's various government agencies, which tend to be pro-business. There is a relative openness to work with companies and try out new solutions.

As a reference city for Asia, Singapore acts as the vanguard for the adoption of new technologies before they are adopted in many other parts of Asia. The compact nature of Singapore is also an attractive feature, where complementary partners and agencies that can work together across relatively shorter distances.

Another important factor is in increasing the receptiveness of collaboration within the private sector. There are various success stories already available in Singapore, where private organisations have opened themselves up for collaboration to develop innovative solutions.

In short, Singapore is highly differentiated from other regions as a living laboratory. However, it welcomes initiatives from other countries as innovation has to be collaborative, open and transcend borders.

How is Singapore planning to develop talent to fulfill the requirements of a Smart Nation?

Many initiatives are in place to ensure that everyone from 12 to 62 years old has a part to play in this vision. To ensure that students familiarise themselves with technologies and even learn to code at a very young age, various programmes have been introduced in schools, such as a playmaker programme in kindergartens, infocomm club programme in schools, as well as the introduction of computing as an 'O' Level subject.

Singapore is pushing to bring back engineering as something that is highly valued as a career. However, while engineering and digital software is at the heart of a smart nation, a lot of multidisciplinary skills are still critical, such as design and ethnography.

When it comes to smart systems, a wide area of capabilities, such as Internet of Things (IoT), big data, robotics, systems-level solutions are needed. In addition, the education in Singapore is changing to be multi-disciplinary, looking at things from a systems and solutions perspective. For example, Singapore is training 2,000 big data specialists in the next 3 to 5 years in its universities, who can then move on to various smart systems-level applications.
 

What are some of the pitfalls or dangers associated with a smart city?

Issue #1: Resilience
As we introduce more and more smart technologies, we build a society and ecosystem that is increasingly dependent on them. When there is a failure in the system, we are unable to find and alternative solution or go back to how it was in the past.

This problem is becoming acute in all cities because of the central dependence on digital technologies for managing all of the utilities, for the water, transport, and energy. As they are all linked together, a significant system failure could have unpredictable consequences.

The problem of resilience has now been recognized as something that urgently needs research. First - to understand the behavior of the system as a whole and the probability of failure. Second - how a less vulnerable system can be built, and if failure occurs, how damage can be minimized.


Issue #2: Two-tiered society
Younger people are able to grasp digital technology more quickly. In a society which is aging, it is extremely important that we don’t develop in a way that somehow separates older people out from many of these benefits. Much work will have to go into developing technologies which older people can use.

In addition, we must not move into a society which is effectively dehumanized, depending on technologies and essentially breaking up communities and social interactions.

TÜV SÜD is seen as the “glue” that holds this together. What role will the Digital Service CoE will play in this process?

TÜV SÜD focuses on the verification and validation of a system. Validation answers the question of whether the technology makes sense. Verification ensures that the technology is consistent and works.

We facilitate the process of getting innovative technologies into the market and establishing trust with the end consumer by ensuring that these technologies are safe, reliable and secure, and can be used in an interoperable way.

With new technological developments, there are no standards specifically for them. As an independent third-party which has dealt with standards for 150 years, we develop best practices for adopting these technologies.


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