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Singapore Smart Nation. Part 2.

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Data Works. Dash-boarding Singapore

Singapore first declared its intention to be the world’s first Smart Nation at the Infocomm Media Business Exchange (imbX) 2013 event, held in Singapore. Since then, several new initiatives, including a new platform that encompasses the necessary infrastructure and technical architecture to support a smart nation ecosystem were announced.

A Smart Nation strategy seeks to harness advanced technologies to tackle the key challenges facing modern nation-states, including:

  • Urban Density: the increasing populations of urban centres and cities
  • Greater demands on limited resources
  • Higher expectations of citizens

Key benefits of a Smart Nation are summarised at three different levels:

  1. Policy Level, the Government can use the insights gained to craft better policies and to engage citizens to participate actively.
  2. Industry Level, the insights gained can results in the development of new business models and revenue streams, adding to the economic growth of the country.
  3. Individual Level, the individuals can improve their productivity and alleviate some of the inconveniences they might face in daily life

Smart Nation will collect and process data across the country, and derive insights by analysing the data in order to improve performance and enhance services across the board. The concept rides on strategic deployment of cutting-edge technology trends, such as a nationwide network of connected sensors and sensory devices, the Internet of Things (IoT), along with the infrastructure of data centres to handle big data and analytics.

Essential components of a smart nation include a pervasive, scalable, ultra-high speed, intelligent and secured ICT infrastructure, coupled with a ICT eco-system with a ready pool of skilled tech workforce, a regulatory environment that protects the data and privacy of citizens while ensuring fairness and access to essential information. The country made progress in laying the backbone infrastructure to prepare for Big Data & Analytics, the Internet of Things and other transformational trends and developments, thanks to its 10 years Intelligent Nation (iN2015) Masterplan. Singapore has completed its Next Generation Nationwide Broadband Network (NGNBN) rollout and is developing a nationwide wireless network, with plans for a new Heterogeneous Network (HetNet) that will enable seamless mobile connectivity for citizens across different networks.

Since then iDA has announced several multi-pronged initiatives that will deliver the Smart Nation vision, including the roll-out of a Smart Nation Platform (SNP) that includes an operating system for public agencies and companies to connect to.
Singapore’s SNP is aimed at bringing together a nationwide sensor network and data analytics abilities.The SNP has three focus areas:

  1. Connect - the enhancement of Singapore’s pervasive network and communications backbone, with new developments such as Above Ground (AG) Boxes – utility boxes that allow sensors to be easily powered and quickly connected to the fibre network — and the HetNet.
  2. Collect -  the roll-out of a nationwide sensor network, communications backbone based the SNP operating system where public agencies could be plugged in to access essential sensor data; provide the efficient sharing of collected sensor data (protected, and managed, before being shared)
  3. Comprehend – providing situational awareness through data analysis that will empower individuals, government and businesses alike via data analytics and real-world applications

The IDA started technology trials under the Smart Nation initiative from July 2014, working in partnership with several companies.

Some of the trials taking place in the in-development Jurong Lake District (JLD), touted as the largest commercial and regional centre outside Singapore’s Central Business District. As a part of the trial  1,000 sensors were deployed to monitor air, water quality and public safety. The sensors will be deployed at six high-traffic areas first, including Orchard Road and Little India, and works are expected to be completed by end-2015. Environmental sensors - some of which are able to record video - will be installed in the Jurong East estate of Yuhua, potentially allowing authorities to monitor the air quality in the area. Sensors will also be installed in five other "high traffic" areas: the Civic District, Orchard Road, Singapore River, Little India and Geylang.

Trials involve multiple government agencies including the Housing Development Board (HDB), Urban Redevelopment Authority, National Environment Agency, and Land Transport Authority, as well as more than 20 companies and start-ups.

In one trial RF Net, Panasonic, and Elixir Technology, will assess a smart queue monitoring system that taps advanced video sensing to determine in real-time the length and flow of a queue, for instance, at taxi stands. This information including potential waiting time can be fed to commuters who can then decide if they want to join the queue or take the bus. The data can also alert taxi companies on locations that require more cabs.

Another pilot will see ST Electronics developing a common traffic simulation platform to simulate and evaluate different traffic control algorithms, with possible traffic signal control plans to improve road traffic management in the district.

The plan calls for all data captured via the sensors to be collected, analyzed, and securely managed through a new Smart Nation Platform, which all government agencies can connect to. IDA says the government will own this platform but is open to having private sector entities operate and manage it. If that happens, these companies will have to abide by parameters and regulations mandated by the government in managing the platform.

Currently, different agencies have their own tracking equipment. However, a Smart Nation Platform will support the agencies' existing operations and allow them to share data.
A tender for the deployment of the sensors will be issued by end of the year, and works are expected to be completed by end-2015. Phase 2 of the Smart Nation plan will see these sensors being deployed nationwide.

To kick-start the process, it will be seeking the industry's views on the design of the entire system. Consultations will be held as early as the first quarter of next year.

Collaborative approach

On October 23, 2014, Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) in an annual infocomm technology event hosted by A*STAR’s Institute for Infocomm Research (I2R), announced a slew of new initiatives that contribute towards Singapore’s Smart Nation vision, including new partnerships across public and private sectors to strengthen Singapore’s capabilities in cybersecurity, energy and transport. A few new research collaborations in Smarter Networks and Cybersecurity, Smart R&D in energy and transport were unveiled:

Research pact with IDA: A*STAR and IDA signed a Master Research Collaboration Agreement to architect and develop innovative technologies in Data Analytics, Cyber Security and Heterogeneous Networks (HetNet).

Advanced security and forensics lab: I2R and ST Electronics (Info-Security) will set up a joint laboratory collaboration to develop advanced security and forensics solutions to enhance the infocomm structure in Singapore.  A*STAR announced the additional collaboration agreements between I2R and its partners across regulatory agencies and the private sector to build a greener and safer Smart Nation.

Renewable energy systems: HDB, I2R, Singapore Power and Narada signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to develop energy storage systems for solar-generated power, which will power HDB residences or supply electricity back to the grid.

Intelligent Transport Systems: I2R, Continental and TUM CREATE have established a joint laboratory to research, study and test-bed a range of communications, information and innovations that improve the safety, efficiency, and performance of transport systems in Singapore.

Urban Mobility Research Centre: A*STAR also launched the Urban Mobility Research Centre @I2R, or UMRC@I2R. The new centre brings together A*STAR’s multi-disciplinary research in urban mobile technologies for  its Intelligent Transport Systems and Autonomous Vehicle  programme to enhance the public transport commuting experience for urban travellers. The centre will function as a one-stop platform for close partnerships and collaboration with government agencies such as the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and IDA and the industry.

As part of ICM Horizons 2014, a two-day exhibition was carried out showcasing home-grown innovations under various themes such as: Smart Security, Smart Health, Smart Grid, Smart Environment, Smart Living, Smart Mobility. These ICM technologies are the results of A*STAR researchers’ creative ideas to enable Singapore to manage future challenges.

Smart Nation: Data Works

On the 28th September 2014, Infocomm Development Authority (iDA), the country’s lead agency on ICT policy making, presented two days opportunity for public and private companies, industry experts and influencers to discuss data analytics. It was part of a series of data activities happening from 26 to 31 October 2014. The event featured a line-up of international and local speakers sharing their perspectives on how data can be harnessed to create significant advantages for the industry and country.
The event was hold at Fort Canning hotel, and started with keynote address by Mr. Steve Leonard, iDA’s Executive Deputy Chairman. Singapore is building the world's first Smart Nation where data and analytics will play a critical role. To support this vision, the iDA will be boosting the data ecosystem through a series of key initiatives that were announced

The Forum kicked off a series of practical step in the Smart Nation Initiative, and helped help participants and to understand and be inspired to use data to gain a major competitive advantage

The Smart Nation: Data Works event gathered together Singapore’s technical community inviting SME to take active role in “dashboarding Singapore”, addressing primary areas of concern: Urban density and Aging population. iDA unveiled a new pilot aimed at increasing the "visibility of datasets" via quality metrics, offering free AWS credits to drive participation, and adds "near real-time analytics" to its cloud service provider registry to better assess vendor performance

Two key initiatives :

  • Data-as-a-Service (DaaS) pilot that seeks to address the challenge of discovering datasets in the private sector. Data providers from all industries can participate in the pilot to increase the visibility of their datasets and reach out to new customers. Data providers will also be given an opportunity to understand and check the relative quality of their datasets through a set of Data Quality Metrics. 
  • Using telemetrics to measure changes and conditions around the country will help Singapore tackle urban challenges.

Steve Leonard touched on the need for anonymity. He stressed that the aim was to enable individuals and organisations to be connected only with their consent and that useful, anonymous data can also result from collecting large numbers of data points.

iDA has signed a Memorandum of Intent with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to provide cloud computing services to the first 25 data providers when they sign on to the pilot via AWS. AWS will offer usage credits worth US$3,000 (S$3,800) to each of the 25 participating data providers in hosting their dataset registries and/or their datasets.


Keynote: Enabling Smart Business / Government collaborations with Data Analytics (Amazon Web Services, Vice President, Teresa H. Carlson)

IDA signed a Memorandum of Intent with SAP Asia to develop local manpower capabilities in the field of data analytics.  The IDA will be partnering with providers of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) to offer online analytics courses to grow the local talent pool. The first focus training area will be on Data Sciences & Analytics, and iDA will be using Coursera MOOC platform's data sciences platform with content provided by Johns Hopkins University.

iDA also announced three innovative tech product companies accredited by IDA. Tagit, Kai Square and V-Key. Their product focuses are in enterprise mobility, video analytics and security, technologies that can address challenges in a Smart Nation.

The Data Works Event gathered most influential industrial leaders, the industry who-is who list can be easily compiled (and their connectivity graph was kindly presented by the organisers)


It is a Living Blueprint

The Smart Nation Programme itself is a living blueprint and does not feature complete end-to-end strategy design, featuring sometimes the approach “we do it now and fix later”, rather that miss the opportunity and inhibit development. With so much data involved, concerns about data privacy and security were causing discussions, however, the discussion were not as hot as expected to be.

Data Privacy

In 2013 Singapore introduced Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA). The PDPA established a data protection law that comprises various rules governing the collection, use, disclosure and care of personal data. It recognises both the rights of individuals to protect their personal data, including rights of access and correction, and the needs of organisations to collect, use or disclose personal data for legitimate and reasonable purposes.

The PDPA provides for the establishment of a national Do Not Call (DNC) Registry. The DNC Registry allows individuals to register their Singapore telephone numbers to opt out of receiving marketing phone calls, mobile text messages such as SMS or MMS, and faxes from organisations. PDPA was enacted in 2014.

According to iDA's Steve Leonard,  "We're not pretending we have the answer to everything", "difficult questions" that still needed to be addressed so the benefits Singapore hoped to generate from its smart nation plan would be enjoyed by its citizens.

Personal privacy is an area the ICT regulator takes seriously. Nevertheless, the public sector is excluded from the country's Personal Data Protection Act , and there are private companies involved in the smart nation trials and rollouts. iDA has a view that the exclusion was to allow data to be easily shared between government ministries and agencies, and facilitate better e-government services for citizens. dialogue and assessment of the best way to proceed, for example, with regard to striking the right balance involving data privacy.

Singapore might be forced to expand its data protection laws in the future .  "It could well be that Singapore may come under pressure to follow those which do not have such exemptions like the European Union and Hong Kong,"

There is a concern also that exclusion of the public sector might cause change of business models in a few cases. Imagine< for example that a government affiliated insurance company obtains medical data. That will grossly reduce the risk calculations for the company, considerable increasing the revenues, at a cost paid by unfortunate individual that can be refused insurance coverage.


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