Accenture Singapore's Future of Cities Innovation Hub
Speech by SMS Janil Puthucheary at the launch of Accenture Singapore’s Future of Cities Innovation Hub
10 Nov 2021
Good morning everyone
Thank you for inviting me. Congratulations to Accenture Singapore on the launch of the Innovation Hub. It is my pleasure to be here in person.
Technology and data as key drivers of future of cities
The city has been a driver for the development of technology and also a driver for the development of new ways of sharing information and data in this day and age. The logic has also flowed the other direction. It is technology and the increasing concentration of data, and new ways of using it, that have enabled us to live in denser and denser concentrations, coming together as a community. Technology is a key driver for the way that cities operate, and how we live in our cities.
Electrification and the mass production of the Second Industrial Revolution drove massive urbanisation. In truth, in large parts of the world today, that rural-to-urban migration is still going on. People are still reaping the benefits of the Second Industrial Revolution, even as we here in Singapore, and many other global hyper-connected cities, start to benefit from what is potentially a new industrial revolution that we’re living through today. The technological advancements that we saw in lighting, public sanitation, and public transport changed our lives and allowed rural-to-urban migration to occur, and for us to reap benefits. There is likely to be the same delta in the lived experience in this current industrial revolution.
The electronics and IT infrastructure that was developed as a result of the Third Industrial Revolution then allowed communication between cities, or within cities themselves. People living in cities around the world then become part of a larger community of globalised city dwellers and this allowed companies like Accenture to become a global company anchored in cities around the world.
Today in this, potentially Fourth, Industrial Revolution, with more digital systems replacing physical ones, we’re seeing this blurring of cyber-physical boundaries where looking at cybersecurity, maintaining data privacy, thinking about IT governance has become a leadership function at all levels and sizes of companies, certainly at the top level of those companies. Including within the government.
We see this rapid acceleration in how we are designing our cities as well where IT and the blurring of cyber-physical infrastructure is taken into account in how we design new districts.
I’m going to have to sell a little bit of my constituency. The design of the Punggol Digital District is to be a demonstration of that blurring of the cyber-physical interface. Part of that is the Open Digital Platform, creating a cyber-physical operating system for a smart district. We want to plug in existing technologies. District management systems, communications technologies reap the benefits in terms of resource management, increasing efficiency and increasing productivity. And take that to the next level, both in terms of new products and platforms that can ride on the cyber-physical infrastructure, as well as new transformations in the lives of citizens in how they experience living in a smart district, potentially as the frontier of what Singapore could look like going forward.
For businesses as well, they will have access to a digital twin through the Open Digital Platform and they can test-bed their solutions and try out what their new products and platforms will do. How will they perform in this interface of the cyber-physical in this digital twin? And subsequently port them over into the real world, and then try them out in Punggol Digital District? The chain of pilots, digital twins, experimentation and redeployment into the physical world has influenced how the physical aspect of the Punggol Digital District has been designed in terms of built environment, and also how its governed, and the partners that have come together. We’re going to see more of this reconsideration of how we design our urban spaces.
But it needs to trickle down, it needs to influence our daily lives and make a difference to our citizens. Today we hope we’ve began to make a significant impact in the daily lived experience of our citizens.
Citizens and residents in Singapore can now transact with the Government from home. With an increasing number of services and transactions over time. Using our National Digital Identity system, Singpass, they can carry out transactions with the Government and can now also access private sector e-services. We are building that digital infrastructure, authentication and verification from Government, and making it possible for the benefits to extend out to the transactions that citizens will have with the private sector; carrying out online transactions, signing digital documents, while having their identities verified by the state.
We have also started to use the Digital Identity Card (IC) in place of the physical card. Today if you’re transacting with government agencies, that digital identity carries the same weight and you can use it in place of your physical NRIC. This is coupled with the other key driver of online transformation, payments, which, like identity, plays a fundamental role in driving that transformation. We see an increasing adoption of e-payments and have started to move towards a commonly accepted national standard. It’s one that allows many different players to plug in to, incumbents as well as potentially new players. We hope that over time people will become increasingly comfortable with this way of transacting; leaving homes without their wallets but carrying their phone.
Technology to enable cities to be resilient and agile
There is another dimension to what technology enables us to do in living in cities. Informed development of technology has added to our resilience, our ability to fight COVID-19. We maintained education for our children throughout the last two years, maintained business continuity through work-from-home arrangements. Whether we’re discussing the effect on personal interests, or the continuity of the Government’s business, this has all rested on a technological backbone.
This has kept businesses operating, and on a personal level, kept family and friends in touch online even as physical interactions have been restricted and cross-border travel has been limited. Hopefully not for that much longer. But why was that so? Some of it was because of the infrastructure and the work that we have been putting in for many decades.
We also had civil servants who are, allowing us to develop and launch apps like TraceTogether and services like SafeEntry within a matter of months. More important than launching it within months, what had become subsequently a major consideration for decision-making was the ability to roll out patches and fixes on a weekly basis. That agility drove our ability to augment contact tracing, our public health response, allowing us in the first phase to have some of the outcomes which we have benefited from - fast contact-tracing, ring fencing infections, identifying clusters and controlling the spread of COVID-19.
We similarly used this approach when we then had to set up our robust, rapid and comprehensive testing regime. To make sure that results were available rapidly after you had that rather uncomfortable piece of cotton in your nose. Otherwise how could you use testing as a way to guarantee the safety of larger events? The laboratory may have all the personnel but until someone is able to actually verify and authenticate the results on their smartphone and someone can trust that, it doesn’t flow through into a changed lived experience. And so we leveraged on this; the platform, the infrastructure, the apps. Most importantly, the technological competence that we have in terms of those engineers within the Government. Again, doing so in matters of weeks, and we must think back and learn the lessons of why it is that we had such capabilities, and the people within the public sector had the competence, the agility and the confidence to be able to then deliver that type of response very quickly.
This was done in partnership with the private sector. It was not something that Government did alone. Many of our platforms, products and services have been developed with the private sector and that relationship over time is part of the competence, confidence and agility that the public sector has been developing.
Industry partnerships are also key in city developments
Technology is important, but it is not enough. That sense of partnerships with industries also needs to extend to partnerships with citizens and we need to make sure that that sense of trust that our citizens have in technology and institutions is something that we cannot take for granted. We have to shore it up at every opportunity. For our partnerships with industry, we must pay attention to driving innovation. The ability to maintain ourselves at that cutting edge and to have that funding for research and innovation is important, especially for projects that can scale and subsequently have a significant multiplier effect.
We have committed $25 billion in our Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2025 plan to drive this, and part of that is under a strategic domain called Urban Solutions and Sustainability.
Industry-based R&D platforms and innovative enterprise support schemes, such as those that will be in Punggol Digital District need to translate out into solutions that are able to scale commercially and become viable. One has been the Cooling Singapore initiative to ensure that our built environment remains liveable and also reduces the urban heat effect. Translating the use of technology to very literally the lived experience of our citizens. We are also introducing a Marine Climate Change Science programme. Again, working with industry partners, research institutes, and government agencies, hoping to develop solutions to address the challenges faced by our coastal marine environment.
All of this must work together, working with businesses in partnership, bringing the strengths of the public sector and the private sector together to deliver a positive impact for Singapore and Singaporeans using technology. One area where this is increasingly of interest is health. We have to look at how we can use the same approaches to improve the health of our citizens and residents.
Last year, our Health Promotion Board partnered Apple to launch the LumiHealth programme for two years of free specialised programmes to encourage users to adopt healthy habits through the Apple Watch.
It’s an example then of how we can bring together Health Promotion Board’s experience in citizen health and public health programmes with Apple’s innovative use of technologies, and the fact that they have market penetration and a certain branding. That is what made it a viable and useful partnership; delivering personal health reminders, behavioural nudges, encouraging people to adopt healthy lifestyle.
People are key stakeholders
Finally, Singaporeans’ support and trust. The way in which our residents see technology, see institutions and trust processes are key to enable the deployment of technology, allowing us to use data to build better and more resilient cities.
The cliche is not to use technology for technology’s sake, but it must deliver real-life benefits to the people. We need to make that cliche live. And while many of us are fortunate to live out and experience those benefits, we have to make sure that the journey is an inclusive one, that we become an increasingly inclusive nation where it is not just the most digitally savvy, the most digitally privileged that have access to these benefits, but all Singaporeans have access to, understand, and know how to use, digital tools.
Going on that journey, may not be something that we can do with technology alone. There isn’t a patch to easily fix issues around digital literacy, or digital trust and digital confidence. Some of those things need a human touch to fill in some of those gaps to allow the journey to be truly inclusive and productive. So we have mobilised the SG Digital Office and the Smart Nation’s Ambassadors Program – all of which have as an operating concept the fact that an individual person can be that bridge for those who are naturally or likely to be digitally excluded, to bring them along this digitally inclusive journey with us. Hence using volunteers to accelerate digital adoption within our community. This means that some of the programs that we are embarking on perhaps don’t sound at first blush as transformative as Punggol Digital District, but they are no less important because they speak to the idea of a citizen’s journey and the idea of social improvement.
For example, our hawkers. We’ve deployed our Digital Ambassadors to get about 5,500 hawkers from June on board, raising awareness and helping stallholders come on board the online platforms. The hawkers themselves may feel naturally digitally excluded and may find it difficult to come on board. But by getting them on board we are including them and their customers in this journey and it is a small step to have an increase in trust. In using their phone for transactions, using QR codes and digital identity. Increasing the number of stalls that offer online ordering help them reach more customers, and it brings tangible benefits to our journey to becoming an increasingly Smart City.
For public support and trust we need to make sure that our rules governing the use of personal data in the public agencies and businesses take as its primary outcome an increasing level of trust and support from the public.
We have legislation to regulate the disclosure of data. We have measures maintained and controlled by the Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC), who advise businesses on how they can help to drive their innovation and development agenda and yet still manage and protect the data under their control.
To drive the confidence that their customers, our people, have that their personal data will be secure, will be used responsibly, and harnessed for legitimate purposes with the required safeguards and accountability.
Our city, every city, is a key space where we increasingly do everything – live, work, play. But this is enabled by the technologically-driven infrastructure that we have. Growing that, supporting that, and increasing citizens trust is going to be important as we subsequently transform our city to look ahead, anticipate the needs and prepare for the future.
I hope that Accenture Singapore’s Future of Cities Innovation Hub will serve as an example, as a beacon to encourage efforts from businesses and individuals to collaborate, raise collective knowledge, and work on urban solutions using innovative technology and ultimately continue to make a real difference in people’s lives.
Thank you very much.
Dr Janil Puthucheary
Senior Minister of State,
Ministry of Communications and Information & Ministry of Health
Minister-in-charge of GovTech Singapore