STACK 2020 Virtual Conference
Opening Remarks By Guest-Of-Honour Dr Vivian Balakrishnan Minister For Foreign Affairs And Minister-in-Charge Of The Smart Nation Initiative at Stack 2020 Virtual Conference
02 Dec 2020
Good morning, good afternoon and good evening depending on where you are. I am delighted to join all of you for STACK 2020.
The theme for this year’s conference is “Ready. Get STACK. Level Up.”. Simply put, it means get ready for the future, stacking up on our skills and to level up to the competition.
Redefining the New Normal
COVID-19 has certainly upended our lives and disrupted the global economy – over the past year certainly, and quite frankly, for some more time to come. We have had to quickly reduce physical contact. We have had to learn to work remotely and to collaborate in new ways. That is why Cheow Hoe and I are addressing you today from a green room. At a more fundamental level, COVID-19 may be the headline today but is not the primary driving force changing our world. In fact, it is a catalyst. It is an iconic inflection point for much deeper tectonic forces that are sweeping across our world.
It is the digital revolution - the advent of pervasive computing, the Internet, broadband and mobile connectivity, cloud computing, big data, AI and robotics. The fact that today, we have got computers that are capable of vision, hearing and speaking, and of course social media that is disrupting globalization, industrialisation, society and politics everywhere - this is the big tsunami.
The second mega-trend is the energy revolution and its impact – in both positive and negative ways. And climate change is the big elephant in the room.
Modern Singapore, over the past 55 years, is a very successful product of the last industrial revolution. Witness our industrialisation, our role as a vital hub for global supply chains and our financial services. But as the world changes, Singapore has to transform equally rapidly or risk irrelevance.
In the tech space, this means we must move beyond just being a nation of tech consumers. We have to become tech producers in our own right. We therefore cannot be passive buyers of technology; we need to be creators. We need to be able to create new technologies, create new services, create and disrupt new business models. What this means is the Government, industry and wider community need to work together to achieve this goal in the spirit of collaboration and openness. I want to make three simple points today.
Re-Engineering the Government to Make Effective Use of Commercial Services
First, the Government has to be open and has to be able to incorporate solutions from the industry. We must be ready to make use of the best-in-class solutions in order to provide better services for our people. Nowadays, our people are on digital media and are using electronic platforms. They are used to a level of service that is immediate, responsive and customised. Having experienced that, they expect the same of the government services and I think that is a fair demand for our citizens to make.
That is why we, in turn, are making an effort to better tap on the commercial cloud, under the Government on Commercial Cloud (GCC) programme. Today, I am pleased to announce that the Government has decided that we will work with three leading providers of the cloud computing revolution – Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform. We will do so in order to bring the best, the cutting-edge, the leading-edge of cloud technology to bear in the digital services that we provide to our citizens. Therefore, we can all expect to see most government systems make the transition to the cloud in the near future.
We have actually been doing this already for some time. Many of you may be aware that our SingPass system already taps on the GCC. Today, Singaporeans use SingPass almost every day. We transact digitally for both Government and commercial services using a set of secure password-less credentials. The latest feature being the Sign with SingPass feature, which allows users to authenticate documents with our own specific and unique digital signatures.
Co-Creating with the Industry and Community
Second point that I want to leave with you is that the Government needs to co-create and collaborate with the private tech community. The Government have some good engineers, but we do not have a monopoly on good ideas. This means we must remain open. We must be prepared to share ideas, share our challenges and set out the problems of government and society. We then need to be able to test and iterate potential solutions which you provide to us. Openness is a popular word to use but it is an ongoing challenge to make sure we incorporate that in both actions and words.
To support this spirit of collaboration, I am also pleased to announce that GovTech has launched the Singapore Government Developer Portal – this is a one-stop resource site for developers to discover the latest government tech solutions and to integrate them into their applications and mash-ups.
I hope developers outside will also access these open-sourced products and the technical documentation that are provided by this portal. What we really hope is for you to use these tools, to build, test and improve your digital products and services, and also to pitch them to us because if it works, we want to incorporate them into our suite of services as well. There will be more documentation available when the authentication system of the portal is ready. The knowledge-sharing portal will help to boost the tech ecosystem in Singapore, and beyond Singapore as well. I am looking forward to the tech community networking and co-developing solutions with the government for the government and for the citizens and people of Singapore. I invite all of you to join us on this portal.
A Mindset of Openness
My third and final point is about building trust – trust in Government, trust in society and trust that our digital solutions are centred on human needs and respect human requirements for privacy, and for a full and happy life.
Take for example, the TraceTogether programme which we launched in response to the pandemic in order to improve our contact tracing operations. To be honest, there were many initial questions and doubts posed to us, both on the use of the App and subsequently on the Token. What kinds of information would be collected? How was privacy being protected? Where and how will the information be stored? Who would have access to it? Some of these questions were very blunt and full-frontal. I’m glad that these conversations took place – robust as it was and robust as it should.
This enabled and forced us – in the appropriate way - to make it a point, at every step of the journey, we had to explain what we were doing and the purpose of the programme. We had to reassure the public that their privacy will be protected and that the TraceTogether programme only exchanges encrypted Bluetooth packets, is anonymised, exchange of data only occurs with nearby devices, data is only kept for 25 days, and the data does not leave that device unless you have tested positive and we need to use the data for contact tracing. It does not track GPS location, nor does it reveal your personal identities.
We open-sourced the TraceTogether code. We worked with experts to take apart our code and the Token. I’m glad that were able to offer opportunities for people from the private sector to take apart the Token, satisfy for themselves what it really was able and not able to do.
More recently, we established a licensing framework for the Token, so if companies wish to design better devices to serve our general and specific use cases, you are most welcome to do so. What we will insist on will be technical interoperability and ensuring that MOH’s contact tracing needs are met. Other than that, companies are free to innovate and come up with their own designs.
The larger point I’m making is that this open approach is how we believe we can collectively build a Smart Nation. It will allow us to improve capabilities, collaborate with others, and most importantly, build and maintain public trust.
With that, I will pass the time back to Cheow Hoe.
Dr Vivian Balakrishnan
Minister For Foreign Affairs,
Minister-in-Charge Of The Smart Nation Initiative