What it means to be a part of Singapore's Smart Nation vision Steve Leonard from the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) gave us a glimpse into Singapore's Smart Nation initiative and why he chose to be in Singapore. He came with close to 30 years in IT, working in the realms of hardware, software and services in the private sector.
Steve Leonard is the Executive Deputy Chairman of the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore. He is also an Adviser to National Research Foundation Singapore.
What is exciting about Singapore’s Smart Nation vision and what do you think is Singapore’s edge in pursuing this vision?
Smart Nation is a vision of how we can make lives better through the use of tech, tackling real-world challenges that we face as a society brought about by mega trends like urban density and an ageing population, all of which have implications on transportation, housing and healthcare.
Beyond building infrastructure or specific solutions, Smart Nation is a way of galvanising our communities to work together to think big, and to collaborate. It requires a mindset of being willing to try, test, experiment, and, sure, fail. But then pick up and try again, with a new iteration or approach. Smart Nation is critical exactly because as a nation, we know that we cannot rest on our laurels - it’s a way forward to our next chapter of the Singapore story.
Singapore can definitely succeed in realising this vision, because we are able to collectively collaborate quickly and effectively as parts of the ecosystem - from government to start-ups to institutions of higher learning to practically everyone - working hand in hand.
Singapore has built itself a name for being capable of doing amazing things. Look at what the country’s forefathers had done in responding to the challenges of a newly independent country in 1965, or how when we decided we wanted to make Internet accessible to everyone, we made it happen through building a national broadband network.
We know that being able to do this on a national level with all parts working together as one is one of the biggest strengths in making Singapore a leading Smart Nation.
How is Singapore progressing towards this vision?
We see Smart Nation as a journey rather than a set destination because there is such a seismic shift in how technologies and innovations are developing. Ten years ago, smart phones were premium products and we were accessing the Internet, videos and books through the computers. Now the phone is essential to such services.
The idea of the sharing economy and disruptive technologies such as Uber, AirBnB would not have been thought possible just a couple of years ago. Yet now, they are seen as normal.
Part of what makes Smart Nation exciting to the world is how we are being very comprehensive in our approach to it - we are not just talking about one aspect in a city, but that we are actually rolling services or infrastructure out on a national level.
For instance, our aim to have Everyone, Everything, Everywhere, All the Time, or E3A, connectivity. The idea of getting connectivity anywhere, all the time, for everyone, is not an easily solved challenge. There are plenty of nooks and crannies which face difficulties in connectivity, and if you want to enable the future which the world is imagining - with healthcare-in-the-home, smooth autonomous vehicle systems and more - that is going to need seamless connectivity. And we’re tackling that head on.
Find out more about the innovative technologies Singapore is working on for Smart Nation here.
Let’s zero in on Data Analytics. What are the three things we should know about how Data Analytics will play a role in Singapore’s Smart Nation initiative?
Used well, data has the power to transform our economy, helping our businesses be smarter, more productive and more competitive; and our people to be able to make better or personalised decisions, even on a daily basis such as the best route to get from home to work. It is thus important to be able to collect, transport and comprehend data. We believe that Singapore can do this by building an integrated network of sensors, and as part of our Smart Nation Platform, we are working on a nationwide sensor network that is able to collect and transport data between sensors, devices and networks much more efficiently and securely.
However, data on its own is meaningless if you are not able to derive actionable insights from it to aid in decision-making. And that ability to have information I can act on is the promise of data analytics. We need to think of data analytics as something which should be shareable to some degree. There’s limits in my health wearable tracking my steps taken if it is incapable of being combined with other datasets to give me something I can act on, such as “drink more water and do ten extra sit-ups”. We have thus started on initiatives that look at standardisation of data sets, as well as making both public and private datasets discoverable.
Everyone is excited about Big Data, but there are not enough people who are able to understand and confidently create with it. It’s a brand new field, and we need to build talent in data analytics who are able to ask the right questions to tease out insights from the jumbled collection of raw data that usually encompasses Big Data. We will continue to work with new approaches to accelerate learning, including working with the industry to create opportunities for practical learning.
In your opinion, which are the types of roles that are most highly sought-after to support this vision and which industries would have the most demand?
I have explained earlier the importance of data analytics in a Smart Nation, and therefore we also need people who can work with, understand and interpret data, for beneficial outcomes. We will also need security analysts and white hat hackers in the area of cybersecurity which is a critical area for governments, businesses and individuals.
Beyond a list though of positions, I would like to encourage a different view. To realise our vision of Smart Nation, we need to have creative and courageous people who dare to experiment and take risks. Innovation is an intersection of tech, art, science, design - engineers alone will not be able to build a Smart Nation. We also need to grow an entrepreneurial spirit, to grow more local start-ups which can create innovative software and hardware solutions. It will be great if you know programming and coding, but if you have the capability to design a functional product and market it effectively, we need you, too!
In essence, Smart Nation requires creative people to work hand in hand, and bring their skills to the table.
You’ve had an exciting, multifaceted career in the IT enterprise space. Why did you make the decision to come to Singapore and join the IDA?
I’ve always been a big fan of learning and I believe one should not stop learning, no matter what stage of his life he is at. I have had the privilege and opportunity of working in the realms of hardware, software and services in the private sector during my close to 30 years in IT. My role in IDA allows me to learn about and do something at a government and national level.
Smart Nation is a vision that our Prime Minister Lee has shared last year and IDA is one of the lead agencies that is driving this. I am privileged to be a part of this journey and to champion this national initiative and collaborate with other agencies to make Singapore a more liveable and inclusive country at the forefront of the tech revolution.
Want more? Watch Steve elaborate on what the Smart Nation vision seeks to achieve here.
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