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ITU study on Singapore’s Smart Nation progress provides reference points for other cities and standardisation experts

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the United Nations specialised agency for information and communication technologies (ICTs), has released a new case study offering an evaluation of Singapore's progress in meeting the objectives of the country's 'Smart Nation' strategy. This evaluation was undertaken using the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for Smart Sustainable Cities developed by ITU and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).

The ITU press release states that the Singapore case study provides a valuable reference point to other cities pursuing greater efficiency and sustainability as well as for standardization experts responsible for the refinement of the ITU-UNECE KPIs and can be accessed here for free.

ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao hailed Singapore as a leading example of a country with strong institutional support for smart city innovation. "Singapore's ability to act as a testbed for smart city innovation, and its willingness to share the results, continues to make a key contribution to international efforts to promote the transition to Smart Sustainable Cities," he said.

The findings of the case study will feed into the work of ITU's standardisation expert group for 'Internet of Things, Smart Cities and Communities', ITU-T Study Group 20. ITU-T Study Group 20 develops international standards for Internet of Things (IoT) technologies and applications. One of its top priorities is to leverage IoT technologies to address urban-development challenges. 

The findings will also be taken up by the United for Smart Sustainable Cities (U4SSC) initiative which advocates for public policy to ensure that ICTs, and ICT standards in particular, play a definitive role in the transition to Smart Sustainable Cities. U4SSC is supported by 16 United Nations bodies and is open to the participation of all stakeholders interested in driving smart city innovation.The key findings will contribute to the development of the world's first "Global Smart Sustainable Cities Index".

Commenting on the case study, Dr. Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for Communications and Information of Singapore, said, "This collaboration with ITU has given us an objective assessment of our journey towards transforming Singapore into a Smart Nation. We are heartened that ITU has rated many of our efforts favourably, and we will continue to do more to foster a stronger digital society and economy. We hope that the Singapore experience will also benefit other countries and help accelerate their efforts to harness technology for greater societal and economic benefit."

Three phase study

Singapore entered into a collaboration with ITU in October 2015 to test and verify the ITU KPIs on smart sustainable cities for the period 2015-2017. Many other cities have similar collaborations with ITU including Dubai (UAE), Valencia (Spain), Buenos Aires (Brazil), Pully (Switzerland), Manizales (Colombia), Rimini (Italy) and Montevideo (Uruguay). Singapore was the second city to enter into this collaboration, after Dubai.

The ITU KPIs are sorted into six dimensions: Information and Communication Technologies, Environmental Sustainability, Productivity, Equity and social inclusion, Quality of life and Physical Infrastructure.

Currently Singapore relies on various authorities and governmental departments to collect data and report on the various KPIs. The data and feedback were consolidated by the Infocomm Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA), which acted as the co-ordinating office for this pilot project, working with more than 20 different agencies. A total of 108 KPIs were tested.

Data was collected during the first phase and an independent auditor performed an onsite validation and verification in July 2016. The final phase involved the preparation of the case study now released.

Singapore’s performance and suggested actions for other aspiring smart sustainable cities

The report notes the recent realignment of the Smart Nation programme directly under the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) demonstrating that this is considered to a key part of Singapore’s future. The five strategic Smart Nation projects are mentioned (National Digital Identity (NID) framework, e-payments, Smart Nation Sensor Platform, Smart Urban Mobility and bundling relevant government services, across different agencies, to the citizen at key moments of life).

The report goes on to explore how the six dimensions of the ITU KPIs fit into Singapore’s Smart Nation initiatives. Under each dimension, it notes the measures taken by Singapore and suggests actions for other aspiring sustainable smart cities. For example, Singapore has implemented a number of public programmes targeted at those who need assistance (including senior citizens and disabled individuals) to be able to access digital services from government. Stakeholders in other cities are encouraged to reach out to those left behind in the digital divide.

Another highlighted example is the Building and Construction Authority’s (BCA) Green Mark scheme to drive Singapore’s construction industry towards more environmental-friendly buildings. Urban stakeholders in other cities can also develop national certification programmes for building projects.

Through effective national policies and initiatives in fostering ICT adoption, Singapore has become a leading country in ICT-readiness and e-government performance. And these aspects are reflected in the good performance of Singapore in the KPI dimensions of "ICT" and "Productivity".

Significant progress has also been made in "Equality and Social Inclusion". But the study recommends that Singapore should divert more efforts to the dimension of "Environmental sustainability" in order to drive sustained reduction in greenhouse gas emissions; to promote noise-based monitoring systems; and to improve public perception of the capital's surroundings.

According to the report, in view of the robust ICT-based infrastructure the city-state already has in place, a few additional networked applications will enable Singapore to become a leading international city that fosters a secure urban ecosystem, underpinning the goals and targets in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Feedback on the KPIs

With Smart City initiatives already in place, Singapore was able to apply the KPIs to the existing initiatives. In general, Singapore found that the ITU-KPIs were effective in helping the country transition into a smart, sustainable city, taking into consideration the interplay between ICT and the country's environment, economy, government, infrastructure and the residents' daily lives. However, it was noted regional differences (including population density, terrain, climate, availability of resources, cultural and social restrictions) may affect the validity of certain metrics.

For instance, telemedicine is often seen as a smart technology that can increase patient access and overcome geographical barriers to care for those who live in less populous regions. However, in Singapore, where all citizens already have access to brick-and-mortar health care, population distribution does not play a key role in access. Instead, in a small city like Singapore, it is used to support patients with mobility issues, provide greater convenience to patients through time and cost savings, and operate as a work-force-multiplier to address the challenges of shrinking manpower in the health-care sector (as can be seen from two initiatives announced this year here and here).

Furthermore, it is possible that the adoption of telehealth or telemedicine could, in some cases, increase a patient's costs per "unit of care" due to over-use of services. This could make telehealth an unsustainable practice without careful planning, re-engineering of the care process and an assessment of the business case for each type of telemedicine service with proper clinical protocols and safeguards. As such, Singapore suggests that cities implement smart technologies, taking the implementation and additional costs into consideration, over existing brick-and-mortar health care services.

Singapore was able to provide feedback on how: KPIs fit into the current Smart Nation framework; KPIs could be used to measure an individual initiatives’ progress; KPIs could be improved to provide better feedback; and new KPIs could be introduced. For instance, Singapore suggested that certain e-government indicators be measured, such as top 10 services available electronically and percentages of citizens transacting online with government, public sector procurement conducted electronically and public sector invoicing completed electronically.

Singapore and ITU also recognised that certain KPIs were not sufficiently defined to permit data collection. Others did not match current data collection priorities. Considering the findings, ITU, together with 15 other UN agencies and programmes, reviewed the KPIs. Both ITU and Singapore have implemented new KPIs and discovered better ways of tracking existing KPIs.

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