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Credit: IoT Asia 2018

Credit: IoT Asia 2018

Minister-in-Charge of Smart Nation outlines Singapore’s approach to IoT

On Mar 21, speaking at the IoT Asia 2018 Conference, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister-in-Charge of Smart Nation Dr Vivian Balakrishnan outlined Singapore’s approach to Internet of Things (IoT).

Minister Balakrishnan started off by saying that platform technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, robotics, big data and blockchain that are completely transforming the way value is created.

Real revolution lies in technological platforms

The development of emerging technologies is redistributing profits and wealth; and importantly for citizens, it is disrupting jobs. As such, there is a lot of anxiety in the today’s world about jobs, national competitiveness, free trade, the change in the geo-strategic balance of power.

However, Minister Balakrishnan pointed out that technology is the real revolution and real transformation. 

Without adequate knowledge and understanding of technology, all the anxiety on jobs, competitiveness, and one’s place in the world will not be sufficiently addressed.

Cost VS Value

Minister also shared his observations that computing capacity and connectivity have drastically improved. From the financial perspective, the cost of computing and price of connectivity have been falling and trending to zero.

If the cost of computing, the cost of connectivity and even the cost of marginal production is trending to zero, where is the value?

Minister Balakrishnan believed that real value creation in the future lies in imagination, innovation and services.

He stated that the deployment of IoT is to create value by achieving the following objectives: (1) to improve security and reliability of services consumed by citizens, (2) to enhance quality and scope of services available to citizens, (3) to increase business opportunities and boost overall competitiveness of the economy.

Singapore’s approach to the deployment of IoT

In his speech, Minister Balakrishnan outlined Singapore’s approach to the deployment of IoT. The key principles he shared are: 

(1)    Avoid vendor lock-in

Minister Balakrishnan named the existence of walled gardens the biggest hurdle for the deployment of IoT in the world.

“Every big IT company wants to create, behind its own wall, a unique ecosystem, and is trying to lock us in,” he said.

However, Minister emphasised that it is the duty of Governments and public officials to avoid being trapped by vendors behind walled gardens.

(2)    Defining open standards

To avoid walled gardens, Minister stated that there is a need for open standards that is generally accepted which would lead the private sector to adapt their products and services.

Despite the need for open standards, Minister acknowledged that it is “ultimately a political and regulatory issue”.

However, he also cautioned that the real danger is when regulators are not on top of technology, and are unable to understand and insist on standards, the country or economy would be prone to walled gardens and vendor lock-in.

(3)    Use of modular platforms

Given the accelerated pace of technological development, Singapore’s approach to IoT deployment is to keep options open.

“As technology improves and options change, we need to be able to plug in and plug out the relevant layers of our vertical application stack. What I’m saying is, we need modular platforms,” said Minister Balakrishnan.

Speaking from his experience in programming, Minister shared that when working on digital device, the simpler, the better.

“If you don’t need to run a full stack operating system, don’t run it full stack. If you can get as low down, as close to the metal as possible, and with as little code as possible, you likely end up with products and software which are more reliable and more secure,” he said.

As such, he advised the public to maintain healthy scepticism over vendor offerings and to always take the attitude of being open to cheaper, more effective, more reliable and more secure alternatives.

(4)    Provision of plug-and-play architecture

According to Minister Balakrishnan, it is Government’s duty then to provide infrastructure, in particular, connectivity, and then to provide the plug-and-play architecture.

“So that whatever your new product, or your new service, or your new hardware platform is, it plugs and plays into my system, and my system – because it’s defined by open standards – you can programme your products and services to fit into this,” he explained.

(5)    Security by design

The emergence of technology means that we are more vulnerable to security threats. As Minister puts it, we now live in “an age of identity theft, fake news and fake data”.

“Having the smart cooling systems, smart manufacturing systems, also by definition makes them extremely vulnerable. You lose privacy, you lose security, and worse, it becomes available to both state and non-state actors to sabotage critical public infrastructure,” he cautioned.

As such, he emphasised that security must be baked into products and services, by design, ab initio, rather than a belated scramble to tack it on after they are rolled out.

“This requires intimate knowledge of technology, of programming, and of design”, he added.

Minister pointed out the last point in his speech, that beyond technology and the Government’s approach to deployment, what is critical is giving people, businesses and leaders the relevant training and skills to keep up with technology, in order to living through this technological and digital revolution.

“If we can master the skills and knowledge, and sharpen our judgement on how best to use technology, then our experience from the last industrial revolution is that the countries and regions who get it and deploy first, will make a disproportionate share of the profits and wealth, and with that will come influence and some ability to alter the trajectory of our region and perhaps, even the world,” said the Minister.

“We want a workforce, a country and ASEAN as a whole to be masters of technology. We get it, master it, use it, profit from it, and lives and livelihoods are transformed by it,” he concluded.

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