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How Singapore is solving public sector challenges with innovative solutions from research institutes and the private sector

Public sector innovation is a key aspect of Singapore’s Smart Nation journey. As government agencies seek to deliver better services and to improve the lives of citizens, they face a variety of challenges. These challenges could be addressed through technologies being developed by Research Institutes (RIs), Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs), and commercial entities. But how can the two be connected?

The Government Technology Agency of Singapore (GovTech)’s Innoleap Programme and Translational Research and Development for Application to Smart Nation (TRANS) Grant aim to bridge this gap and bring government agencies and the RIs, IHLs, and commercial entities together to tackle these problems.

At last week’s Supercomputing Asia Conference, OpenGov attended a presentation by Ms Vivien Chow, Director, Applied Innovation and Partnership, GovTech, providing an introduction to the Innoleap Programme and the TRANS grant.

Ms Chow summarised the overarching objective of her team, “We facilitate agencies’ innovation journey to transform public service delivery for the benefit of Singapore and Singaporeans.”

To do so, GovTech reaches out to the government agencies, their CIOs (chief information officers), CTOs, quality service managers and user groups, and sources problem statements. The problem statements can be agency problems (a longer term issue, or immediate operational issue), related to the Strategic National Projects (SNPs).

Then it conducts a market scan looking at the RIs, IHLs, the startup ecosystem as well as association partners, such as SGTech, SCS (Singapore Computer Society) etc.

Centres of Excellence (CentEx) are also included in the market scan, which refer to the in-house capability centres within GovTech. GovTech is building six Centres of Excellence: Cybersecurity (jointly with Cybersecurity Agency of Singapore), Data Science, Sensors & Internet-of-Things (IoT), Geospatial (jointly with Singapore Land Authority), Infrastructure and Application Development.

After touching base with all the ecosystem suppliers, GovTech looks for commercially available solutions. If solutions are available in the market, the agencies are linked to the providers and they go through the usual procurement process.

Ms Chow explained that by starting with government as the lead demand and aggregating demand across various agencies enables them to reach a critical mass.

There are several engagement platforms which are used for connecting the RIs, IHLs and commercial vendors with government demand.

Innoleap engagement platforms

Innoleap platforms include Thematic Workshops, Sharing Days and Clinics. Thematic workshops are conducted every two to three months based on themes identified from agencies' demand. In these workshops, participants from the agencies meet companies with innovative products or solutions. Each participant must bring along problem statements relating to their area of work for in-depth discussion with the technology companies and to explore potential collaboration & pilots.

Sharing Days are organised to raise the level of awareness of emerging technologies amongst officers in Government agencies. Companies are invited to share their solutions and technologies related to a specific theme. Each company is given a specific time period for presentation and demonstration of their solutions. At the end of the session, time will be allocated for consultation with the companies. Sharing days can be organised for different groups, ranging from a particular agency, to a group of agencies for a specific domain.

One-to-one consultation clinics are conducted with agencies where GovTech works together with the agencies to understand the problem statements and facilitates the link up with companies to explore potential collaboration and pilots.

Then there is Innoleap-Accreditation sharing where GovTech works with the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA).

IMDA’s Accreditation@SG Digital Programme seeks to help promising Singapore-based tech product companies to win projects, grow and compete in the global market. Being accredited opens up more opportunities for their products and solutions to be showcased and commercialised. For buyers from the Government and large enterprises, the accreditation process provides an independent third-party evaluation of the companies’ claimed product core functionalities and ability to deliver.

These accredited companies showcase their capabilities during Innoleap-Accreditation sharing sessions and GovTech helps match their solutions to the agencies’ requirements.

During industry briefings, GovTech shares the roadmaps for the strategic national projects and the tenders that are coming up with the next financial year, so that industry can prepare to bid for those projects.

GovTech also organises ‘Blue-Sky Senior Leaders CXO Breakfast’ to discuss emerging technologies with leaders in the ICT space.   

Finally, here is a crowdsourcing portal, called eCitizen Ideas! which was launched last year. GovTech publishes problem statement obtained from government agencies seeking to crowdsource use cases, solutions and commercialisation partners.  

In March this year, GovTech posted a list of seven problem statements from government agencies on the portal. Solutions sought ranged from an AI and robotics solution to patrol an outdoor compound to a mixed-reality training simulation and a smart auscultation system to support telehealth initiatives. The submission of solutions closed on 15 March.

TRANS grant

If solutions are not present or the existing solutions do not meet the specific requirements of the government agencies, GovTech helps fill in the capability gap.

The TRANS grant funds translational R&D and technology or process innovations in areas that are aligned to the emerging and focused tech areas. This funding initiative is jointly run by GovTech, National Research Foundation (NRF) and Smart Nation and Digital Government Office (SNDGO) under the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). 

S$25 million of TRANS Grant funding has been awarded to three TRANS Labs for a duration of three years, with effect from 1 September 2016.

The Labs are:

  1. Smart Platform Infrastructure Research on Integrative Technology (SPIRIT) from Nanyang Technological University (NTU)
  2. Smart Nation Applied R&D Lab (SNAL) from Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR)
  3. Centre for Applied Socio-Physical Analytics (CASA) from Singapore Management University (SMU).

These TRANS Labs have significant capabilities in the fields of wireless communication, data science, artificial intelligence, cyber security and social analytics.

The grant helps offset costs arising from the projects undertaken under each approved proposal. This includes costs associated with manpower, training, equipment investment, professional services and overheads. In addition, TRANS Grant also provides support for operational activities and developments arising from the administration of this funding initiative. Only Singapore-based activities are supported through the grant.

Commercial entities can participate in co-creating solutions with the TRANS Labs and relevant government agencies for deployment and commercialisation of the solutions.  They can approach SPRING (now Enterprise Singapore, following a merger with IE Singapore) for potential Gov-PACT support. This S$80 million Government Lead Demand initiative aims to catalyse innovation and business opportunities for SMEs and develop solutions to address national needs, improve productivity, and public service delivery.  

If the proof-of-concept (POC) or trial meets well-defined criteria for success, then the agency is committed to deploy. This is another stage where the commercial entities can come in to take the solution to market.

The background IP and research IP reside with the TRANS Labs. Public sector agencies have non-exclusive, non-transferrable, perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free right and license to use, modify, reproduce, and distribute the research IP for non-commercial, R&D and educational purposes. Companies interested in commercialisation have to discuss co-ownership of IP or fee with the TRANS Labs.

Examples of Trans Lab projects include use of Machine Translation Technology to produce a more accurate and contextualised translation engine using past translations as inputs for the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI), Privacy Preserved Data Collector (PDC) & Privacy Preserved Data Analyser (PDA) for the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and mobile crowd-sourcing of mini-tasks to citizens in the vicinity via the Ministry of National Development (MND)’s OneService app.

The full list of projects that have been selected for proof-of-concepts since the inception of the TRANS Grant funding initiative can be seen below:

Ms Chow concluded her presentation listing four desired outcomes of the TRANS funding initiative: accelerated adoption of advanced technology by public sector agencies; build local technical capabilities; delivering citizen-centric services for a smart nation; and developing a vibrant technology ecosystem

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