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The Smart Nation Mindset

The Smart Nation Mindset

Mindset change needed for Smart Nation: We must rid our fear of failure and adopt new technology, to seek better ways of doing things.

Singapore has been putting in place the necessary components to support a Smart Nation, but people will need to adopt a new mindset to ensure a successful rollout. 

Having already built up significant capabilities including a nationwide high-speed broadband network and public wireless coverage, the city-state has been on the right path towards becoming an intelligent society, said Mr Steve Leonard, Executive Deputy Chairman of the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA).

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"But Smart Nation's biggest challenge isn't technology. It's about changing mindsets," he said.

Speaking at Tableau's Conference on Tour in Singapore, Mr Leonard pointed to a low tolerance for failure, where many believed new concepts should be adopted only if they had been proven to work. This aversion for untested waters could hold back the country from pushing itself and, hence, discovering it is capable of "cool things". 

"We don't want to be reckless, but we want to be brave and courageous [in driving innovation]," he said. 

To cultivate a culture that embraced new challenges and ideas, he noted that Singapore had built up one of the best ecosystems in which innovation could thrive. This encompassed government policies and funds to help startups take their concepts to market, industry partnerships to drive research in new technology, as well as enhanced curriculum at universities and academic institutions to produce the necessary skillsets. 

The goal here was to facilitate an environment where consumers and businesses would not be afraid to try new things, even if it could lead to failure, and to encourage everyone to think outside the box without worrying about the success rate.

The enterprise community, for one, could adopt new ways to approach problems. In the realm of analytics, for instance, some organisations would simply collect as much data as possible and then attempt to search for solutions within this massive volume of information. 

They should instead start by identifying the problems they needed to solve and the questions they wanted to answer, Mr Leonard said. From there, they then would be able to determine if they had the data to help them find the answers. 

Data and Ideas

"At the end of the day, [it isn't about] having lots of data that don't go on to help you do something or change people's lives," he said, stressing the need for data analytics to solve actual problems. 

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Mr Steve Leonard: We don't want to be reckless, but we want to be brave and courageous [in driving innovation]

He pointed to one example of the government leading the way by already analysing some 90 million data points across Singapore it had collected to identify bottlenecks and processes that needed to be improved.

And Singapore would need to constantly seek improvements, especially as the country faces two key challenges that most growing cities face: an ageing population and urban density, he noted. 

By 2050, the world would be home to more people aged 65 and above, than those five years and below. The next 14 years would see a tripling of citizens into the aged band of 65 and above. And with 12 percent of Singapore’s land already taken up by roads, and nearly as much by housing, Singapore must now prepare to deal with increasing pressures on limited resources, he said.

These would inevitably create tension between the need for more capabilities, to meet the growing demands, and supply of the country's scarce resources. 

As the nation aged, for instance, demand for hospital beds would outstrip supply, especially as Singaporeans now were able to live longer with better chronic disease management. This would result in a higher number of patients visiting their doctors regularly and spending more time in clinics. 

"We can no longer rely on a hospital-centric system as patients' needs require longer-term care outside the hospital," he said, citing Singapore's Health Minister Mr Gan Kim Yong. 

"Something has to continue to evolve," Mr Leonard stressed. He pointed to a possible future where, supported by the necessary infrastructure and tools, a densely populated city such as Singapore could build smart spaces with multiple levels, each housing different requirements. Public transportation, for instance, could move underground, while goods-loading vehicles would have a dedicated space and autonomous vehicles could occupy another.

All of these would operate in a non-intrusive manner while people moved about. 

"Our goal is to be the leaders in the engineering and imagination of [solutions to societal challenges], and to provide the infrastructure needed [to facilitate these]," he said.

It also would take a community and robust ecosystem, he added. Out-of-hospital care, for example, would require a smart transport system, ubiquitous connectivity, smart homes, and smart robotics. These could eventually enable every HDB unit to operate as a virtual clinic, providing healthcare support based on the patient's specific requirements. 

Public and Private

The underlying infrastructure also would have to be sufficiently sturdy to support such healthcare provisions, including pervasive network connectivity as well as high upload and download speeds. Led by IDA, the government had been rolling out the necessary components over the past few years to further bolster the national infrastructure, such as the next-generation broadband network, Wireless@SG, Heterogeneous Network (HetNet) technology, and aggregation gateway (AG) boxes. 

The private sector, too, must play a role to drive Singapore's Smart Nation initiatives, Mr Leonard said, pointing to the skills gap in data analytics. Genome sequencing, for instance, involved massive data crunching but also required people with the knowledge to translate the data into actionable insights. 

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"So while we have the hard-core crunching capabilities, we have insufficient interpretation skills that may not be enabling us to move ahead as quickly in this area," he explained. 

He also urged all tech vendors to go beyond simply selling a product or service, and offer up new ideas to stimulate debate about how things could be done differently, and better. "Sometimes, these companies show up and say they have this product [to sell], but that's where it stops," Mr Leonard said. "How about new ideas and what more they can do? Otherwise, we'll be relegated into a you-have and we-buy scenario."

"The private sector has to lead, while the government enables. We can help build a motorway, but they have to decide where they want to go on it," he added.

Ultimately, too, Singapore must shake off the fear of new technology and failure in order to become a Smart Nation. 


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