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Speech by Mr S Iswaran, Minister for Communications and Information, at MCI Workplan Seminar 2018


Dr Yaacob Ibrahim

Parliamentary colleagues, GPC Chairman Cedric and members of the GPC

SMS Sim Ann and SMS Janil

MCI Family members

Members of the industry

Ladies and Gentlemen


  1. A very good afternoon to all of you. First, I want to say it's a real pleasure to have all of you here joining us for the MCI Workplan for 2018. This is my first Workplan Seminar for MCI, for those of you who may be unaware as yet. It's been less than 100 days since I joined MCI, and it's been a whirlwind of briefings, deep dives, events, the odd international Summit and also more recently a major cyberattack. So you could say that it's been somewhat eventful these 100 days.

  2. MCI's scope is very wide. It is very challenging, but it is also very interesting. I want to thank all the staff who have been helping me come up to speed through the briefings and enduring a lot of my questions in order for me to get a better sense of some of the initiatives we are undertaking. 

  3. I want to say also that I have been impressed by the capabilities of our people, their professionalism and their commitment. That has come across very strongly to me not only in the course of the events we have undertaken, but also in the context of the work that we are doing on a day to day basis. The best example of it was our response to the Trump-Kim Summit, which was undertaken on a massive scale — 2,500 international media — and the arrangements were undertaken within a space of about ten days. I think that by all accounts, it was done very well. We also recently had to respond to the cyberattack on SingHealth, which is still in its initial phase. This was a different kind of challenge but an important one that we have been able to respond to in the first wave. We now have to sustain and build on it. So in sum, what I would say is, these have given me the confidence that we have the capacity and the commitment to tackle some of the major challenges that lie ahead of us, and to also seize opportunities that can come our way.

  4. Before I go any further I wanted to acknowledge our predecessors, because we build on their good work and legacy. In particular, I want to take the opportunity to thank Dr Yaacob Ibrahim who is here with us today. Dr Yaacob led MCI for seven years. He has been very passionate about the work. I know because of the discussions we have had in Cabinet and on the side. It is safe to say that he is handing over a Ministry that is well prepared to take on the challenges that will come our way in the future. So, please join me once again in thanking Dr Yaacob, and also many of our ex-MCI officers, who have all made very important contributions to the mission of the Ministry. Thank you.

  5. You might have gathered by now that we are trying out some new ideas in this year's Workplan. The team that has been organising this has been working very hard and tirelessly to put it all together and also trying to ensure that every small detail is taken care of. So I want to, before going further, thank them for their hard work. I know they have been pulling very long hours in the last week or so. Thank you very much. 

  6. The Workplan Seminar is an opportunity for us to take stock of what we have done, to understand the trends, ask what lies ahead, what is our response, and to chart our way forward. So, what are the key thrusts that we are going to see in the work that we do at MCI in its next chapter? 

  7. Today, I want to share my thoughts using the three pillars of MCI's strategic plan, around Opportunity, Community and Government.


  9. Let me start with Opportunity. 

  10. It is quite fair to say that we are living in exciting times; but it is also quite accurate to say that these are quite unsettling times too. Digitalisation is transforming the way we work and live; it is also disrupting business models and industry value chains. The confluence of unprecedented computational power, an explosion of big data, and deep learning capabilities – these are powering new technologies like Artificial Intelligence. We now have tremendous computation power, enormous data and storage capacity, greater transmission speeds, all at a fraction of the cost.

  11. This is the first computer — ENIAC. It was built in 1946, for US$400,000 (or US$5.5m today).

  12. This is today's supercomputer. It has 115,000 times more computing power, and 320 million times more memory than the ENIAC. It helps us access vast amounts of data on the Internet. It is learning constantly through AI, and it fits into our pocket. Carrying a supercomputer in our pocket changes the way we live and the way we interact with one another. 

  13. I want us to take a poll to understand how digital technologies are shaping our lives. This is one of the things we are trying to do in this Workplan today—trying to get a sense of where we are ourselves. So, which of the following platforms do you go to for news about current affairs and events? 

  14. In a survey of 4,000 Singaporeans that our Research and Data Division conducted, most respondents obtained their news from local television and social media sites, whereas I think in this audience, we have a greater propensity to move towards mainstream media, digital platforms and social media. This is a more digitally-savvy crowd as compared to our general population.

  15. What it means is, we should be gratified that it is so since this is part of our work. But this also means that we need to harness this to see how we can bridge gaps with some of the people in the broader population. 

  16. The Digital Era offers enormous opportunities - for everyone. You have already seen the MCI video of how digital helps small businesses, start-ups and young professionals. I also want to share this video with you, which shows the perspectives of the man on the street. 

  17. As you can see, Singaporeans can certainly be very imaginative. The reality is that for many of these ideas and thoughts—some of these are already happening, and some of these we can achieve with the digital technologies that are available, and many that are potentially available. MCI must lead the way in harnessing digital capabilities to create new opportunities for Singapore. We want to build a vibrant, world class Infocomm Media industry that drives our economy and powers our Smart Nation initiative.

  18. We have made significant progress in this regard in recent years. We formed IMDA in 2016, as a converged infocomm media agency to lead our transformation into a digital economy. We launched the Infocomm Media Industry Transformation Map (ICM ITM) last year. We introduced the Digital Economy Framework for Action to promote partnerships, and empower workers and businesses with technology. We have launched the Future of Media strategy to build more global and resilient media companies. This is an important suite of efforts, and if we succeed, we can create more opportunities for our companies, and jobs for our workers.

  19. The key is implementation, especially at the enterprise level because we must be able to engage our enterprises, understand their needs, and then marshal our national resources and capabilities to help them realise their visions and their plans. This is something that we have to undertake at the whole-of-Government level.

  20. We already have today, like the Economic Development Board (EDB), Enterprise Singapore and IMDA, who are making significant contributions to this effort. But we can do more, and we can do better by bringing those efforts much closer together. The EDB, Enterprise Singapore and IMDA will form a joint office to better support the growth of the ICM industry and its enterprises – whether they are local or foreign; whether they are big or small companies. 

  21. The working name of this joint office is the Digital Industry Office. It will be a single, one-stop office to address the needs of our infocomm media companies. The office will also bring together the three agencies' programmes for market access; enterprise development, industry and talent development; as well as strategic account management. In a way, this joint office is our own Government start-up for how we will do industry development. We will announce more details on this Office soon.

  22. To thrive in the digital age, we must have the right capabilities. As we all know, technology is evolving rapidly. Tech companies are spending more on research and development of new capabilities, and in many cases, more than many countries in aggregate. 

  23. Therefore, we have to deepen our capabilities if we are to maintain and enhance our own competitive edge to keep pace in this very fast, evolving and important space. We are tackling this on multiple fronts. If I can highlight three: -

  24. In the immediate term, we are training our workforce in digital skills through the TechSkills Accelerator programme (TeSA). A total of 39,000 training places have been taken up or committed by companies since TeSA's launch in 2016. TeSA graduates, like John Ang, have benefitted. John has a new career as a Web Developer at Grab, working on front-end and back-end web development. With TeSA, we can give more Singaporeans the opportunity to participate in the digital economy with good ICT jobs.

  25. In the medium term, we are launching a Technology Roadmap. It is a refreshed technology roadmap that will guide further investments in frontier technology research and this will guide us for the rest of RIE2020 but also take us beyond for the next phase, to 2025. Currently, we are engaging various companies and agencies on this Roadmap and we will share more details at the launch later this year.

  26. In the longer term, we have to invest in R&D. Under the RIE2020 plan, $360 million was allocated to the Services and Digital Economy (SDE) domain. We have made some promising investments, such as in AI Singapore, and cybersecurity, but we must be prepared to do more in R&D because digital technologies will only become more pervasive – and companies and countries around the world are already investing heavily in this.

  27. I fully intend to increase R&D spending on the Services and Digital Economy domain. It is not just about the sheer number of R&D dollars but also how we are able to target the areas that are of value to us, and that are going to give us bang for the buck in terms of results. We are reviewing this with the National Research Foundation (NRF) and the outcome will be announced later this year. 

  28. In our next chapter, initiatives like the digital industry office, TeSA, the Technology Roadmap, and enhanced R&D spending—all of these will give a decisive boost to our digital economy ambitions. 


  30. While MCI can do much to create exciting opportunities in the digital economy, it will be meaningful only if all Singaporeans are able to share in this progress. That is why it is equally important that we focus on building an inclusive and cohesive Community.

  31. Ultimately, our progress as a nation must be measured not just by our economic achievements, but also by how well we ensure that all Singaporeans are able to partake of the benefits.

  32. Digital Readiness

  33. It starts with Digital Readiness. Even as many are excited by the possibilities, there are others who are anxious about their own preparedness for the digital future. Some are worried that they will be on the wrong side of this widening gap between the digital haves and the digital have-nots. Let me at this juncture, try another poll, and ask all of you: "How ready do you think you and your family/friends are for the digital world?"

  34. What the results tell us is that, even amongst us, there is a sense that we are somewhat ready, but we are not quite there yet. What we have to do is harness this, use this to better understand what are the concerns in the community, and what are the programmes that we can launch in order to help many more Singaporeans bridge this gap and seize the opportunities in the digital future. 

  35. We are not sparing any effort in building our community to be digitally ready. Just last month we launched the Digital Readiness Blueprint. We are heartened by the positive reception from our people and our companies. Many have come forward to support the Blueprint and help more Singaporeans become digitally-ready.

  36. Today, I am happy to announce several new partnerships which are being launched in support of our goals.

  37. One example is the SG:D Friends (SG Digital Friends). This is an expansion of the Friends of Silver Infocomm initiative. It recognises partners who promote corporate volunteerism and multiply the reach of our Digital Readiness programmes. Over 20 companies such as Apple, HP Inc., Hewlett Packard Enterprise, IBM, OCBC Bank, Microsoft and Standard Chartered Bank will be coming on board as SG:D Friends. 

  38. I am also very glad that MCI itself will be stepping forward as a Friend in support of this initiative. The project aims to reach 300,000 beneficiaries over five years, and I am glad to say that we are on track to reach this target.

  39. Second, we are collaborating with Apple to deliver a series of "Silver Digital Creators" courses at four libraries, as part of Apple's Regional Training Centres initiative. Seniors can learn digital skills such as coding and video-making here, and using Apple applications like Swift Playground, Garage Band and iMovie. This is a joint effort of IMDA, NLB, Apple and NTUC LearningHub working with RSVP Singapore to engage senior trainers for peer-to-peer learning. This is also an excellent example of how we are harnessing the collective capabilities of our government agencies to promote corporate volunteerism and increase the reach of Digital Readiness programmes.

  40. Third, we have established a strong partnership with Amazon to create an AI-themed Lab on Wheels bus. It is a popular way to introduce emerging trends to students and the community through interactive experiences. We are using Amazon Web Services AI and Machine Learning technologies to bring AI to the masses.

  41. Some examples are at the foyer and I would encourage you to check them out if you have not already done so.

  42. Libraries

  43. A key institution through which we are building a community is our library, and the Libraries of the Future Masterplan has introduced new ways to read, learn, and share experiences. 

  44. Our libraries are social levellers–they provide access to lifelong learning opportunities to keep up with changes in the digital economy and society. Over the next five years, NLB will be introducing digital readiness and future skills programmes as a springboard to deeper learning. Close to 6,000 digital readiness programmes will be introduced to infuse digital literacy into Singaporeans' everyday life – to build interest, confidence and capability in digital adoption and creation with tech. Our overall message is a very simple one – if you have the will, we have the way. We want all Singaporeans to step up and participate.

  45. I visited Bukit Panjang Library just yesterday and was struck by how much our libraries have changed over the last 50 years. These young people here are from the Delta Senior School – they are interns and volunteers. Our libraries have used digital technologies to computerise our library records, automate borrowing, and introduce e-services. They have reimagined our libraries to be wonderful community spaces for learning and picking up new skills.

  46. There are two further very important ways our libraries have enabled us to connect with the community:

  47. One is our work with volunteers. Bukit Panjang Public Library's adult section is entirely run by volunteers, allowing us to engage and co-create with the community. I have had the pleasure of interacting with NLB's volunteers at an appreciation event last Friday – from pre-schoolers to senior citizens, from taxi drivers to a quite enthusiastic Italian chef. They have all been very deeply involved and their enthusiasm is quite infectious.

  48. NLB's excellent work with volunteers augments the impact of our programmes, but also gives the community a valuable sense of ownership and co-creation possibilities of our libraries.

  49. The other aspect is NLB's work with the special needs community. We have an ongoing partnership with the autism resource centre, working with their clients to digitise our collection. NLB is also exploring more externship programmes for people with special needs to help them socialise in a safe environment. All these efforts allow us to engage and involve our special needs community more effectively. 

  50. Our libraries have become much more than just a place for learning – they help the community build lasting bonds through shared experiences that transcend generations.

  51. This video shows us that technology in our lives may change many things, but some things remain the same. Our libraries, like our schools, have a very special place in our hearts because that is where we came together to form deep bonds of friendship that last us a lifetime, and in some cases it goes beyond friendship. 

  52. Archives

  53. The other aspect is on history and a sense of identity through what community building can do for our sense of history and nation-building. The National Archives is an important custodian of our shared history and heritage. This year is NAS' Golden Jubilee. We will commemorate this special milestone with a series of exciting activities from this year through to 2019.

  54. We have launched a public call for submissions to an oral history video challenge, with the theme of 'Social History of Singapore'. From now till September, anyone can submit a video entry depicting their understanding of the pre-selected oral history interview extracts.

  55. We will also have public screenings of our restored films. This was at an event where we were thanking those who had contributed and donated some of their own documents and other important heritage items. These activities collectively will raise awareness of NAS' rich collections and its role as a trusted source of information and knowledge.

  56. I want to congratulate the National Archives on this milestone and I am looking forward to many of the activities that will be held in the year ahead. Well done, NAS.


  58. Finally, I would like to address the role of Government. Seizing Opportunities and strengthening the Community is a national effort requiring the public, private and people sectors to all play a part.

  59. Government Communications

  60. Government has a crucial role in bringing people together, and growing the common space in our increasingly diverse and cosmopolitan population. This includes how Government communicates and engages with our people better, understands their needs and concerns, and rallies them to our common cause.

  61. To do so, we have embraced new ways of communicating with one another. We have been using data to generate targeted and optimised messaging to encourage more to switch from analogue to digital TV. We have been experimenting with new concepts, such as our "Kungfu Fighter: A Hero Rices" campaign to encourage Singaporeans to eat more brown rice during the Dragon Boat Festival. These efforts have made an impact and helped enhance public satisfaction with Government communications in recent years.

  62. Regulations

  63. Besides communications, the Government has a key role in creating the enabling environment – the infrastructure and regulations – for us to live and work together, and realise our full potential. Our regulations must also be transparent, effective and progressive.

  64. In the digital economy, these include regulations on data, which is the new oil. We will update our data regulations, across multiple fronts. We will review the Personal Data Protection Act, to strike the right balance between organisations' growing need to collect and use personal data, and the real concern of individuals for greater accountability for the use of such data, how it is being applied and in what context. 

  65. We will also support regional and international mechanisms that facilitate cross-border data flows in a responsible and accountable manner, including working with our ASEAN member states to make sure we have the frameworks to raise and harmonise personal data protection standards. We have the opportunity here to set a benchmark, which will be the standard for the rest of the world.

  66. We will develop our own certification system, the Data Protection Trustmark, which will recognise organisations with high standards of data protection, and facilitate cross-border data exchanges.

  67. Cybersecurity

  68. Finally, there is one other important role of Government which has come to the fore recently - it is to preserve trust and confidence in our institutions. Trust is a precious fragile asset – especially in the era of social media and fake news. It is difficult to build, yet very easily destroyed.

  69. Trust has been a key pillar of Singapore's success, and the reason why our whole is much greater than the sum of our parts. It is the trust in our system that allows us to go well beyond what is expected of us. 

  70. Unfortunately, from time to time there will be incidents – like the recent cyber attack - that threaten to erode the precious trust that has been built up painstakingly. This incident was a deliberate and sophisticated attack that caused the most serious breach of personal data in Singapore's history. But we are also fortunate because it could have been a lot worse.

  71. Nevertheless, given the serious implications of this incident for public health and safety, I have decided to convene a Committee of Inquiry in my capacity as the Minister-in-Charge of Cybersecurity. It is an important step in getting to the bottom of the incident, and also in ensuring that we maintain and enhance Singaporeans' trust in our systems and our institutions. We have already announced that retired Senior District Judge Richard Magnus will chair the COI. We will announce the three other members of the COI, as well as its Terms of Reference today. 

  72. The Committee will establish the events and contributory factors leading to the cybersecurity attack. It will look at the incident response. It will also recommend measures to better secure SingHealth's and other public sector IT systems against similar attacks in future. The COI will conduct public and private hearings and submit its report by the end of this year, 31 Dec 2018.

  73. While we will do everything we can to strengthen our systems, we cannot completely eliminate the risk of another such attack. That is the nature of this ongoing battle. The would-be attackers are constantly developing new capabilities even as we reinforce our IT systems. Hence, it is also crucial that we do not allow this incident, or any others like it, to derail our plans for a Smart Nation, because that is the way of the future, and all of us know that. For the people who are involved in the frontier technologies, you can see the potential even further.

  74. What it means is that we must adapt to operate effectively and securely in the digital future, to deliver better public services, enhance our competitiveness of our economy, and create opportunities for our entrepreneurs and our people.


  76. I have outlined MCI's broad directions for writing our next chapter together. Our goal is to improve Singaporeans' lives, and secure a brighter future for our country. If I may use the parlance of my DesignSingapore Council colleagues, we are putting Singaporeans at the heart of all we do, and aligning our plans around them.

  77. I was reminded of how important this is at last week's President's Design Award where we celebrated designs that had enabled economic transformation, and raised our quality of life. I was particularly impressed by one woman, Mdm Noraisah, who turned the spotlight onto an often-overlooked segment of our healthcare industry – the caregivers

  78. By using design thinking and working closely with their clients and stakeholders, this team sought to transform the caregiving experience in Singapore by building a strong network of support. This project, and many like it, embodies what we aim to do at MCI – understand our citizens' needs, use that knowledge to develop new and more effective programmes, and work with our many stakeholders to deliver our goals.

  79. I have shared my thoughts with you about how we can write our next chapter together. It is a chapter replete with exciting opportunities, in the digital future. It is a chapter teeming with strong communities, anchoring the Singapore identity. It is a chapter enabled by a Government that is committed to upholding high levels of public trust in our institutions and in one another.

  80. Let us work together in writing this new chapter for MCI and Singapore.

  81. Thank you. 

To view the abovementioned videos and media release on the COI, please visit the MCI Workplan 2018 site at



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