The astronomical rates of transmission and a lack of a sure cure for COVID-19 till now has been reason enough for global leaders and citizens to have grave concerns. With the promise of a slew of vaccines, this panic has been somewhat assuaged but extreme caution is still the order of the day.
To their credit, many countries were quick to realise technology’s potential in effectively managing the impact of the virus. Tech giants across the globe supported governments by launching AI-powered solutions and applications to help citizens control risk.
Solutions had to be created under extreme pressure and absurdly tight timelines, leading to phenomenal creativity. Here are some of the significant ways in which technology has and can help deal with the COVID-19 pandemic:
Using AI to Identify, Track and Forecast Outbreaks
AI-based solutions have been designed to detect an outbreak with the premise that the better one can track the virus, the better chances of dealing with it. Such solutions can detect an outbreak by analysing news reports, social media platforms and government platforms.
Canadian startup BlueDot’s, San Francisco’s Metabiota, and Boston’s health map are few examples where the power of AI was harnessed to warn people of the threat days before the WHO issued its public warnings.
Liberty and Passage by Access Anywhere is a prime example of this technological application. Developed by Access Anywhere, it is a total outbreak management system that combines a plethora of cutting-edge technologies on a single platform. Liberty & Passage is an outbreak management solution for individuals, organisations and the entire travel industry.
Extremely versatile, it can be deployed across various sectors including airports, cruise lines, immigration and tourism boards. Its ease of use, flexibility and scalability means it can be a significant tool for organisations in almost any sector to restart their business safely.
Using AI to Help Diagnose the Virus
Infervision, an AI company had launched a coronavirus AI solution that helps front line healthcare workers detect and monitor the disease efficiently. It also has the capacity to improve the speed of a CT diagnosis. Alibaba has built an AI-powered diagnosis system, which is 96% accurate in diagnosing the virus in seconds.
Using Drones to Deliver Medical Supplies
Drone delivery is considered the safest and fastest ways to deliver medical supplies during a disease outbreak. For example, Terra Drones is using their unmanned aerial vehicles to transport medical samples and quarantine material with minimal risk. Additionally, drones are being used to patrol public spaces and track non-compliance of quarantine mandates.
Using Chatbots To Share Information
Chatbots are an effective way for people to get specific information and advice. For instance, Tencent operates WeChat, where people can access free online health consultation services. Similarly, the travel and tourism sector has immensely benefited from the use of chatbots.
Using AI to Identify Infected Individuals
As the COVID-19 virus transitioned from an outbreak to a full-on pandemic, China’s sophisticated surveillance system used facial recognition technology and temperature detection software from SenseTime to identify people who have developed a fever and were likely to have been infected by the virus.
Technological innovations like ‘Smart Helmets’ are also being used by officials in Sichuan province to identify people with raised temperatures. Additionally, the Chinese Government’s monitoring system, Health Code, uses big data to identify and assess the risk of each individual based on their travel history.
Innovation in technology is helping to mitigate the impact of the current pandemic by keeping people informed and abreast with the latest developments and encouraging them to take all the necessary precautions.
With the discovery of the new COVID-19 strain and experts declaring the pandemic to be a recurring feature in the future one can only see technologies like AI and Machine learning playing a pertinent role in keeping people and organisations up and running.
A Hong Kong Baptist University-led (HKBU) research team has launched an online cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) programme called “EASE Online” to help people with a social anxiety disorder (SAD). It incorporates virtual reality (VR) scenarios that are common triggers for social anxiety, allowing participants to respond as they would to real-life situations and receive counselling services from mental health professionals.
The programme is recruiting 600 participants aged 18 to 70 with a social anxiety disorder. It will also provide training to around 100 local mental health professionals on how to operate the programme, to serve more people in need in the long run.
Blended mode of counselling to treat social anxiety disorder
People with social anxiety disorder are characterised by excessive fear and anxiety which are disproportionate to the social situations they encounter, such as meeting someone new, eating or even making phone calls in public. This overwhelming fear can keep them away from social contact and prevent them from seeking counselling services.
Dr Pan Jiayan, Associate Professor of the Department of Social Work at HKBU, who led a team comprising investigators from the Department of Social Work and the Department of Computer Science at HKBU, has developed a 13-week programme called “EASE Online” to help them cope with social anxiety and improve their quality of life with CBT. CBT is goal-oriented psychotherapy that helps people cope with life challenges by adjusting their patterns of thinking or behaviour.
Having started in 2020, the four-year EASE Online programme will run until 2023. It adopts a blended mode of service delivery including both online and offline counselling. The online service comprises nine weekly online modules delivered on the programme website or mobile app. The online modules include a briefing on CBT skills, case demonstration videos, exercises and feedback, a forum and self-assessment.
Integration of VR exposure therapy
The counsellor will provide three face-to-face sessions plus two telephone follow-ups to supplement the online service and review the service progress. VR exposure therapy will be adopted in two out of the three face-to-face sessions. The research team designed five VR environments that reflect real-life scenarios, such as giving a presentation and attending a job interview, for participants to experience the anxiety and fear associated with such settings.
These scenarios are designed by the research team and delivered in Cantonese. They are adapted and produced from local cases to fit the language and cultural context of Hong Kong.
Therapist-guided VR exposure therapy is an intermediate treatment step for SAD clients that exposes them to real-life social situations. A trained counsellor will guide participants in person throughout the exposure process and provide a debriefing for them on a variety of strategies as well as advice on how to tackle social anxiety.
To evaluate the effectiveness of the programme, participants need to fill in an online questionnaire upon completion of the programme, and at three- and six-month follow-ups, respectively.
Novel alternative tackles social anxiety
“Social anxiety disorder sufferers feel more than just shy or nervous in certain social circumstances. Their difficulty in building up good social and interpersonal relationships brings them unspeakable pain,” said Dr Pan.
Online counselling and VR exposure therapy create a safe and non-threatening environment for people with social anxiety to learn how to cope with fearful social situations. It is especially suitable for those who do not want to be stigmatised by society or cannot afford traditional face-to-face counselling services. The team hopes that the EASE Online programme will bring SAD sufferers’ social life back on track, Dr Pan added.
The programme is supported by a grant of more than HK$6 million from the Research Impact Fund of the University Grants Committee and HKBU. Besides investigators from HKBU, the EASE Online programme team also includes researchers from the Department of Psychology at Stockholm University, and the programme has also partnered with the Richmond Fellowship of Hong Kong and the Caritas Wellness Link – Tsuen Wan.
Digital technology has accelerated aggressively during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to safety restrictions and health protocols, drastic changes in the workplace, including the adoption of remote workstations, have been implemented. As consumers began to shift to e-commerce and other online platforms from traditional methods of carrying out transactions, enterprises had to be on the lookout for innovative means to cater to the public’s demand.
The same scenario is seen in the public sector, with governments across the globe laying out various initiatives to mitigate the economic impacts of the health crisis. One of these initiatives is by ramping up the ease of doing business through the implementation of new technology.
Early on, the Indonesian government has been at the fore of amplifying its digital initiatives. According to an earlier report by OpenGov Asia, the Ministry of Industry is reforming its operational models by putting a premium on technology. Under this innovative framework, the Ministry undertakes to provide technical training as part of goals to improve investments and foster human resource development through tech. This comes as a support for efforts aimed at decreasing the unemployment rate and boosting the competitiveness of human resources.
The Ministry of Agriculture is innovating along the same vein. In a statement, Agriculture Minister Dr. Syahrul Yasin Limpo encouraged the Agricultural Research and Development Agency to step up its game in developing innovative techniques to improve methods employed in agriculture.
During a workshop with the theme “Implementing the Use of Innovation and Provision of Superior Seeds”, the Minister underscored the importance of utilising technology to streamline the agriculture sector, one which has long relied on traditional methodologies.
He added that the Agency is an important unit under the Ministry in introducing innovation. The Minister also said that they are looking at “being able to discover new engineering and breakthroughs, those that are currently unavailable. There must be innovative engineering.”
The Minister also expressed his enthusiasm over the strides that the Agency has made last year despite challenges recorded due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He stressed that the Agency was able to show its resilience during that period and was able to create new programmes and to develop policies to accelerate in the new normal. He said he is hopeful that the same momentum will be sustained this year, as the country continues to anticipate economic recovery.
He emphasised that: “in 2021 it must be better, even faster. This is the momentum that must be used to actualise our research and development. This is the time for research and development to produce work that breaks through existing engineering, technological research and applications.”
The Ministry likewise announced that it has given a directive to the Agency to conceptualise and formulate its targets by the end of the first quarter of the year. It added that it anticipates to see commodity targets such as those for soybeans, garlic and corn, increase to achieve goals of producing 6 to 8 tonnes of these products per hectare.
This target, the Ministry said, can be achieved through a multi-tier approach –by looking at targets from upstream to downstream. To jumpstart this initiative, researchers were urged to start developing and building on existing agricultural varieties of crops. The next step would be finding ways on how to maximise post-harvest processing to hit targets.
By re-strategising, the Ministry hopes that the Agency will be able to streamline agricultural processes through innovative techniques. This directive is in line with commitments earlier made by the Indonesian government to meet the increasing food demands of about 273 million citizens and to make farmers more innovative in their craft.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, governments across the world are standing their ground in capitalising on digital technology to provide seamless transactions during the new normal despite safety restrictions. In line with these efforts, government agencies and even state-owned firms are rethinking their operation models to be more equipped in providing services to the citizen base.
This scenario is evident in Indonesia, where the government has early on committed to accelerating its digital transformation to boost public service and governance. In fact, according to an earlier report by OpenGov Asia, the Ministry of National Development Planning emphasised the role of information and communications technology to boost the country’s social capital index. This index is the measure of the whole population’s social stability and well-being.
Building on this commitment, Indonesia’s state-owned electricity company PT Perusahaan Listrik Negara (PLN) announced that it has formulated a new innovative strategy to provide services to households across the country. In a statement, the company said that consumers can easily apply for a COVID-19 electricity stimulus package through the PLN Mobile application.
The electricity firm ensured that they are distributing 450 volt-ampere (VA) and 900 VA subsidised electricity packages to 32 million household consumers. It added that this number excludes the 450 VA power packages to 459,000 business customers.
Postpaid customers under the 450 VA group are entitled to a 100% electricity discount while a 50% power subsidy is given to postpaid consumers under the 900 VA power segment. PLN’s Executive Vice President for Corporate Communication and CSR Agung Murdifi said: “postpaid customers will immediately reduce the cost of electricity bills. Then for 450 VA, prepaid tokens can be obtained through the method described. Meanwhile, for subsidised 900 VA household customers, a stimulus is received when purchasing electricity tokens.”.
The Executive Vice President added that they “see that the distribution process is running smoothly and customers have enjoyed the electricity stimulus.”
The state-owned firm emphasised that using the PLN app is easy and convenient during the new normal. The application can be downloaded via Playstore and App Store. Once downloaded, customers can register for the power subsidy by clicking on ‘PLN Cares for Covid-19’ under the Info and Promos tab. They will then be prompted to enter their Customer ID or their electricity meter number. A free token will appear which can be entered by customers in their meter reading to avail of discounts.
For those who have trouble accessing or downloading the PLN app, they can log on to the PLN website or send a message through WhatsApp. The company’s Executive Vice President stated that they have launched these additional services to provide as many alternative options to citizens who are in need of discounts on their electricity bills. He added: “PLN adds Channels through the PLN Mobile Application to make it easier because customers can just open the application on their cellphones, enter the Customer ID / Meter Number, and get the token number.”
The introduction of subsidised electricity is part of the government’s IDR 695.2 trillion (US$ 49.4 billion) stimulus package during the pandemic. This government effort aims to shore up the country’s economy which has taken a hit since the start of the COVID-19 crisis. Through this initiative, the government is also optimistic that the stimulus package will help maintain employment levels.
Since August last year, over 30 million households, businesses and industries have been seeing lower amounts in their electricity bills following the release of an IDR 15.4 trillion (US$ 1.09 billion) funding for power relief measures. This amount is on top of the IDR 54.79 trillion (US$ 3.89 billion) yearly electricity subsidies set aside by the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources.
Singapore’s smart nation initiative was launched with the vision of better living, stronger communities and the creation of more opportunities for all. A technology-driven, up-to-date healthcare system with the capability to ensure the wellbeing of all its citizens is a pre-requisite to support this powerful mission. Such healthcare infrastructure takes on added relevance and urgency in the light of the current global crisis.
To better understand how the government of Singapore is utilising technology to realise this vision of better living and a stronger community for the nation, OpenGov Asia had an in-depth conversation with Sutowo Wong, Director, Analytics and Information Management Division, Ministry of Health.
Sutowo confirmed that technology and innovation in healthcare procedure and processes support MOH’s strategic shift from Healthcare to Health. Wearable technology, healthcare mobile applications, digitising in-person transactions like payments and on-line registrations are all technology use cases that help the government track and ensure the good health of its citizens.
It was fascinating to know how technology has enabled supporting senior citizens through user-friendly apps like the Moments of Life App (a smart nation and Digital Government office initiative) and has taken healthcare beyond the hospital walls into homes and community of patients using TeleHealth.
Sutowo acknowledged that the Singapore healthcare sector harnesses innovative technologies like Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) in various health care applications and models. AI and ML-driven solutions are, in fact, the key to many of their initiatives and strategies.
- No-Show Predictive Model: Using ML, this model identifies patients who are potential no-shows. This allows administrators to send them reminders or to allocate their slot to another patient. The solution optimises clinic resources as well as maximise available time.
- Multiple Readmission Predictive Model: This model analyses data to create a list of high-risk patients for care teams to focus on. Patients within the elevated risk category are automatically identified for enrolment into intervention programs eliminating up to 90% of nurses’ manual assessment workload, freeing them up to spend more time in taking direct care of patients.
- Singapore Eye Lesion Analyser Plus (SELENA+): Based on a deep learning, artificial intelligence software system, the solution can detect three major eye conditions by highlighting areas with potential vision-threatening eye diseases. This technology has proven to be highly efficient in delivering fast and accurate results.
- National University Health System (NUHS) Automated Diagnosis Engine: The engine helps diagnose appendicitis using clinical notes.The objective of this work is to develop an automated diagnosis system that can predict the probability of appendicitis given a free-text emergency department note and additional structures information(e.g. lab test results). The model can learn important features, and symptoms of patients from unstructured free text notes from doctors helping to make better diagnosis.
It was interesting to learn that the Ministry of Health follows a 2-pronged approach to better respond to rapid changes in the technological landscape.
The first prong is a top-down approach through the National AI Strategy, which maps out how Singapore will develop and use AI to transform the economy and improve people’s lives. AI can also be used to analyse clinical and genomic data, medical images, and health behaviours to better assess the risk profile of patients.
Second is the bottom-up approach which comprises initiatives like AI in Health Grand Challenge. Such programmes and initiatives encourage the development of innovative approaches that use AI to enhance primary care and disease management in Singapore and the world. It supports groundbreaking research ideas that adopt AI technologies and innovations to address current challenges in the medical field.
Speaking about the future for robotic doctors /nurses for treatment and surgeries and the current proximity to achieving this, Sutowo shared that “with the declining old-age support ratio coupled with low birth rates, it is imperative that healthcare is made more proactive to guide people to take pre-emptive steps to keep themselves healthy or to better manage their well-being”.
Leveraging assistive technology and robotics in healthcare is one way of doing it. Explaining further, he shared the example of RoboCoach Xian. A robot trainer enhanced with sensors, it imitates human movements and can teach a range of exercises to senior citizens. It can also help provide cognitive therapy to seniors who have suffered strokes or have other age-related disorders.
The Centre for Healthcare Assistive & Robotics Technology (CHART) has been established with the support of Ministry of Health and Economic Development Board to enable health care professionals to work closely with industry, academia and research institutions to co-develop and testbed impactful healthcare solutions in assistive technologies and robotics.
One such technological enabler is the development of the Robotic Middleware for healthcare (RoMi-H). It standardises communication messages among heterogeneous robotic systems, sensors and information systems, thus facilitating interoperability among multiple systems and easing system integration effort in a bid to digitalise healthcare and automate processes.
Apart from CHART, other bodies or organisations that contribute to creating tech innovations for the healthcare industry are the MOH Office for Healthcare Transformation (MOHT) and Integrated Health Information Systems (IHiS). Both the organisations have pushed boundaries in the digitalisation of healthcare, architecting the national IT strategies and roadmaps for healthcare, connecting and analysing complex systems across Singapore’s health ecosystem.
Sutowo concluded the conversation by reiterating MOH’s vision to be a leader in developing and deploying scalable, impactful technology-driven healthcare solutions to the nation’s citizens. The Ministry continues to relentlessly work towards this vision in future as well.
Digital transformation in governance is not new and has been laid out early on in many governance blueprints. A decade ago, digitalisation became an effective strategy and continues to amplify business frameworks and trigger economic stability in many markets today. In fact, notable achievements in government transactions have been recorded as far back as 2009, thanks to a shift to innovative digital methods.
While the term ‘digital technology’ may not have an exact definition, the term broadly encompasses technological advancement and its impacts on organisations. One of the goals of government agencies across the globe as information technology or IT gets more sophisticated, is to scale up procedures while decreasing costs.
Nonetheless, despite the plethora of benefits brought by technology, several key challenges continue to hinder digital transformation strategies. In a survey released in 2018, federal IT heads voiced concerns about security regarding the adoption of cloud technology. They also encountered difficulty in transferring legacy programmes to the cloud. Lack of skills in the workforce likewise constituted a major hurdle.
Necessity is the mother of invention, says the adage. In less than a year, the world saw the COVID-19 pandemic reshaping the digital landscape and accelerating digital transformation. The onslaught of the pandemic put governments on their toes to adjust their operational models and adapt rapidly to an innovative ‘remote everything’ mindset.
Pre-pandemic, the shift was meant to be gradual and incorporate standard change-management timelines. The reality today is that governments are trying to complete their digital journey, not within the coming years, but in months.
For this to happen, cloud computing and data sharing are necessary and irreplaceable lynchpins. The scope expansion and speed needed to serve and meet the demands of their citizens in the new normal can only be done by strategies that rest solidly on these two pillars.
To get a deeper insight on cloud technology and its adoption by government organisations during the pandemic, OpenGov Asia spoke with top executives of cloud tech giants Microsoft and SUSE for an in-depth interview.
Restrictions due to COVID-19 resulted in disruptions that fuelled the need for cloud technologies to ensure operational continuity. Sherie Ng, General Manager for Public Sector in the Asia Pacific at Microsoft, confirmed that digital technology is at its height with organisations accelerating their digital transformation in the last couple of months. This is particularly the case in public healthcare but is also being witnessed in other government sectors.
The pandemic accelerated the need for the digitalisation of public services for operational and business continuity. Governments needed to urgently cultivate a growth mindset, alongside efforts to ramp up relief operations and recover the economic landscape. The good news is that many governments have partnered with the company to move into the cloud platform.
In fact, in countries like Singapore, a billion-dollar increase in IT spending has been recorded. Similarly, government leaders in Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines have been vocal about the need for e-government that is heavily backed by cloud solutions.
To allow rapid uptake and migration, Sherie explained that experts at Microsoft have deployed cloud solutions in different arenas to help governments transform their processes and services. One such area is ‘e-citizen services’, which deals with the tracking of critical resources and contact tracing for clients in the healthcare industry.
Microsoft has so far supported agencies in this area through a holistic and secure platform that enables businesses to configure patient profiles and incorporate them into the entire value chain. They have also organised envisioning workshops that help customers digitise current operational processes and transform their customer experience.
Sherie added that in healthcare, it isn’t just about adopting Microsoft Azure, but a re-evaluation of the entire digital infrastructure to ensure the organisation is able to manage the current crisis and become resilient to future incidents.
Sherie detailed the intricacies of cloud economics, quashing the misconception that upgrading to the cloud would have a massive impact on expenses. In fact, organisations save more from the flexibility provided by cloud technologies like Microsoft Azure. Organisations can optimise costs by seamlessly moving their existing on-prem investments, whether open-source software or proprietary, by leveraging a hybrid cloud model.
Sherie likened the concept of cloud economics to governments going up a ladder as improvements in the cloud are recorded. The cost decreases as agencies go up this ladder. The key is to think big but start small. The secret is not going all out at the outset but incremental investments in infrastructure as the needs of the organisation grow.
The most important thing, Sherie indicated, is for every business to have a paradigm shift in organisational perspective. Leaders must be stewards of innovation, with employees re-skilled and re-trained. Governments must also empower the next generation with the digital skills needed for a resilient economic future.
To address trust, security and confidentiality, Sherie added that Microsoft believes in the timeless value of privacy and preserves the ability for customers to control their data. She shared three areas that are paramount to boosting confidentiality.
- Compliance – Microsoft respects local laws and regulations and meeting compliance obligations in a dynamic regulatory environment is complex. Consulting a team of legal experts to oversee compliance is one of the methods used by the company to help businesses navigate this ever-changing landscape.
- Agility is essential – what started as a slow transition toward digital transformation pre-pandemic is now marked with speed, flexibility and adaptivity.
- Scale – although governments have proven that they can initiate a whole value chain of operations management in a few months, there must be a correlative obligation on governments to ramp up operations to scale responsibly and in line with sustainable development goals.
Studies have also shown that the transition to Microsoft Azure has resulted in 93% better energy efficiency, all thanks to a much-needed shift to automation and cloud tech.
According to Ng Hak Beng, Sales Engineer Manager, Asia at SUSE, COVID-19 is one of the major triggers for governments to fast-track their investments in cloud technology. However, this journey continues to be marred by challenges.
One of these issues is apprehension due to data security. To address this, Hak Beng stressed that some government agencies have taken the initiative in teaming up with expert public cloud service providers. He cited the current situation in Singapore, where agencies have banked on secure cloud infrastructure to streamline their transactions.
While Hak Beng admitted that issues on confidentiality may linger and that it may take a while before people change and trust the system, he emphasised that technology is gradually evolving into a hybrid cloud environment that can help address issues on confidential data.
There is now a marked improvement in the time it takes for applications to be developed. Application development used to take years when done through traditional application design methodologies. Today, native cloud programmes have enabled faster turnaround time.
The same is true in terms of scalability. Governments with large populations face scalability issues. The challenge has been addressed by cloud-native apps which are designed primarily to scale as demand increases.
In terms of costs, Hak Beng agreed with the points raised by Sherie. He dispelled the common notion that cloud technology will put a big dent in capital expenditure. The opposite, he said, is true. Cloud systems decrease operational costs because they adapt quickly to changes in the work environment. New features can be dropped and added at little to no extra cost.
This is especially true for clients of SUSE, who are reaping the benefits of using open source software for free and pay only for charges when the need arises. Hak Beng shared the advantages of open cloud technology through SUSE’s acquisition of Rancher Labs earlier this year. With this type of system, products are developed collaboratively. This makes open source technology applicable to a wide variety of industries, including the public sector.
Simplify, modernise and accelerate. Hak Beng added that this motto resonates as SUSE strives to lend a helping hand to governments who wish to simplify existing infrastructure while achieving agility and scalability to meet increasing demands.
To further explain, Hak Beng proposed that government entities consider shifting to Platform as a Service (PaaS). Agencies can dispatch non-core company functions to cloud service providers, allowing agencies to prioritise their core services. Software as a Service (SaaS) further boosts this agility by outsourcing software operation and maintenance.
OpenGov Asia also had the opportunity to get more insights from SUSE on deterring cyber threats. As cybercrime continues to take on new and more sophisticated forms, governments have become adamant about shifting to innovative operational solutions.
For SUSE, which has been at the fore of the cyber frontlines, the answer is simple. Organisations must embrace artificial intelligence which can help in detecting potential cyber threats. Additionally, security products that can scan software source codes for malware-installing multi-cloud programmes can help prevent critical cyberattacks.
When it comes to confidentiality concerns, cloud experts at SUSE believe a hybrid cloud model can assist in allaying these doubts. Under this system, data can be stored safely in one location while other applications can be stored in another cloud infrastructure. This way, the confidentiality of data can be preserved while allowing greater flexibility of services.
The enlightening conversation concluded with both SUSE and Microsoft strongly reaffirming the benefits of shifting to cloud technology in terms of agility, scalability, and flexibility. With the pandemic far from over, for now, the journey of governments across the world toward digitalisation must continue aggressively. The role of cloud service providers, then, remains critical to improving public service and sustaining economic growth.
The Yen Phong Industrial Park in Bac Ninh province became the first in Vietnam to deploy a 5G telecom service, following a launch event held by the provincial People’s Committee and the military-run telecommunications group Viettel on 14 January.
Speaking at the event, the Deputy Minister of Information and Communications (MIC), Phan Tam, said the operation of a 5G service at the Yen Phong industrial park is a practical move to realise Politburo Resolution No. 52-NQ/TW on a number of policies on the nation’s proactive involvement in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
According to a press release, this will also help Yen Phong attract “new-generation” foreign direct investment (FDI) as well as high-tech and green technology projects. He asked the Viettel Group to work closely with businesses operating at Yen Phong industrial park to fully deploy the 5G service, which can create a platform and space for them to put forward innovations in terms of building smart factories and diversifying their products and services.
He also requested Bac Ninh provincial authorities to create favourable conditions for the Viettel Group in building 5G technology infrastructure at the Yen Phong industrial park while coordinating with the group to promote digital transformation.
For his part, Standing Vice Chairman of the provincial People’s Committee Vuong Quoc Tuan affirmed that the launch of 5G at Yen Phong industrial park is an event of significance as it marks the robust integration and development of the telecommunications and information technology sector. He added that the application of 5G will help accelerate the production process and attract more investment to the park and Bac Ninh in general.
Within the final months of 2020, all three major mobile carriers in Vietnam announced trials of commercial 5G services, making Vietnam one of the first countries in the world to roll out the latest generation of wireless technology. This is expected to boost the digital economy.
As OpenGov Asia reported, unlike previous technologies most of which had to be imported, Vietnam has gradually mastered and is now capable of producing 5G equipment, a strategically important step in Vietnam’s development of information and communications technology.
State-run enterprise Viettel was the pioneer in announcing commercial 5G trials in late November with coverage in the Hoan Kiem, Ba Dinh, and Hai Ba Trung Districts of Hanoi. Owners of 5G-enabled devices can now use the service for free at a speed of up to 1.5 gigabits per second, far higher than 4G.
Later in mid-December, Vinaphone announced its 5G coverage in some central districts in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City as well as two demonstration centres, enabling residents without 5G devices to experience the new technological features. The third provider, Mobifone, also quickly caught up by piloting commercial 5G services in Ho Chi Minh City.
With exceptionally fast speeds, low latency, and high density (up to one million devices in one square kilometre), 5G is expected to revolutionise the fields of advanced technology, healthcare, transport, and education. It will lay the foundation for Vietnam to master and apply new technologies as well as succeed in its national digital transformation drive.
Enterprises and government agencies alike are increasingly shifting their gaze to online payment portals as tools that can help them navigate through public transactions more conveniently. This is as the world recovers from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic which has left major economies accelerating faster in their digital transformation journey.
In the Philippines, several government departments are experimenting with ways to integrate online payments into their operations. These include teaming up with other agencies and those in the private sector to ensure a speedy and more efficient turnaround in transactions.
This vision is shared by the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) which in a statement announced that it has inked a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) with state-owned LandBank of the Philippines (LBP) for the integration of web-based payments for MARINA services.
The agency explained that under the agreement, the MARINA Payment Facility will be integrated with the Landbank LinkBiz portal. This portal is currently being used as a virtual payment channel that allows government and members of the private sector to have cashless payments for MARINA’s products and services.
The LinkBiz portal was earlier launched to lessen direct and indirect costs that are attributed to cash and physical distribution of in-kind goods. The LBP likewise aims to foster accountability and effective tracking of funds on top of prioritising online payments instead of cash transactions to unclog traffic and in turn, save on operation costs.
The portal is equipped to handle large-value funds and quick confirmation of payments through email. It can be accessed by the government and the public sector seven days a week, except during system maintenance.
According to Capt. Jeffrey Solon, who is the Officer-in-Charge of the Office of the Deputy Administrator for Planning of MARINA, the department is optimistic that the new virtual payment facility will bring in more convenience and efficiency in government transactions. He also expressed gratitude on behalf of his organisation to Landbank for the collaboration.
He added during the virtual signing ceremony: “With the eventual implementation of this memorandum of agreement, the MARINA looks forward to maximising the use of this e-payment facility as our modest contribution to the government’s efforts for ease of doing business, and also to adhere to the principles and practices of good governance.”
This statement was echoed by officials from the LBP, adding that they are anticipating that the cashless payment service will enable them to also fast-track their financial dues from MARINA. Marilou Villafranca, the Senior Vice-President of the North National Capital Region Branches Group of the LBP, noted: “Following our MOA signing today, this e-payment facility will be made available to your clients, allowing them to settle their monetary obligations to MARINA in a faster, more secured and convenient manner.”
The MoA signing was well-attended by officials of both MARINA and the LBP, including the Senior Vice-President and the OIC of MARINA’s Office of the Deputy Administrator and the MARINA Administrator Vice Admiral. Officers of LBP’s North NCR Branch Groups Cluster also attended the online event.
The agreement is alongside government efforts to improve the current business climate in the Philippines and government transparency. Republic Act 11032, which promotes the ease of doing business and efficient delivery of government services, was enacted in 2018. It enhanced and amended the Anti-Red Tape Act of 2007 by reducing processing time and eliminating red tape activities in government.
To achieve these goals, many agencies in government are gearing towards digitalisation to fast-track transactions and lessen turnaround time. As earlier reported by OpenGov Asia, a local government in the Philippines has adopted a zero-contact policy. The programme required all departments within the local government to adopt electronic means in the submission of government applications, requests and payments.