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The global pandemic caught everyone by surprise, accelerating the digital transformation plans of both governments and private organisations. As the world enters what will hopefully be the home stretch of the pandemic battle – the vaccination stage – both sectors are still looking for ways to efficiently deliver and implement their programmes.

Dr Steve Bennett, Director for Global Practice, SAS

OpenGov Asia had a chance to speak exclusively with Dr Steve Bennett. With deep experience in biosurveillance gained from the various leadership roles during his 12 years at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Steve was able to share rare perspectives in managing disruptions on a global scale such as COVID-19.

He also brings a wealth of knowledge and experience from the hat he current wears as Director, Global Government Practice, SAS. A global leader in analytics for organisations seeking immediate value from their data, SAS has a deep toolbox of analytics solutions and broad industry knowledge. Through SAS’ offerings, organisations gain actionable insights from their data and make sense of it all. Identify what is working and fix what is not, make more intelligent decisions, and drive relevant change.

Steve acknowledged that they have known for a long time that the world was susceptible to a pandemic be it in any form. He said that when the news came from China, the first global news in pro-med, they hoped that it would be contained, but, alas, that was not to be.

For SAS as an organisation, the urgent focus was on safety and continuity of operations. Their initial thought went to what the negative effects of the pandemic would be on their global team. A multinational company with 14,000 engaged across the globe, there were incredible ramifications for employees and other staff.

At the same time that continuity of operations was being managed, SAS was working hard to find ways to get in the fight against COVID-19 and help.  Initially, the company’s efforts and ideas, while valuable, were uncoordinated.  For Steve, with his experience in dealing with disruptive events, he was able to bring rationale and calmness to the situation. Familiar with a way to manage such scenarios – the Incident Command System (ICS) – he proposed its deployment within SAS. It can orient and deliver information in an efficient manner that cuts through bureaucracy and red tape. This system is globally recognised and is widely used by governments as they manage natural disasters, as well as many industries.

The ICS was SAS’s initial answer to the pandemic, and for them, it changed the way they function and to further adapt to the new normal. After the recommendation, Steve found himself leading SAS’s global response. He spearheaded the development of a system that could cater to the needs of the healthcare sector and government as it rallied to meet the pandemic head-on. With the intention of getting software and tools into the hands of people on the front line that needed it as quickly as possible, the team had to work overtime.

Steve highlighted critical areas where SAS could make a significant difference amid the crisis. Optimising the use of medical resources, dashboard and data visualisation and helping governments distribute benefits. Intentionally, they focused on a handful of things to develop the right applications to support these areas efficiently rather than tackling hundreds of use-cases.

The development of systems to manage limited medical resources, such as ICU beds and ventilators for several countries, proved to be vital. Added to this were their data visualisation and situational awareness programmes. These solutions helped bring a snapshot perspective for governments trying to determine their stock of masks for distribution, available beds, ventilators to deploy, etc. SAS’ simple data dashboards helped connect such critical information, for the first time, in an easy-to-view map. It worked wonders for senior government leaders, allowing them to see all the relevant data in one place; and that led to making better, data-driven, informed decisions.

Beyond a doubt, Steve feels, the real challenge for governments is that their data is spread across multiple channels which is compounded by a lack of process (or desire) for integration. This deadly combination hinders the process.

Public sector agencies should welcome the idea of utilising a system that would take all that disorganisation, duplicity and disinclination and make it work together in one platform. The idea of shared value goes a long way, not only for its citizens but also for the agency – those who recognise that that the visualisation of data will enable them to function better.

Big advocates for using data analytics to aid government benefits programmes, Steve confirmed that they championed a process called “Saving Lives and Livelihoods”. While they wanted to cater to the health sector, they also wanted to incorporate data analytics to protect precious resources.

The company helped governments to distribute benefits – quickly and effectively – prioritising needs. Their solutions helped agencies differentiate between those who needed the benefits immediately and were qualified and those who were not. This not only allowed for significant savings but provided efficient triaging – saving lives and livelihoods.

Steve touched on the role that AI plays in all these initiatives and conceded that artificial intelligence is an essential part of all of their platforms and solutions. Not merely in managing the current pandemic but efforts are underway to leverage AI and machine learning to detect and prevent the next one.

The accepted theory for how the COVID-19 pandemic originated is the close contact between people and animals in a particular environment. Fed with the right data and appropriate parameters, AI can be used to predict hotspots in the world which could be the source of the next pandemic. While it may not prevent one, it can provide lead time to pre-deploy health resources in places where a contagion could break out.

Essentially for SAS, AI can aid pandemic prevention and early detection efforts. The key in this high-stakes situation is all about being early – Steve talked about examples from his time in government in which AI and machine learning helped detect very faint signals and trends in the data much earlier than the post-facto, large signal from hospitals three weeks later when everybody is showing up sick.

As vaccination programmes are being rolled out across the world, the pandemic seems to be on its tail-end. However, the implementation of a vaccine rollout is “the greatest logistics mobilisation since World War II and (we are) trying to move things on an unprecedented scale”.

For SAS, their contribution to these initiatives is developing tools that optimise the roll-out of limited vaccines, that manage logistics and supply chain and programmes on data analytics that will drive better decisions on how to roll out the vaccine in a secured manner.

Steve recommends governments augment their large amounts of internal data with non-traditional data sources like telecommunications and consumer data, (while at the same time valuing privacy), to understand what populations are at risk. SAS empowers the government with the data sources and links that data together for them. They also advise governments to offer citizens easy to use options for vaccination registration.

Steve and SAS are optimistic about the future as vaccine rollouts are commencing worldwide. While it may take longer than everyone would like, they believe that countries can turn the tide in their favour sooner than later. Steve mentioned that preliminary modelling for COVID-19 seems to indicated that about 50%-80% of the population need vaccination to achieve “herd immunity,” where the spread of the infection beings to plummet. At the same time, there are concerns that COVID-19 might turn into something like the seasonal flu where people must get shots all year round and live with it.

In the end, Steve believes that everyone should be ready for the next outbreak. Governments and organisations must learn lessons on the development of vaccines and solutions for viruses using various technologies available.

There is no question that the COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly impacted lives across the world and will continue to do so for a considerable time to come. Multiple waves of the infections, new lockdown and fresh mitigation measures seem to be the order of the day. In this context, it is important to try and get a semblance of normalcy where possible. One way forward is digitally enabled solutions.

OpenGov Asia and SAS have partnered to create content-rich and engaging online interactive and engaging virtual events across ASEAN via OpenGovLive! – OpenGov Asia’s in-house, dedicated platform. Aimed at providing senior digital executives access to cutting-edge technology and solutions, the sessions are invitation-only.

Details of the various events can be found below:

The following has been adapted from a speech by GovTech chief executive Kok Ping Soon to an audience of CIOs at a STACK-X event on 25 March 2021

Lessons from COVID

The past year has been marked by discontinuities and disruption in all aspects of our lives – work, home, school and social.  In many ways, it has been a period of profound learning, adjustment and adaptation.  Though the pandemic has been disruptive, it has also underscored the potential and value of digital technology in nearly every segment of society.  More than anything else, digital technology has played a critical role in our fight against COVID-19.

For example, Singapore health authorities reduced the time taken by more than 50% to identify and quarantine a close contact, from 4 days to less than 1.5 days. This was achieved through the development and use of TraceTogether and SafeEntry, applications that GovTech developed to support manual contact tracing.  The WhatsApp channel delivers regular updates to 1.2 million subscribers in their preferred language to keep them informed of the situation.  And of course, technology has allowed us to keep in touch with loved ones and to conduct business, via virtual meetings.

However, it has not been an easy year for CIOs.  On one hand, with demand shrinking, CIOs faced pressures to cut costs and stop new projects.  At the same time, they need to rapidly scale up technology enablers to support remote working and new digital business models in order to survive. At the height of COVID-19 last year, many of us would have received an image on WhatsApp asking people who led the digital transformation of their company.  COVID-19 may have forced CIOs to be reactive initially, but a year on I hope many will have shifted from a survival defensive mode to an opportunity-seeking offensive mode.

Locking in Gains

Such a shift is necessary because COVID-19 has helped reduce years’ worth of effort needed to drive digital transformation.  A McKinsey study last year said that we have leapt five years forward in consumer and business digital adoption in just a matter of eight weeks.  CIOs should lock in these gains and resist the temptation to revert to old ways of doing things.  Doing so requires three pivots that CIOs must spearhead in their organisations.

Digital First

Firstly, be Digital First by shifting more physical business processes to digital delivery. Having experienced the convenience and understood the possibilities offered by digital technology, consumers and businesses will demand increasingly high-quality digital options.

Do more to make digital services easy to use and seamless. Avoid the temptation of applying a ‘digital lipstick’ on a legacy process. For example, many restaurants have stopped giving out menus for dine-in service to minimise contact.  You are asked to scan a QR code for the menu which, as it turns out, is nothing more than a PDF copy of the old menu.  You still need to get a server to take your order.  This is digitisation and not digitalisation. 

At GovTech, we are striving to digitalise all government services.  Today, 95% of government transactions can be completed digitally from end-to-end – paperless, cashless and presence-less.  Registering your newborn and getting the baby bonus is now fully digital.  Getting a license to set up a business is also fully digital.  Booking an appointment for your COVID-19 vaccination is done digitally.  And when you are done, a digital copy of your vaccination certificate is in your HealthHub account.

Our Digital Platforms are open to support the private sector’s digitalisation efforts. SingPass, which is Singapore’s national digital identity platform, now provides seamless and secure access to over 1,400 digital services by 340 public and even private sector organisations such as Prudential (an insurance company) and OCBC (a bank).  With SingPass’ MyInfo function, businesses can offer “one-click” registration and perform e-Know Your Customer (e-KYC). With its Login function, businesses can authenticate their users with high assurance, without the need to operate their own systems.  And with Digital Signing, users can now electronically sign contracts and legal documents, allowing transactions to be completed in a presence-less environment.

Cloud First

Secondly, CIOs should lock in the use of cloud and microservice-based architecture in developing their applications. A cloud-first strategy has been instrumental in our ability to quickly roll out COVID-19 digital solutions.  Postmaster, the backend platform for the WhatsApp channel, was built using Twilio’s SMS platform. Our COVID-19 chatbot uses Google’s Dialogue Flow. The TraceTogether App is built on Google’s Firebase mobile platform.  And the series of GoWhere websites and SafeEntry were built on AWS to enable reusability and scalability.

We are not just developing new applications on the cloud but migrating 70% of Government ICT systems onto the Commercial Cloud.  To support this migration, we have been developing the SG Tech Stack. Instead of having to develop a new application from scratch, agencies can now access a global ecosystem of ready-made applications to add advanced features to their digital services. Application testing and deployment can now be automated and done in real-time, increasing the cadence of delivery.

Cloud has become the foundation that enables organisations to transform, differentiate and gain a competitive advantage.  The adoption of a cloud-first strategy will enhance organisations’ digital transformations; a reluctance to do so will mean an increased risk of being left behind.

Digital Transformation

Third, CIOs should lock in the centrality of Digital in their organisation’s business strategy.  According to Gartner, organisations that seized the COVID-19 opportunity and increased funding for digital innovation are 2.7 times more likely to be a top performer, rather than a trailing one.  CIOs and engineering teams are now uniquely positioned to influence not just how business is done, but what should be done.  They should take advantage of this window of opportunity and digitalise their end-to-end business processes.

GovTech is reshaping the roles and responsibilities of CIOs in the Government. Our CIOs are now in the front seat when it comes to driving their agencies’ Transformation Plans. In the past, CIOs were primarily order-takers at the end of a value chain and were judged based on their ability to maintain cost-efficient and reliable infrastructure because IT was considered a cost centre.  Now, CIOs are expected to demonstrate how IT can be leveraged to deliver transformational growth because it is accepted as a value-driver.  This will require CIOs to develop new skills.  It is not good enough for CIOs to simply keep abreast of the latest technologies.  They need to hone their communication skills, develop relationships with other business leaders, and understand how IT can best serve their organisations’ needs and goals.


But while I encourage CIOs to take an offensive stance by being digital-first, cloud-first and locking in the centrality of Digital in their organisations, three defensive plays should not be forgotten.  Not paying attention to these risks will set us back in the digitalisation agenda.

The first is cybersecurity.  The SolarWinds cyber-attack, which affected 18,000 organisations, including US government agencies and Fortune 500 companies, is a reminder that cyber threats are real, trans-border and constantly evolving.  To derive the benefits of digitalisation, we must be ever-vigilant against cyber risks. We need continuous and sustained efforts to strengthen our cybersecurity posture.

The second is data security and privacy.  With greater digitalisation, the volume and value of data will grow in tandem.  Data can yield valuable insights that improve business efficiencies.  It can enhance products and services for consumers.  But as more data is collected, the risk of data breaches also increases.  If data is not used responsibly, trust can be eroded, even undermined.  We must accord due protection to personal data and privacy by strengthening the accountability of organisations for the personal data we handle.

The third is third-party risks.  The rapid pace of technology development and the skills gap mean many organisations will need to seek outside help.  However, this can lead to reliability and security issues.  Organisations need to have better governance and take a more intelligent risk-based approach.  Develop standardised processes and proactive decision-making using analytics, instead of sliding into a “firefighting” mode and only tackling issues when they arise.


There has never been a better time for those of us in the ICT industry.  COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption of digital tools, increased the appetite of organisations for digitalisation, and demonstrated new ways of working together.  The impetus for digital transformation has never been stronger, and the tangible benefits that can be derived are clear for all to see.   Let us seize this opportunity to lock in the digitalisation gains while watching out for the risks. There’s certainly a lot of work ahead for all of us, but the digitalisation momentum borne out of the pandemic will carry us through.

On 20 April 2021, Army will launch its Quantum Technology Roadmap. The launch will occur during the Quantum Technology Challenge 2021 (QTC 2021) at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre and will include presentations from Australia’s Chief Scientist as well as the Chief Defence Scientist.

Quantum technologies have been identified as having substantial disruptive potential across defence. However, their true capabilities, limitations, countermeasures and most disruptive applications are still being discovered.

Army aims to leverage Australia’s national strength in quantum technology research to gain and retain an early quantum advantage. The Roadmap provides the framework to achieve this through partnering with broader Defence, Australia’s academia and emerging quantum industry, and aligned nations. The Roadmap adds to Army’s accelerating engagement with emerging technologies and evolution, as described in Accelerated Warfare, Army in Motion and Army Objective Force.

Whilst the launch event is restricted to defence personnel and select guests, the Roadmap and a recording of the launch will be published on the Land Power Forum after a short delay on 20 April 2021. To be alerted of the publication and to view the recording, audiences are to register via the website.

QTC 2021 is a key first step in the Roadmap and will see teams of Australia’s world-leading quantum scientists and engineers compete to show how quantum technologies can deliver Army unprecedented capabilities. Pitches from each of the remarkable teams competing in QTC 2021 will be included in the launch recording.

About QTC 2021

The first Army Quantum Technology Challenge (QTC 2021) will be held at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre on 20 April 2021. The Challenge will see teams of Australia’s world-leading quantum scientists and engineers compete to show how quantum technologies can conceptually deliver Army unprecedented capabilities, including:

  • Making the ground transparent: imaging what is hidden subterranean
  • Resupplying troops in battle quickly, safely and efficiently: optimisation of large-scale resupply by squads of autonomous uncrewed ground vehicles.
  • Denying the enemy secure communications: countermeasures quantum encryption.

QTC 2021 will be the first in a regular series of challenges that will enable Army to leverage Australia’s national strategic strength in quantum technology to rapidly identify the most disruptive and advantageous applications of quantum technologies for the land domain.

Future challenges will respond to opportunities and problems identified by members of Army and the wider quantum technology community.

The challenges are a key component of Army’s Quantum Technology Roadmap, which will also be launched at QTC 2021. The Roadmap also contains plans for the development of the high-value applications and technologies identified by the challenges, focused on Army’s needs. The Roadmap, a recording of the launch and recordings of the pitches by each of the QTC 2021 teams will be published.

The need for quantum technologies

According to an earlier article by Army, quantum technologies exploit the fundamental laws of nature to reach the ultimate limits of sensing, imaging, communications and computing, and thus promise otherwise impossible capabilities.

They are no longer scientific speculation; substantial public and private investments around the world are driving these technologies out of laboratories.

This acceleration will see quantum technologies transform our lives over the next 20 years. This will be even more evident when combined with other emerging technologies, such as nanotechnology, biotechnology, space technology, artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics. Now is the time that Defence must begin to understand, explore and exploit quantum technologies throughout its operations if it is to gain and retain a quantum advantage.

During the virtual signing ceremony of the Joint Memorandum Circular (JMC) 01-2021, the Philippine Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA) reminded local government units (LGUs) that they should have automated their business one-stop-shop (BOSS) before June 17 of this year.

The JMC establishes the guidelines for processing business permits, related clearances, and licenses in all cities and municipalities. This year, the country is hoping to have 500 LGUs to be automated by the Department of Information and Communications Technology’s (DICT) Integrated Business Permits and Licensing System (IBPLS) software.

The DICT project manager for IBPLS said the department has signed a memorandum of agreements with 446 LGUs, of which more than 200 are already in the operational stage of the system. The agency is making sure that everyone is onboard for IBPLS, which is an online system.

Meanwhile, the DICT also said that the IBPLS software works well even with smaller LGUs. The agency urged highly urbanised cities to fast-track the adoption of the integrated system so their BOSS can go online before the June 17 deadline.

Under the newly signed JMC, the E-BOSS should have the following functions:

  • Accepting electronic submission of application.
  • Electronic issuance of tax bill or order of payment.
  • Accepting online payment, releasing of an electronic version of permits, licenses, and clearances; and
  • Providing gateway facility linked to courier service where applicant prefers hard copy of the documents.

The JMC also limits the documentary requirements and will implement a unified application form with a unique identification number.

The ARTA reminded LGUs that they should not require notarisation of the requirements, adding that barangay clearances related to business permit applications shall be integrated and processed by the Business Processing and Licensing Office (BPLO). The agency added that the number of signatories in the documents shall be limited to three and that LGUs should also process the application within three working days.

Accordingly, as reported by OpenGov Asia, The Full Digital Transformation Act of 2020 mandates all government agencies, government-owned and controlled corporations (GOCCs), instrumentalities and Local Government Units (LGUs) to adopt a digital plan that aligns with the Philippine Digital Transformation Strategy 2022.

The law of full digitalisation of government services promotes a zero-contact policy and facilitates ease of procedures. All of this is meant to streamline government services following Republic Act No. 11032 or the Ease of Doing Business and Efficient Government Service Delivery Act of 2018, Republic Act No. 11234, the Energy Virtual One-Stop Shop Act, and other applicable laws.

Also, lawmakers in the country spoke about the e-Gov Master Pan and the related e-Gov and Integrated Government Philippines (iGovPhil) programmes that have been launched by the Department of Science and Technology’s (DOST) Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Office. However, lawmakers believed that the Philippines has been slow in integrating digital technology to improve the delivery of services and experience a sense of modernisation in the country.

With COVID-19, digital transformation in the government has taken on a sense of urgency. Contract tracing and distribution of aid could be smoother if data is harmonised, and digital systems are put in place more comprehensively. The proposed law plans to harmonise the collected personal data of Filipino citizens, businesses, land, and transactions, among others. Further, it will open opportunities that will likely drive the government to invest in developing additional organisational capability and staff competencies.

With all these plans taking on urgency in the light of the pandemic, the government predicts it will be expedient to build a Digital Transformation Department to manage the ambitious and yet highly practical investment. The department would be expected to support and roll out the office’s digital transformation strategy.

India is pushing to meet its target to have one million electric two-wheelers on road by March 2022 under the Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles (FAME) scheme. The electric mobility sector suffered from a post lockdown-induced dip in sales but is on the road to recovery.

The electric vehicle segment sold 135,000 units of EVs in the last financial year (2020-21), according to a news report. Two-wheeler and three-wheeler EVs made up for nearly 96% of the sales during this period. Three-wheeler EVs made up about 65% of all EV registrations. The two-wheeler EVs contributed around 30% of all EV registrations during the same period. The two-wheeler EVs sold during this period only includes the ones with speeds greater than or equal to 25 kmph.

The report explained that while Delhi has taken several steps to promote electric vehicles with its EV policy, it does not figure as one of the top EV markets in India yet. The top three spots are owned by the states Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Karnataka.

Uttar Pradesh alone contributed 23% of the country’s sales, with 31,584 EVs sold in FY21. The top 10 states together made 88% of all EVs sold in India. Tripura, however, leads with the highest share of EVs per 1,000 internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, with 52 EVs sold for every 1,000 ICE vehicles in FY21.

An industry expert said that electric mobility is poised to be at the forefront of India’s green recovery. In the coming years, the Central and state governments need to reduce uncertainty by rolling out detailed and clear long-term policies. Further, targeted efforts are needed to solve critical challenges such as higher upfront cost of EVs, lack of end-user financing, consumer range anxiety, and inaccessible charging.

The report highlighted that electric vehicle registrations formed 0.88% of all vehicle registrations in India during the period, which is the highest share ever achieved. Since 2011-12, India has added over 638,000 electric vehicles on the road so far.

FAME’S second phase has achieved only 4.25% of its sales targets till now. One of the major barriers could likely be that buyers are not aware of the incentives available, like user subsidies and significant exemptions from road tax and registration fees.

Another important aspect in electric mobility, which has remained a concern for all, is the charging infrastructure. India still has less than a thousand EV charging stations across the country. Among them, Andhra Pradesh leads other states with 433 public charging stations. Telangana with 160 and Karnataka with 126 public EV charging stations are placed second and third. Delhi features at fourth with only 78 public EV charging stations.

Recently, the Minister of Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises Nitin Gadkari claimed that lithium-ion batteries are to be manufactured fully in the country over the next six months. India is set to become the number one EV maker in the world soon. He said that the government is also working to launch hydrogen fuel cell (HFC) technology. It uses chemical reactions between hydrogen and oxygen to generate electrical energy, eliminating the use of fossil fuels. E-mobility will be an important tool to develop pollution-free transport.

The Indonesian government is eager to establish commodity market regulations, especially those related to crypto asset trading. Plans to form a dedicated crypto exchange continues to be discussed at top levels.

Deputy Minister of Trade Jerry Sambuaga acknowledged that the development of the commodity market is complex, especially for the rapid growth of crypto assets that requires the presence of regulatory tools and institutions that protect them.

The Head of the Fiscal Policy Agency, the Director-General for Financing and Risk Management and the Deputy Minister of Finance agreed on the increasingly complex development of the commodity market. There are matters of concern ranging from taxation to the impact on the national economy at large.

None the less, with its establishment a wide range of commodities can intersect with other sectors and drive development. “Especially in the new digital-based financial industry and several other derivative product developments, there are more and more contacts with related institutions and ministries,” said Jerry.

In light of this, the Ministry of Trade was coordinating intensely with a number of other ministries and agencies. Specifically, his ministry is coordinating with the Ministry of Finance regarding the Omnibus Law material in financial services, especially the new digital-based financial industry and several derivative product developments and commodity market regulation.

Both the Ministry of Trade and the Ministry of Finance want the use and trading of crypto assets to have a positive impact on the national economy. “This is what we want to synergise so that the Financial Services Omnibus Law will be able to answer regulatory challenges as well as become a forum for the development of this industry,” said Jerry.

The commodity market and its derivatives as it is known so far according to the law are under the authority of the Commodity Futures Trading Supervisory Agency (CoFTRA) which is under the Ministry of Trade.

Jerry revealed that CoFTRA plans to immediately approve the establishment of a crypto exchange. The crypto exchange will focus on protecting business actors so that relations between all parties can run well, clearly and safely.

The head of CoFTRA, Sidharta Utama, said in a webinar on the Future of Crypto Assets, that the digital money or crypto commodity exchange would be present in Indonesia in the second half of 2021.

For now, crypto trading is being carried out but there has been no implementation of regulations from CoFTRA as a regulator because there is no exchange for crypto itself. The existence of exchanges for crypto assets, according to Sidharta, is in the interest of the public, given that there are thousands of crypto assets in the world because not all of them have the same “quality”.

CoFTRA has released 229 tradable crypto-assets and 13 officially registered asset traders. Crypto-asset traders have registered with CoFTRA but have not used the platform based on institutional regulations. In the future, when the exchange arrives, these traders will have to submit submissions with additional requirements that must be met.

From the perspective of people who carry out trading activities, there will be no difference before and after the existence of crypto exchanges. However, the presence of the exchange will play a role in overseeing crypto asset trading. The exchange will also provide clearing and a medium for asset storage, said Sidharta. The institution will function to ensure accurate crypto-asset records, ensure customer funds are safe, and will also provide crypto asset storage.

The world is also rapidly becoming more urban. In the 1800s, only about 3% of people lived in urban areas. By the 1950s, that had spiralled to around 29% and currently, over 50% of the world lives in a city. The UN predicts that by the year 2050, 68% of the population will live in urban centres.

What is more interesting now is the development of Smart Cities – cities that are made on technology and that are dependent on technology. Studies show that most cities around the world now have some smart features – some more than others.

With high population density and buildings squeezed together to maximise space, millions of people living near each other come with challenges. These are risks are exacerbated with natural disasters or other calamities. An earthquake might devastate the structure of a city and leave thousands missing and buried in the rubble. A flood may not just leave a few people stranded on rooftops but, in an urban setting, could leave millions in a perilous state.

The solution to these issues lies in the idea of Smart Cities – urban living spaces that have all the basic infrastructure designed by and built on technology. In addition, it has tech-enabled predictive, preventive, and responsive measures put in place to manage critical events.

David Graham, Chief Innovation Officer, City of Carlsbad

OpenGov Asia had the opportunity to speak exclusively to David Graham, Chief Innovation Officer, City of Carlsbad.

As the Co-Chair of the San Diego Regional Smart Cities Collaborative, Co-Chair of the Harvard Technology and Entrepreneurship Centre City Innovation programme and the City of Carlsbad Chief Innovation Officer, David is focused on co-creating the cities of the future and training the leaders who will make it possible.

With vast political, operations and management experience, David has been passionate about embedding innovation at all levels. He has worked with local governments for over twenty years in both the public and private sectors that encompass several multi-agency and city-academic partnerships.

Having provided smart solutions for large cities, David currently works with medium-sized communities – like Carlsbad. In terms of scope, it is on par with most of the country’s states. He strongly believes that if innovative change can be incorporated in a city like Carlsbad, it could be a shining example for the rest of the country.  Passing information, technology, best practices have a significant impact on the development of other smart cities across the country.

To give some perspective, Carlsbad was named “Digital Capital” by a multinational technology company in its annual E-City awards programme. Analysing the online strength of the small-business communities of all fifty states in the US, the tech company honoured one city from each of the fifty states as the new “digital capital.” These cities’ businesses are using the web to find new customers, connect with existing customers and fuel their local economies.

For cities with a mission to innovate, David conceded that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic further highlighted the work that needs to be done immediately. Government services had to move to the digital space to conduct their programmes.

Data integration became more vital than ever before – building more communication and ICT infrastructure for operations to be able to assess the public’s immediate needs in terms of services and how to deliver those services in a contactless manner.

The pandemic also heightened the need for innovation and in fact, it should be a strong motivator for action – “anyone in the government can and should be an innovator”. David and his team are keen to instil the drive for innovation. They want to provide incentive and opportunity for the government to approach their job with a continuous improvement perspective and where they feel empowered for being part of the change.

The Carlsbad council with David’s help, have already identified deficiencies in their technology and communication platforms and they are committed to continuously improving them. First on their to-do list was to utilise digital collaboration tools better and more comprehensively within the council itself. With time and availability being rare commodities, David and his team conducted meetings virtually – well before the pandemic. So, when COVID-19 struck, they knew that these digital tools would be even more important.

In terms of connectivity, Carlsbad is using consumer-grade broadband. Understanding the pressing need early on, prior to the pandemic, David convinced the council to collaborate with a third-party fibre connection provider. Through this, they were to build a digital information network with a 200-500 gigabyte core network ahead of the COVID-19 crisis.

David acknowledges, for the most part, everyone overcame organisational barriers at such a lightning pace due to necessity brought on by the pandemic. The world had to accelerate because there were no other options.

With a little breathing space now as infection rates drop and vaccination programmes being rolled out, organisations need to be more intentional. They should assess what they have been able to do, and from that, prepare for what is coming next and make sure they do not return to normal, as everyone is in a better place in terms of innovation after the pandemic. David said, “it would be a tragedy if we snapped back to our old reality without learning the lessons of what we have gone through.”

Interestingly, an added inhibitor is animosity. In stressful times it is easy to take offence. People and organisations must put personal differences aside because, in the era of COVID-19, everything is potentially a matter of life and death. Issues cannot be around territories or jurisdictions. This is the time to share vital information on possible solutions that serve the greater good.

The pandemic has driven radical change in operations such as remote work. Initially, much of the measures were ad hoc or designed to be temporary and David believes there is place for some adjustments. Remarkably, though, this new set up seems to be working just fine for most organisations in some way, shape or form. The trust that cities paced in their employees played a role in the success of the setup as well as the commitment of staff to continue to deliver citizen-services throughout the pandemic.

None the less, in the public sector, he notes, that there is still a lack of good project management and collaboration tools.  These are vital to assess key performance indicators and allow for monitoring and feedback.

Governments must not only think about infrastructure when dealing with a critical event. They should consider ways to improve the experiences of users on these platforms by providing good services. With this as a backdrop, David listed three crucial areas that governments and organisations should focus on.

The first one is transportation, transit, and mobility. Developing a sustainable urban tech programme demands an effective transportation system, especially in the current context where citizens are wary of using mass transit.

The second one is to accelerate data integration between organisations and agencies. Data from contact tracing apps, public records, travel information as well as announcements from federal and local agencies that can help curtail the effects of the pandemic must be shared quickly and comprehensively.

In Carlsbad, the council began to share such data for public consumption when the crisis was just starting to make its presence felt. Keeping the public aware, getting them motivated and making them part of the solution was vital for Carlsbad. Instead of just telling people what they needed to do, citizens were made an intrinsic part of the response. By doing so, the city managed to have the lowest number of COVID-19 cases of any city of its size in the region.

David reiterated that sharing data with the public and across agencies should be applied in all types of endeavours, not just in disasters. This is foundational for smart cities and communities to grow.

In addition to transportation and data integration, community amenities such as parks and libraries are integral to keeping the city on as even a keel as possible. David observed a surge in library inquiries during the pandemic – not just for books and the like – but also for workforce and training purposes.

Carlsbad launched several digital communication initiatives on social media platforms, via e-mails, etc., to let people know that these services were still available for citizens during the pandemic.

With their important role, these facilities should be digitalised. In fact, physical services should be expanded to the digital space where possible.  With higher uptake, this is an opportunity for the government to accelerate the digital transformation of its services.

In the end, David acknowledges that the human angle to technology is the most difficult thing to incorporate. If governments and organisations can lead and begin with the human story, explaining why technological and data solutions are necessary, they will reap huge benefits in politics, the public and the community.


Federal, state and territory leaders have agreed to create an intergovernmental agreement to facilitate greater data sharing between all levels of government. The plan for the high-level agreement, which is still to be developed, was endorsed at a meeting of the national cabinet on 9 April 2021.

The Prime Minister stated that the national cabinet agreed that jurisdictions will work together to capitalise on the value of public data to achieve better outcomes for Australians. He noted that to achieve this, first ministers [and state and territory premiers] committed to developing an intergovernmental agreement which will be considered at a future national cabinet meeting.

While details are limited, the pact will likely make it easier for federal, state and territory government to share data, building on efforts with health and travel data during Covid-19.

The planned agreement would likely work alongside the Data Availability and Transparency Bill, which is currently before federal parliament. The legislation aims to streamline data sharing between governments and the private sector, overriding some 500 provisions in 175 pieces of existing legislation.

However, it faces calls for amendments from the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, Australian Medical Association and the NSW Council for Civil Liberties.

The Australian Financial Review is also reporting that the agreement can be expected to lay the foundations for linked-up government services around key life events or journeys.

It means citizens could interact with government services across all tiers using one-stops shops like the federal government’s myGov or the NSW government’s MyServiceNSW.

myGov is already undergoing a major overhaul – for $35 million to date – to align services more closely with life events while offering a personalised view of interactions.

Data sharing has long been a focus of discussion for federal, state and territory digital ministers at the data and digital minister’s meeting.

At the last meeting in February, discussions centred on “how to meet the data needs of decision-makers across jurisdictions, including through better data sharing”.

The communique notes that improved data sharing can boost the economy and lead to better service design and delivery.

One dataset that is advancing the conversation is the national disability data asset, which is paving the way for a federation-wide view of the disability sector.

The asset – which digital ministers agreed to established in September 2019 – incorporates datasets from the federal, NSW, Victoria, Queensland and South Australian governments. Other areas front of mind for data sharing include emergency services, with the recent commitment to develop a national multi-hazards warning service for natural disasters.

Demand for smart city initiatives rising

Enhanced data sharing capabilities between various governmental levels and departments is key to creating smart cities and a smart nation overall.

An earlier article notes that despite posing significant hurdles to cities worldwide, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated a wave of innovation that will continue after the crisis, according to research from a global think tank.

The ‘Smart City Solutions for a Riskier World’ study underscores the vital role that technology, data, cybersecurity and public-private partnerships play to ensure a healthy, safe and prosperous future for citizens after the pandemic.

The research, conducted in August and September 2020, included a survey of senior officials from 167 cities across 82 countries, including Asia, North and Latin America, MENA, Europe and Africa. The cities represented 526 million people or 6.8% of the world’s population; 53% of these cities are in emerging markets and 47% in developed countries.

The survey categorises cities based on progress in two categories: progress in applying smart solutions, with cities classified as either ‘beginner’, ‘intermediate’ or ‘leader’; and progress on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with cities classified as either ‘implementer’, ‘advancer’ or ‘sprinter’. Cities that excelled in both areas were considered Cities 4.0 — hyperconnected cities that are sustainable and well ahead in the use of technology, data and citizen engagement.

For 65% of city officials, the pandemic underscored the importance of smart city programs, while 43% learned the importance of operational continuity and agility. For 37% of city leaders, the pandemic also highlighted the need to invest more in upgrading core infrastructure.

For 88% of city leaders, investing in cloud platforms is urgently needed to deliver critical and non-critical citizen services. The survey also found that 66% of cities are investing heavily in AI, with 80% forecast to do so over the next three years, especially in the area of digital assistants and chatbots. Meanwhile, 30% of cities will invest in digital twins, marking a 300% increase from the 11% currently investing in this technology. Research also indicates that 100% of Cities 4.0 have already invested in cloud; based on reported ROI estimates, the average return on digital infrastructure investments made by Cities 4.0 is 5.74%.

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