Digital Transformation

An automated general waste collection system in Maroochydore, Queensland, will be operational in July 2021. Waste and recyclables from buildings and street bins in the new 53 ha Maroochydore City Centre will be pumped through a 6.5 km network of underground pipes, at speeds of up to 70 km/h, to a collection station for transfer to disposal or recycling facilities.

Each building in the CBD will include at least three waste inlets, for organic, recyclable and general waste. Waste dropped into each inlet will be stored in a sealed compartment underground until a vacuum pump is activated at the central waste facility, usually twice a day.

Once delivered to the central facility through a network of sealed vacuum pipes, each waste type will be stored in sealed compactors to await collection by a council contractor. The design of the new city centre began in 2015 to provide a mix of residential, commercial, retail, civic and community uses to complement the area’s existing business offerings.

Sunshine Coast Council’s Group Executive of Customer Engagement and Planning Services, James Ruprai, said that although COVID-19 delayed the commissioning of the system, it is expected to be operational by mid-2021.

The waste collection system was designed by a Swedish firm and manufactured in South Korea. It will be extended as the development of the Maroochydore City Centre progresses. A high-speed fibre-optic network will also be installed in the centre’s foundations to enable the council to provide smart signage, free Wi-Fi hotspots, real-time transport information, movement sensors and smart lighting.

According to a government press release, Council and the Sunshine Coast are leading Australia in efficient waste collection. Council is installing Australia’s first underground automated waste collection system (AWCS) in the new Maroochydore City Centre.

High-tech underground pipes will transport waste out of the city centre. Waste will travel at up to 70km/h through a 6.5km system of underground vacuum pipes removing waste from:

  • residential apartments
  • commercial buildings
  • public places

The AWCS is a more efficient alternative to conventional above-ground waste collection. The system will help create a cleaner, healthier and more attractive city centre. Recycling rates are also expected to improve.

The use of the AWCS will result in a significant reduction in the number of large vehicles needing to access the city centre. This will provide a safer and more pleasant urban environment. It will also reduce the carbon footprint associated with this essential service. The elimination of early morning garbage collection also creates better urban living conditions.

The AWCS flier notes that the Sunshine Coast aims to be Australia’s most sustainable region – healthy, smart, creative. They are taking a nation-leading position by installing this high-tech, underground AWCS in the new Maroochydore City Centre, and are committed to ensuring 21st-century technology and innovation are key characteristics of this greenfield site.

This innovative waste management system is the first of its kind in Australia with many benefits including:

  • Workers and residents in the new CBD will never have to walk past rows of waste bins or be woken early by noisy garbage collection vehicles
  • No front, rear or side lift waste collection vehicles
  • No kerbside waste and recycling collection
  • No overflowing public place bins
  • Underground collection means no impact on street traffic
  • Improved resident and visitor safety and amenity
  • Improved local air quality by eliminating conventional waste collection services.

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 Gov.sg 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 Gov.sg 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.

Risks

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.

Conclusion

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.

Vietnam’s National Power Transmission Corporation (EVNNPT) has operationalised its first digital transformer station in Thuy Nguyen district, the northern port city of Hai Phong, earlier this week. The 210kV station was built at a total cost of around VND348 billion (US$15 million) on an area of 40,100 square metres spanning the Dong Son and Kenh Giang communes.

According to EVNNPT Deputy General Director Luu Viet Tien, the station helped cut around 80% of the amount of copper cable, slash copper cable transport and installation costs, and reduce the risks of incidents caused by cable damage. The system will use artificial intelligence (AI) in monitoring and examining and make use of cameras and smart drones to repair lines.

He said the 220KV digital station will a ensure stable power supply for socio-economic development in Thuy Nguyen and regions in the vicinity, reduce power loss, and enhance connectivity, safety, stability, and flexibility in the operation of power systems.

EVNNPT will evaluate the efficiency of the station to select suitable technologies for transformer stations in the future. The Vietnam Electricity Group (EVN) plans to have all equipment on transmission lines and 80% of 110 kV circuit facilities digitalised from now to 2022.

By 2025, EVNNPT will have digitalised 100% of facilities on medium and higher-voltage power lines, according to EVNNPT Chairman Duong Quang Thanh. To that end, the group will continue to integrate other digital technologies like the Internet of Things, big data, and cloud computing.

It will continue research on building information models and digital worker platforms to serve its staff while developing AI applications for image analysis and data governance. EVNNPT said it has completed 61 of the 63 centres for the remote control of transformer stations and converted 670 of the 844 transformer stations into unmanned ones.

Tien said that the digital transformer station is a new technology in both Vietnam and many other countries in the world. He added that before the station was constructed, EVNNPT held several conferences with large equipment suppliers such as Siemens, ABB, and GE.

Recently the Minister of Information and Communications (MIC), Nguyen Manh Hung, claimed that digital transformation and innovation will turn Vietnam into a developed country by 2045. He said that innovation always has to start with awareness and thinking and has to be seen from different perspectives. Old infrastructure, old ways of doing things, old knowledge, old products, old business models are no longer suitable. The country needs new infrastructure, new ways of doing things, new knowledge, new products, new business models.

That is why many people say that digital transformation is more of a policy revolution than a technology revolution. Adopting new business models, new technologies that fundamentally change industries. “If we are open to accepting the new, then the new technology of the world will come, talent from all over the world will come, a new industry will emerge and the cradle of Vietnam will create exportable digital technology products,” he noted.

The New Zealand Growth Capital Partners’ (NZGCP) Elevate New Zealand Venture Fund is committing NZ$14 million (US$10 million) into the Finistere Aotearoa Fund, which will target agri-food technology companies needing Series A and B investment. The fund will match Elevate’s commitment at least dollar-to-dollar with private capital. At first close at least US$28 million will be available to invest into agri-tech investments in New Zealand-connected entities.

According to a news report, the Finistere Aotearoa Fund will focus on commercialising New Zealand’s robust technology and intellectual property pipeline. The Fund is a subsidiary of Silicon Valley venture capital fund managers Finistere Ventures.

The Economic and Regional Development Minister, Stuart Nash, welcomed the new Elevate commitment. “The government’s Agritech Industry Transformation Plan was launched last year. In that, we highlighted that investment was a key constraint for the sector, so we welcome the creation of this specialist fund and look forward to its productive contribution to New Zealand’s transformation.”

The New Zealand government’s investment and commitment to a zero-emissions national agriculture strategy has turned the country into a centre for agricultural excellence, according to Arama Kukutai, co-founder and partner of Finistere Ventures. The New Zealand operation will be managed by long-time investment manager Dean Tilyard and based in Palmerston North. Finistere Ventures has a global agri-tech focus with offices in the United States, Ireland, and Israel.

New Zealand has become a world leader in agricultural research and innovation focused on curtailing the environmental impact of agriculture. “Having a strong local presence in Aotearoa has long been on our agenda. We are excited to partner with NZGCP to support the global commercialisation of New Zealand’s most promising agri-food technology advancements,” Kukutai stated.

NZGCP was established by the New Zealand government. As per its website, NZGCP aims to stimulate a well-functioning capital market for early-stage technology companies. Its investment vehicles are designed to stimulate private investment into this space through fund of funds and co-investment models.

Finistere Ventures is aiming for a final close of NZ$42 million (approximately US$30 million), which if achieved would see Elevate’s contribution rise to NZ$21 million (US$15 million). James Pinner, the investment director of Elevate, said, “Finistere and Dean Tilyard established Sprout, a Callaghan tech incubator based in Palmerston North with a strong agri-tech focus, and the fund has a number of existing New Zealand investments including BioLumic, Invert Robotics, and CropX – all three have also been supported by NZGCP via our Aspire fund.”

The Aspire Fund is one of two NZGCP investment vehicles created to promote private investment. The Aspire Fund does this through partnering with other private investors to make direct investments into early-stage (proof of concept and seed stage) companies. The Elevate Fund does this through using best practice fund of funds management to invest into venture capital firms looking to fund New Zealand companies at the Series A and B stages.

The group is also involved in a range of market development initiatives alongside investors, New Zealand Private Capital, and the Angel Association of New Zealand. It has a market development mandate and seeks to partner and collaborate with a wide range of government bodies and private investors. It intends to help develop the early-stage New Zealand investment market and ultimately help early-stage New Zealand companies grow.

Dozens of students, lecturers, and officers at the Posts and Telecommunications Institute of Technology (PTIT) can now use motorbike parking services, keep track of class schedules, check exam scores, and pay for meals entirely on their smartphones.

PTIT is a key human resource research and development unit of the Ministry of Information and Communications (MIC). With the aim of promoting digital transformation to improve the quality of training and research, the Institute deployed the PTIT S-Link mobile application for students, lecturers, and managers with essential functions.

PTIT S-Link sends students alerts about an upcoming lesson. It notifies the user about learning subjects, venues, and other detailed information about the class. The app was made operational in late 2020 and has over 12,000 downloads.

According to a press release, a digital university is taking shape at PTIT. In September 2020, during a talk with PTIT members, the MIC Minister, Nguyen Manh Hung, noted that PTIT, a “miniature society” with young dynamic people has favourable conditions to build a digital society. To prepare the labour force for digital transformation, an online university is the best way to “train digital citizens”. The Institute plans to unveil D-Lab, an online practice platform, S-Class, a smart class platform, and an intelligence operation centre (IOC), shortly.

The Ministry of Education and Training (MOET) said Vietnam is striving to become a leading country with a fully digitised educational sector. It wants to produce a Vietnamese workforce that has globally recognised digital transformation knowledge and skills.

Though the institute has been using IT in its activities for many years, it still faces difficulties upgrading the application. The biggest problem is the lack of a digital university model and transformation at the Institute. In the first period, PTIT is focused on researching and shaping the architecture of the digital university and completing the digital transformation plan by 2025.

With the spirit of carrying out digital transformation in accordance with the “miniature digital nation”, the institute studied national policies and built its digital transformation plan under the three pillars of the national digital transformation programme: digital administration, service, and society.

“The fourth quarter of 2020 and first quarter of 2021 will be the time for the institute to cooperate with a digital technology firm to build a digital university,” Hung said. The Minister’s proposal spurred on development in the institute, the release noted.

In December 2020, Minister Hung stated that one digital university has likely become eligible for pilot transformation. With instructions from the Minister, the institute has become one of the pioneers in building and applying a digital university model. PTIT is not, however, the only digital school in the country.

The targets set in the Hanoi National University’s development strategy by 2030 are: reforming teaching methods towards modernisation, integrating personalisation into IT platforms, and creating learner-centric infrastructure. It also aims to establish intelligent university management and organisation models, execute comprehensive digital transformation in all activities, and operate the shared digital data knowledge system synchronously. The university will interconnect data for effective administration, management, and the renewal of teaching, learning, and research activities. One of the key tasks in 2021-2025 of the school is perfecting the modern university management and organisation model in association with building smart universities.

The Philippines’ Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) and the Department of Education (DepEd) strengthened the partnership between the agencies to clear the path towards the digitalisation of the education sector with the establishment of the Public Education Network (PEN).

The DICT and DepEd started coordinating on the development of the PEN last year. It is aligned with President Rodrigo Duterte’s directive during his 5th State of the Nation Address (SONA) last year for both agencies to connect all schools, especially last-mile schools, and DepEd offices nationwide.

Under the memorandum of agreement (MOA) signed between the two agencies, the DICT will provide medium to long-term assistance to DepEd, including the allocation of bandwidth from the DICT’s high-speed Internet infrastructure project, augmentation of DepED’s future satellite capacity through DICT’s existing very small aperture technology (VSAT) satellite and teleport facilities, the building of internet backbone up to last-mile schools under the DICT’s National Broadband Programme (NBP), and the provision of data transport service using DICT’s fibre optic network under the Government Network (GovNet) project and Microwave towers.

Under the agreement, the DICT will also give immediate assistance to the DepEd on advocating for the presence of ICT service providers in public school premises; provisioning of online resources, materials, and systems for educational use; giving teachers and learners access to DICT’s Tech4Ed facilities and its attached computer laboratories and research facilities; and coordination with the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), among others.

The agencies also inked a separate MOA for the use of suitable real estate properties owned or under the administration of DepEd as sites or locations for the implementation of DICT’s Shared Passive Telecommunications Tower Infrastructure (PTTI) or the Common Tower Initiative.

According to the DICT, education shall continue to play a key role in the socio-economic prosperity of a nation. Hence, the country needs to envision how education can emerge stronger, more responsive, and more effective from this global crisis than ever before. To do this, the agency is continuously assisting the DepEd with the transition from a traditional classroom setting to blended learning and shall continue to draw on the benefits provided by ICT to make this shift possible.

The DepEd said this partnership is designed not only to deal with COVID-19 but also to deal with the future. The agency hopes to improve the education sector with the help of partner agencies.

Accordingly, as reported by OpenGov Asia, the Philippine 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.

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. Lawmakers in the country plan to harmonise collected personal data of Philippine 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. Lawmakers in the country stressed that there is no reason to delay the drive to realise the full modernisation of government services to serve Philippine citizens – adequately, efficiently, and securely.

More data centre and warehouse developments will qualify as state significant developments (SSDs) in NSW under planned changes to the state’s planning approvals process. The reforms, which come into effect in June, will temporarily lower the threshold for facilities to be assessed as SSD for two years to fast-track approvals and stimulate economic activity.

SSD is a type of development deemed important due to its size, economic value or potential impact, requiring Independent Planning Commission or ministerial sign-off before it proceeds. Proposals are assessed by the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, instead of local councils.

The threshold for data centres will fall “from $50 million CIV [capital investment value] to 10 megawatts total power consumption (which roughly equates to a CIV of $40 million)”. Warehouses, on the other hand, will fall from “$50 million CIV to $30 million CIV for a two-year period” before reverting to $50 million CIV. The department said the changes will “more accurately” reflect the scale, complexity and potential impact of data centres and warehouses, providing a “clear and more certain planning pathway”.

The Planning Minister stated that the reforms would allow projects to travel through the planning system more quickly at a time when demand for data centres and warehouses is increasing. “During the pandemic, there has been a noticeable shift closer towards e-commerce, remote working and cloud storage which has led to an increase in data centres and warehouses. These are great for stimulating the economy – they’re simple to build, simple to assess and create a higher number of direct and indirect jobs,” he said.

Data centres and warehouses represent a $4.9 billion pipeline of projects so by lowering the threshold to assess more of them as SSD, the NSW Government is pushing them through the planning system more quickly. The Minister added that the number of planning assessment officers would also be boosted to help manage the demand as a result of the changes.

The SSD assessment pathway reforms come as the department plans further changes to the SEEPs to streamline the delivery of smaller data centres through the complying development pathway. The pathway offers an accelerated approvals process by the council or an accredited certifier for “straight forward developments”, as long as they “meet strict construction and building standards”

It follows a noticeable increase in the number of data centre development applications, particularly using the regional development of SSD pathways. “This means we’re making it easier to build small-scale data centres without lengthy planning approvals while providing a swifter pathway for large scale ones,” the Minister said.

Each data centre development is estimated to contribute up to $1 billion in construction and fit-out costs to the NSW economy. The Managing Director of an Australian cloud, data centre, government cybersecurity and telecom company said that the reforms were “really practical” and would “support NSW’s short-term economic recovery”.

His company has invested more than $200 million in the past year alone building two facilities. The firm is proud to be part of that economic rebuild and look forward to continued partnership with the state and federal government to do more, he added.

The Managing Director of Australia’s branch of the world’s largest data centre and colocation infrastructure provider also welcomed the announcement. “With eight data centres in the state today, any legislative changes that speed up the planning system is an important step forward,” he said.

OpenGovLive! Virtual Breakfast Insight

In collaboration with Citrix, we discussed the modern digital workspace and best practices to improve workforce productivity, engagement, service delivery levels, and efficiency.