“Singapore has moved from preventing cyber threats to assuming breaches have occurred”, said Josephine Teo, Minister for Communications and Information, Singapore. When Minister Josephine Teo made this statement in Estonia during the Tallinn Digital Summit, she underscored the need to have a strong cybersecurity posture. Singaporeans have not forgotten the cyberattack in 2018, where a quarter of the city-state’s population healthcare records were breached during a cyberattack against the country’s healthcare system.
It was after the 2018 data breach that Singapore’s position on cybersecurity changed from one of trying to prevent attacks to one that assumes that an attack has already occurred. “It’s just a question of ‘when’, it’s not a question of ‘if’,” explained Minister Teo.
Without a doubt, the pandemic has drastically and unexpectedly accelerated the need for a new network security model. Zero trust security is not a new concept, but it has now taken centre stage and security leaders agree that it will improve security and simplify security processes for distributed teams and hybrid networks.
A widespread move to remote work and the corresponding need for better remote workforce security has spurred investment in zero-trust security. The ability to authenticate and monitor all traffic, regardless of its position inside or outside of an organisation’s network, promises to reduce or eliminate many security risks. However, rolling the model out has proven to be complicated, presenting organisations with a mixed bag of successes and obstacles. One key reason is that zero trust adoption is a logistical challenge, not just a technical one. Security modernisation often depends on the progress of user identity consolidation and cloud transformation, both complex and long-term projects.
Moreover, organisations are facing challenges with overall cloud transformation. Organisations have accelerated their cloud adoption plans but are not fully prepared. When large chunks of data have not yet moved to the cloud from isolated data centres, it can become harder to secure using a single security tool. Identity and access management (IAM) complexities also proved equally challenging for zero trust adoption. Teams are struggling to shift to a zero-trust approach due to the complexities of user access needs in their organisation.
Zero trust relies on a single source of truth for identity management, yet larger organisations, in particular, have often accumulated multiple incompatible identity providers over the years. They must also understand access patterns across a huge number of applications — most of which cannot be shut down even for a moment to be migrated to a new identity platform.
The pandemic has further exposed the weaknesses of the traditional ‘castle-and-moat’ security model. Remote work has expanded attack surfaces infinitely outwards – more than ever, agencies need to start from the assumption that their ‘castle’ is already compromised. Zero Trust has emerged as a compelling security framework to address the failures of existing perimeter-based security approaches.
This leads to fundamental questions: what does it take to adopt and deploy zero trust architecture? Are organisations equipped to enhance the efficiency and security of their mission-critical applications and websites?
This was the focus of OpenGovLive! Virtual Breakfast Insight on 1 December 2021, which aimed to impart knowledge on how to deploy the zero-trust model seamlessly and to overcome common obstacles in zero-trust adoption.
Embracing the security imperative in a hybrid world
Mohit Sagar, Group Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief, OpenGov Asia, kicked off the session with his opening address.
COVID-19 has fundamentally changed culture, Mohit asserts. With remote working entrenched in the new normal, hybrid work is the new reality. For him, the world cannot and will not go back to what it used to be – to demand employees return to physical work in offices in the name of security will not bode well.
Organisations must learn how to keep individual secure where he or she is working while keeping the work environment secure. “Culture has shifted and we must evolve with it,” Mohit is firm.
Singapore is embracing a Zero Trust strategy. According to the Singapore Cybersecurity Strategy 2021, the three strategic pillars are: building resilient infrastructure, enabling safer cyberspace and enhancing international cyber cooperation.
Mohit observes that the prevailing priorities of the public sector are to roll out innovative and secured digital services quickly, encourage inter-agency collaboration, enable a hybrid workforce and increase availability and security.
There is no doubt that rapid digitalisation increases the risk that organisations will face. In May 2021, Asia Pacific experienced a 168% YoY increase in cyber-attacks. There were reported malicious attacks that destroyed data in destructive/wiper-style attacks (average cost of $4.52 million) and ransomware attacks ($4.44 million).
“But just because it is a little bit hard, it does not mean that organisations should go back in time and revert to the old model,” Mohit says. Instead, he stresses, organisations need to embrace the challenges of security head-on instead of eschewing them. There is no turning back when it comes to digitalisation. Organisations can no longer hide behind the word “security” as an excuse not to modernise.
Although the challenges of the future abound, Mohit remains optimistic because of partnerships that can enable organisations to expand their capacities. He urges delegates to partner with organisations with a wealth of expertise and experience that can make the journey of security far easier to manage and navigate.
Hedging against cyber-attacks with Zero Trust
Fernando Serto, Chief Technologist and Evangelist, Asia Pacific, Japan and China, Cloudflare spoke on the ways Cloudflare can support agencies in building a secure Zero Trust architecture.
Cloudflare is a global network located in 250 cities in more than 100 countries, one of the fastest, that is trusted by millions of web properties. With direct connections to nearly every service provider and cloud provider, the Cloudflare network can reach 95% of the world’s population within 50 milliseconds.
As a company, Cloudflare provides Zero Trust Services, Cloudflare Network Services and Cloudflare Application Services. With the Zero Trust Services, Cloudflare helps to secure internal operations on a single global network by providing ZTNA with private routing, remote browser isolation, SWG with CASB and identity/endpoint integration.
Most people know Cloudflare for their application services such as WAF with API protection, rate limiting, load balancing, bot management, L7 DDoS protection, CDN and DNS. However, Fernando explains that Cloudflare also offers an integrated global edge platform and harnesses its unified software stack to run all its services. With the network services, Cloudflare offers WAN-as-a-Service, Firewall-as-a-service, L3 & L4 DDoS protection, network interconnection, and smart routing.
On the topic of Zero Trust Services, Fernando explains that the key concept is that it assumes that the network has been breached or that a breach is inevitable. Zero Trust is centred on requiring continuous verification through real-time information. Organisations need to identify and be able to decouple users from the network.
Yet the challenges are aplenty, Fernando warns delegates. He observes that today’s corporate WAN architecture is broken. Perimeter security is a bottleneck and does not work, applications are in the cloud and have a high latency for remote users. It is also difficult to scale and expensive. If anything, Fernando opines, “COVID-19 has taught us that the old model does not work.”
The security perimeter is and will be, constantly susceptible to vulnerabilities. Pulse Connect Secure VPN software has reportedly been exploited by attackers and many are targeted by accident. He adds that applications inside the WAN are also at risk, citing numerous reports of cyberattacks and system breaches. Vulnerabilities will always exist, but, how quickly organisations patch them will make the difference. Regardless, patching vulnerabilities takes time.
For Fernando, the switch to Zero Trust network access with private routing can help to mitigate these issues. With Cloudflare’s offering, security and connectivity are optimised, driving agencies’ speed and security in a work-from-anywhere world.
Cloudflare’s Zero Trust platform offers solutions for two problems. Traditionally, multiple point products require multiple policy managers and multiple client deployments. Cloudflare, however, offers one seamless platform that uses one policy manager and one client deployment. The other issue with traditional approaches is that platforms only integrate one identity provider (IdP) repeatedly and inconsistently. To address this, Cloudflare integrates many IdPs and tenants of the same IdP just once.
Concluding his presentation, Fernando emphasises the simple and effective threat defence that Cloudflare offers. In a fast-changing environment and changes in work models and culture, Cloudflare secures the networks of agencies working with a remote workforce seamlessly.
Starting a Zero Trust Government
Jeffrey Brown, Chief Information Security Officer, State of Connecticut spoke next on the establishment of a zero-trust government in his work in Connecticut.
The state of Connecticut has over 50 state agencies and three branches – executive, legislative and judicial. The key industries are financial services and insurance; aerospace and defence; bioscience and healthcare; film, TV and digital media; and advanced manufacturing.
In terms of management, the state government has the responsibility of handling a 24/7 Digital government, election infrastructure, 911 network, state critical infrastructure, healthcare, finance, transportation and the trust of 3.5 million citizens.
For Jeffery, the “chewy centre”, perimeter security model, whereby everyone inside the corporate network is trusted, is dead. Zero trust is now the dominant model of cybersecurity. The assumption with Zero Trust is that the network has already been compromised. It is an approach that deems networks both inside and outside as critical. There is a stricter identity verification process whereby every user and device has to prove that they are not a cyber attacker.
Jeffery believes that trust is a vulnerability that can be mitigated and that no one can achieve perfect trust. For him, “it is a balance.” He outlines three approaches that the state of Connecticut has undertaken:
- Know that all zero trust schools of thought make sense only if they support the business
- Learn about the most common frameworks (NIST 800-207)
- Understand that zero trust is a marathon, not a sprint. Not everyone can achieve zero trust, but everyone can adopt it.
In pursuing zero trust government, there were many lessons that Jeffery learnt along the way. In essence, it is a process with different components such as implementing multifactor authentication (MFA) everywhere, having 24/7/365 security monitoring, addressing identity and access management, leaning on federal partners and ultimately planning for the future.
Before closing his segment, he encourages delegates to take a risk-based approach to ensure that the most important pieces are first addressed and look at how Zero Trust can be implemented within their agencies to enable the government to do more.
Understanding the fundamentals of Zero Trust architecture
Gerald Caron: The nuts and bolts of Zero Trust architecture
Gerald Caron, Chief Information Officer & Assistant Inspector General for Information Technology U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Inspector General, shared the various aspects and characteristics of Zero Trust architecture.
While most people focus on the identity aspect of Zero Trust, Gerald believes that it is the data that organisations are trying to protect – that is the goal of Zero Trust. Beginning with Zero Trust core principles, Gerald notes that Zero Trust hinges on five core principles related to trusting no one and having the protection of the right size.
Trust no one
- Know your people and your devices: Validate identity at every step
- Design systems assuming they are all compromised: Distrust everything, so when a breach happens you are as protected as you can be
- Use Dynamic Access Controls: Access to services must be authenticated, authorised, encrypted at all times, and can be revoked during a session
- Constantly evaluate risk: Include context in risk decisions; Monitor and log in every location possible; Aggregate log, system, and user data
Right size protections
- Invest in defences based on the classification of data: Spend more money defending the systems at greater risk
Gerald adds that not all data is equally important. Organisations need to identify what is important. Zero Trust recognises these differences and categorises data based on its sensitivity and mission criticality. This categorisation is considered when protecting the data and granting access.
Apart from that, the paths are also not equal. In a Zero Trust environment, the path the data takes between the client and host impacts the level of risk, thus impacting how much a connection can be trusted. Connections with higher risk either restrict access to data/services or require a higher level of authentication.
While traditional authentication checks a user’s credentials once and uses that initial authentication for any subsequent activity before log-out, identity authentication is much stricter in Zero Trust. Multiple factors are considered when validating access, including the user’s role and location, the state of the device attempting access, and the data or services being accessed. Organisations need to look at all these factors to develop a risk-tolerance framework to decide what a user can or cannot do.
At the same time, Zero Trust assesses the state of each device attempting to access the network – for example, the device’s operating system version and patch level – to ensure that the client does not introduce additional risk to the environment.
Zero trust architecture features dynamic access control. While traditional authentication happens once, at the start of the session, and remains in place, Zero Trust authenticates dynamically each time new data is accessed or when something triggers a change in risk.
Gerald shares that a Step-up event in a Zero Trust environment can mitigate some of the potential risks a client may introduce. During the event, the system requires an additional authentication that can help control, although not entirely offset, the risk introduced by a client.
As for monitoring, continuous, detailed monitoring and logging are critical elements of Zero Trust as they contribute to a holistic picture of each user’s session and the overall environment. Data collected from monitoring and logging is linked with known threats and data/system sensitivity to drive cyber protections.
Gerald emphasises the importance of understanding the baseline and knowing what “normal” looks like – only then can organisations react to “abnormal.” As for risk evaluation in a Zero Trust environment, the authentication is evaluated dynamically, each time new data or resources are accessed or when something triggers a change in risk level.
Before ending his presentation, Gerald cautioned against being caught up with the tools and technology. He emphasises the importance of first understanding the organisation’s risk tolerance, methodology and threshold for risk. He also recommended his capability model as a way to understand the organisation’s functional capability and identify where the gaps are.
Gerald hopes that his presentation offered a quick overview of Zero Trust architecture that could help kick start the journey for delegates thinking about adopting a Zero Trust approach.
After the informative presentations, delegates participated in interactive discussions facilitated by polling questions. This activity is designed to provide live-audience interaction, promote engagement, hear real-life experiences, and facilitate discussions that impart professional learning and development for participants.
A delegate asked the speakers about their experience of working within Zero Trust architectures. For him, the Zero Trust environment have caused people to be dispossessed of the services that they used to enjoy.
In response to that, Gerald points out that “humans are the weakest point” and it is not always a malicious person but someone trying to get their job done. It is vital to understand how users work and what data is needed. He sees Zero Trust as an opportunity to improve operations. By looking into various technologies, the government is essentially optimising processes and performance enhancements. However, he stresses the importance of understanding the user in the process of implementing new systems and not limiting it to the IT domain.
Fernando adds that implementing frameworks with legacy technologies that it where there will be a negative user experience. The end goal is to make the user experience as seamless as possible. Therefore, addressing legacy technology will be important in this process.
Mohit is convinced that it is not only about legacy technology but also legacy governance and processes. Change and transformation have to be holistic, encompassing all aspects.
The first poll inquired how delegates plan to implement Zero Trust across their extended environment. Most (34%) indicated that they have already started implementing zero trust with a primary focus on identifying our critical assets, followed by delegates who are not yet ready to implement zero-trust due to the lack of resources and skills needed(19%). The rest of the delegates indicated that they work with multiple security partners to build a practical and pragmatic roadmap to implement zero-trust (14%) or have made huge investments in different technologies and are not sure where to start due to operational complexities (14%).
A delegate observed that the consideration for Zero Trust needs to be ground in yielding a particular business value. At the same time, the end-user friction needs to be considered – the processes need to be made less difficult for everyone in the company.
Fernando opines that the user experience needs to lubricate the process of building a Zero Trust architecture. The technology is there to allow people to move faster. Mohit felt that there was resistance when the cloud-first came out but governments are slowly changing their policy to embrace the cloud.
On their organisation’s current security priority, over half the delegates indicated that enabling Endpoint Mobile Management & Protection (EMM) / BYOD/ IAM is their highest priority (55%). The rest of the equally divided between employing DDoS, Web Application Firewall, Bot Management, Data Loss Prevention (15%), ensuring secure access to applications hosted on cloud service providers (e.g. Microsoft, Amazon, Google) (15%), and ‘others’ (15%)
In response to the results, Fernando observes that the emphasis on the end-point could be because of the hybrid situation that organisations are in.
Exploring key drivers for their organisation in initiating and augmenting an identity access / Zero Trust management programme, exactly half the delegates indicated security/data protection/ breach prevention was the key driver. That is followed by internal/industry/regulatory compliance (19%), response to audit or security incidents (13%). The rest of the votes were split evenly between operational efficiency (6%), reduce endpoint, insider and IoT security threats (6%) and others (6%).
On the best scenario that describes their organisation’s journey, nearly 3 out of 5 of the delegates are of the view that ZTNA solution will work alongside VPN serving different use cases for years to come (59%). Other delegates felt that they see shifting users gradually from a VPN to a ZTNA solution but will always keep VPN for a core set of users (29%). Just over a tenth (10%) acknowledged they would migrate all users to a ZTNA solution (12%).
Looking at the polls, Fernando opines that the reason why people might have a foot on each side in ZTNA and VPN is due to the focus on user and identity in the marketing of services. Gerald adds that it might have to do with culture and the resistance to change. He believes that VPN is not iron-clad and that he would rather be effective than compliant.
When asked about the Zero Trust tenets that are most compelling to their organisation, just under a third (30%) placed continuous authentication, authorisation/Trust earned through entity verification at the top. This was followed equally by end-to-end access visibility and audit (21%) and data protection, e.g. secure connection (21%). The rest of the delegates were compelled by the facilitation of least privileged access (14%), no trust distinction between an internal or external network (7%) and others (7%).
The final poll inquired on the most likely approach that the delegate’s organisation might take in evolution to SASE (Secure Access Service Edge). An overwhelming number of delegates are likely to take a best of breed approach to select partners that are most appropriate to my organisation’s needs (77%). The remaining delegates were split between staying with existing partners and consolidating as necessary (15%) and looking for partners who can provide a complete SASE solution (8%).
In closing, Mark Huang, Product Director, Securecraft, acknowledged the mounting challenges in a drastically changed world. He emphasised that the journey of setting up a Zero Trust architecture need not be taken alone – Cloudflare at Securecraft can help government agencies with the task of making their services more secure.
Before ending the session, Mark thanked the delegates for the robust discussions and invited delegates to reach out to him and the team if they wanted a deeper understanding of how to get started on securing the government.
As the local distributor of Cloudflare, Mark emphasised that Securecraft would be more than happy to offer any support that delegates might need in their digital transformation journey.
A team of researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) has set a new record in the power conversion efficiency of solar cells made using perovskite and organic materials. This technological breakthrough paves the way for flexible, light-weight, low cost and ultra-thin photovoltaic cells which are ideal for powering vehicles, boats, blinds and other applications.
Technologies for clean and renewable energy are extremely important for carbon reduction. Solar cells that directly convert solar energy into electricity are among the most promising clean energy technologies. The high power conversion efficiency of solar cells is critical for generating more electrical power using a limited area and this, in turn, reduces the total cost of generating solar energy.
– Professor Hou Yi, Lead Researcher, NUS Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
The researchers have demonstrated a power conversion efficiency of 23.6%. This is the best performance for this type of solar cell to date. The latest result is approaching the power conversion rate of 26.7% of conventional silicon solar cells, which is the dominating technology in the current solar PV market.
Solar cell technology has achieved tremendous growth in recent years as a sustainable energy source. The reliability, efficiency, durability, and price of solar cells have a crucial impact on the commercial potential and large-scale implementation of solar energy projects around the world.
The conventional solar cells being used in solar power plants are based on a single-junction architecture. The practical power conversion efficiency of single-junction solar cells is limited to about 27% in industrial production. To push the frontiers of solar energy production will require novel solutions for solar cells to perform better in power conversion.
To raise the power conversion efficiency of solar cells to go beyond 30%, stacks of two or more absorber layers (multi-junction cells) are required. Tandem solar cells, which are made using two different types of photovoltaic materials, is a hot area of research.
A tandem solar cell comprises two or more subcells electrically connected using interconnecting layers (ICLs). The ICL plays a critical role in determining the performance and reproducibility of a device. An effective ICL should be chemically inert, electrically conductive and optically transparent.
The study shows the great potential of perovskite-based tandem solar cells for future commercial applications of photovoltaic technology. Building on the new discovery, we hope to further improve the performance of our tandem solar cells and scale up this technology.
As reported by OpenGov Asia, medical and nursing students at the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine will be using three-dimensional holographic technology from a tech company to help them learn certain medical procedures and study anatomical structures. The collaboration, which spans NUS Medicine, the National University Health System and a tech company add mixed reality to the learning experience.
Through holographic technology, medical and nursing undergraduates can expect to better hone their skills through training. This progressive use of mixed reality in healthcare education stems from the tech company’s work with the National University Health System, which is embarking on Holomedicine research in Singapore to enhance patient care.
From delivering better healthcare experiences at the frontlines to helping neurosurgeons keep patients better informed of what could happen during their surgeries, technology has been an empowering tool for healthcare workers as they protect and save the lives of patients. As one of the few hospitals in Southeast Asia that has a tertiary education arm that collaborates with a training hospital, NUS Medicine is in a unique position to use mixed reality solutions.
Under the partnership with a tech company, The Institute of Technical Education (ITE) College Central will set up its first AI training facility, equipped with a supercomputing platform that is used for the development of AI applications. Close to 400 ITE students will be trained to apply and integrate AI systems. Students will work with companies to develop AI solutions to address business needs. This will provide ITE students with “a suite of AI capabilities.
Students will be exposed to skillsets in computer vision, pattern recognition and data analytics, and trained to support AI applications in predictive maintenance, industrial inspection and video analytics. They will be equipped with industry experience in implementing AI systems, which are crucial to Singapore’s goal of transforming its economy with technology by 2030.
– Chan Chun Sing, Minister of Education
The partnership is expected to benefit up to about 2,000 students in the next three years. Under the AI Workforce Readiness Programme, these students will meet the growing demand for skilled workers to adopt AI systems. A wide spectrum of skill sets and job roles are necessary to achieve Singapore’s national AI strategy, which “cannot be fulfilled by a single pipeline of university graduates.
These range from “tech-heavy roles” focused on more complex functions and innovation to jobs that operate AI, such as digital marketing executives, where skills such as data analytics are important. There is a growing range of job roles required to deploy and integrate AI systems. Examples include business analysts and AI translators, user experience designers, quality assurance managers and marketing analysts.
Students under the programme can add value to ITE’s local industry partners in sectors such as engineering, logistics, retail and manufacturing – industries well-placed for AI adoption. Under the agreement, ITE will also launch its first AI training facility equipped with the tech company’s supercomputing platform by the first quarter of this year. The computing platform will help to enable the fast development, deployment and enhancement of AI models for innovations such as driverless cars and cyber security.
The institute is looking to help more than 4,500 companies offering internships to ITE students and another 450 companies taking on ITE trainees to tap AI-enabled solutions from the company’s network of local start-ups. Students under the programme will be involved in the development process and apply their AI skills in a real-world context, while staff at these companies will be trained to manage these AI applications.
As reported by OpenGov Asia, Students at Temasek Polytechnic are using Virtual Reality (VR) technology to have virtual field trips. Aspiring aerospace engineers can hone their practical skills by getting up close and personal with virtual plane engines. The pandemic has challenged polytechnics to find new ways of providing practical skills. They have responded by adopting new tech tools for immersive learning, like using VR to give aerospace engineering students a hands-on experience.
Students can use VR to take part in virtual field trips, enabling them to have up-close experiences with training equipment. For example, aerospace engineering students can use the technology to perform maintenance on the aircraft landing gear and fuel systems. They also learn how to start an engine from the rest using VR. The tool can be useful for students who need access to training equipment that is expensive or unavailable.
Educational institutions are not letting the pandemic get in the way of developing hands-on skills. VR technology is enabling students to get up close and personal with training equipment, while lecturers learn how to support students in real-time with data analytics.
Today, financial institutions have the ability to gather, store, aggregate and analyse a broader variety of client data, ranging from their current or former location to consumer behaviours and preferences, which has been enhanced as a result of technological advancements. This, in turn, enables organisations to build, optimise and secure digital interactions from frontend to backend, across the full technology stack.
The most accurate way to enhance customer experience is the use of insights from data. By harnessing data-driven insights, banks can deliver on their core promises: to listen to customers, create a service that benefits them and offer that service in a personalised way.
In this scenario, data becomes one of the most valuable assets in digital banking and key financial system designs must incorporate a frictionless process layer so that banks can deliver better digital customer experiences.
Thailand has put in significant efforts in digitalising the financial and economic sectors. Currently, the nation is leading the world for mobile banking and financial services apps. It also ranks in the top five countries for e-commerce adoption, mobile payment, mobile commerce and QR code usage.
Embracing digital transformation as a strategic goal is the need of the hour for banks operating in Thailand to compete with larger incumbents. This can be accomplished by combining the various data silos that exist on-premise, in hybrid cloud environments, or multi-cloud environments and distilling these data into actionable insights to guide executive decisions.
Over the last few years, the cloud has enabled scalability in the finance industry, delivering agility. Financial institutions can acquire and analyse varied types of data at incredible speeds, eliminate content silos, safeguard data across the bank and develop enduring relationships with clients thanks to the greater flexibility and scalability of cloud solutions over on-premises systems.
To provide a customised, customer-centric experience, financial institutions must use data, analytics, technology, and automation effectively. The new ‘Data-to-Everything’ approach is required to manage these technical and organisational challenges. Financial institutions must embrace this because it benefits business, IT, and security teams by collecting real-time data from all sources, applying analytics and intelligence, and triggering automated actions that reduce business risks, improve security, provide collaboration, accelerate decision making, improve the customer experience and generates more business opportunities.
A digital-first, cloud-first and customer-first strategy is the future. Any digital banking strategy must be supported by a strong data strategy. To drive a high-level digital transformation, financial institutions must leverage insights to inform decision-making, operations, and customer experience components.
The OpenGovLive! Virtual Breakfast Insight held on 21 January 2022 aimed to provide the latest information on delivering an effective and efficient customer experience, and how financial institutions must leverage data-driven insights to inform decision-making, operations, and customer experience components.
Accelerating a digital strategy to provide a transformative financial experience
Mohit Sagar, Group Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief, OpenGov Asia, kicked off the session with his opening address.
Mohit contends that technology is being in all spheres of life at a faster pace than ever before. Digital transformation is the ‘latest buzz word’ used by everyone across the world in every imaginable area and sector. Retail, financial, and public sectors have been rapidly rolling out new IT, tech software and solutions to survive and thrive in the digital age.
No doubt, the COVID-19 outbreak was a key factor in shifting the banking business landscape. In an article he wrote recently, Mohit says there is more pressure on the financial sector in Thailand to be digitally ready to meet demand and customer needs, to have a robust infrastructure in place and a strong data strategy.
In light of the pandemic and the new normal, Mohit asserts that there is a pressing need to accelerate digital strategies. With remote working models in place, people have grown accustomed to accessing information at any time, on any platform and with any device. The retail industry took the lead in embracing personalisation and transformed itself in a variety of ways, including accessibility, options, ease of doing business and security.
“Customer experiences have changed,” Mohit claims. “There is a steep rise in expectations for personalised and seamless services. If an organisation or agency does not meet these, they will explore other options.”
This means that organisations need to create new cloud and data strategies and innovate in every aspect. To successfully and efficiently do this, he emphasised the importance of partnership to leverage data and cloud computing in an organisation. By partnering with the right people, a company can accelerate its digital journey towards digital transformation.
Multi-cloud solutions in powering financial services
Dan Brassington, Chief Technical Advisor, APAC, Splunk spoke next on adapting and tweaking strategies to meet client needs and expectations. “Every organisation needs to be a digital organisation, powered by data, running in a multi-cloud world,” he firmly believes.
To have a competitive advantage, organisations need to consider how to leverage data and operationalise security across hybrid and multi-cloud environments – to build, detect, validate, contextualise and prioritise alerts, as well as reduce time to detect, streamline investigations to respond rapidly.
While charting the roadmap might seem easy in theory, the reality of digital transformation is that it is hard, complex and the journey is long. It is as much about working on processes and people as it is about the technology, Dan emphasised. On this journey of digital transformation, “there is no end state but a future state,” Dan opines.
Regardless of where organisations are on the path to digital transformation, the general trend is that they are applying technology across the business in new and broader ways. Whether organisations are attempting to control costs, open new revenue streams, make their workers and internal processes more efficient or build that “Next Great Thing,” the business objectives that they are trying to use technology to solve for are closer to the centre of their core business than ever before. In some cases, it may even be redefining the organisation’s identity.
On customer experience, Dan believes that customers expect organisations to understand their behaviour, their likes and dislikes and to move at their speed – if an institution is not able to do so, customers will find someone who can. Maintaining a competitive advantage is, therefore, imperative.
COVID-19 has driven 4 fundamental shifts, Dan observes. The first is the forced adoption of online, mobile call centre channels. That is followed by the arrival at a tipping point for digital and contactless payments, the overnight visualisation of the workforce and ways of working and the evolution of underlying market structure and economics.
The fact of the matter is that all the innovation and transformation is so that businesses can meet their customers’ expectations and provide smooth experiences in a bid to maintain their competitive advantage. Data is central to powering the experience of digital channels in ways that organisations need to look into.
To stay ahead of the curve, organisations must harness insights derived from data and the software that drives the digital experience. The ability to deliver data-driven digital services faster and cheaper is the key.
Beyond a doubt, the future is digital and digitalisation must take place across the entire value chain and the new environment. For instance, financial institutions cannot simply provide a mobile application per se – the provision of that service must come with the ability to provide streamlined processes of accessing services, such as approving home loans in 24 hours and providing quick financial services.
It is important to bear in mind that the hybrid and remote workforce is the future, Dan is convinced. This requires people, operations, and culture to be reimagined. And in this rapidly changing and demanding environment, innovative approaches must also be created for organisations to tackle inherent cyber risks and compliance risks.
Another important aspect of the digitalisation journey is the building of a cloud strategy. “Cloud is not a place but an operating model,” Dan highlights.
In conclusion, modern technologies will transform the future of business and data will fuel it. Data is the competitive advantage that businesses need to build to properly understand their customers and business. Businesses must evolve. Concluding his presentation, Dan shared 5 areas that are pressing for organisations to consider:
- Enable business model transformation and think differently about how businesses are run
- Identify industry changes early
- Optimise Resource Allocation
- Access, automate and accelerate data usage across the whole organisation
- Build a strong data-driven foundation for businesses
Using data-driven insights to accelerate businesses
Johnson Poh, Head Enterprise AI and Data, UOB Singapore, elaborated on the fundamental concepts of data analytics, as well as how financial institutions can enhance their business value and operational efficiency.
“What is the buzz surrounding AI, big data analytics and graph analytics?” Johnson asks.
But before the questions can be answered, the context and terms need to be unpacked. Breaking down the various related concepts, Johnson articulates the technologies underpinning data science.
- AI is a broad concept that relates to any technique that enables the machine to mimic human behaviour – it is about building smart machines to facilitate human efforts.
- Big data analytics pertains to the use of qualitative and quantitative methods and computing tools to derive insights from large volumes of data from a variety of sources at high velocity. It is an interdisciplinary field that focuses on advanced implementations for predictive and prescriptive analysis, comprising techniques such as Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Graph analysis.
- Machine Learning refers to a suite of AI techniques that allows computers to learn from data without being explicitly programmed to do so.
- Deep Learning is a subset of machine learning and refers to more advanced algorithms based on multi-layered artificial neural networks.
According to studies, big data can generate revenue on annual basis and enhance efficiency. Mckinsey estimates that big data analytics can create between US$ 4 to US$ 6 trillion in value annually, while another source reveals that banks can expect potential savings between 20% to 25% using big data analytics.
In the context of financial institutions, Johnson provided examples of how big data analytics can transform the banking and financial industry with impact – Anti Money Laundering (AML) management and fraud detection, recommender systems, customer 360 view and cybersecurity.
On Anti-Money Laundering management and fraud detection, he shared that big data analytics allows banks to sift out the underlying transactions and the relationships of fraudulent entities by mapping accounts and fund flows. By leveraging big data, the human task of investigating fraudulent transactions can be streamlined by prioritising the transactions that matter.
Another application of big data analytics includes recommender systems. It can also empower sales teams and analysts to have a comprehensive and unified view of customers and their journey map. With a fuller view of the customer journey, financial institutions can offer personalised and targeted services by analysing the preferences and profiles of customers. By offering a customer 360 view, the technology allows institutions to leverage linkages and relationships and to make connections that can inform operational decisions.
In terms of cybersecurity, Johnson shared that large corporate organisations face challenges in detecting real-time activity and transactions seamlessly. As data increases and operations scale, big data analytics offers a solution in sifting out critical data.
Developing people involves building a big data team with diversified skillsets to collaboratively drive analytics initiatives. For big data development at scale, a well-defined process and a set of standard operating procedures are imperatives.
Johnson has categorised the enterprise analytics lifecycle into three main phases: Big Data Engineering, Data Analytics & Machine Learning, Visualisation and Consumption. He points out that the process includes a feedback loop, emphasising that big data solutioning is an ongoing process requiring continuous monitoring, feedback, and refinement to account for performance degradation over time.
The final enabler is technology. To support the AI-driven pipeline, there is a need to assemble a suite of tools to fulfil the requirement for data storage, parallel processing, query processing, machine learning and insights delivery.
Concluding his presentation, Johnson reiterated the different use cases of big data technology in financial institutions and emphasised how it can benefit the operations of financial institutions, generate revenues and save on costs.
After the informative presentations, delegates participated in interactive discussions facilitated by polling questions. This activity is designed to provide live-audience interaction, promote engagement, hear real-life experiences, and facilitate discussions that impart professional learning and development for participants.
The first poll inquired on the maturity of delegates’ cloud strategy. Over two-thirds (65%) indicated that they have defined a cloud strategy and are starting to implement cloud. There were 17% who are still evaluating cloud and experimenting with different options while 13% had a comprehensive cloud strategy and far were ahead in its practical implementation.
On being asked by Dan if they felt that the implementation was the difficult part, one delegate replied that they undertook design thinking before focusing on the customer and experimented with applications on cloud, focusing on data-driven operations.
Another delegate felt that adopting and implementing cloud strategy is a continuous learning process. In a similar vein, an executive managing the business interests of his organisation shared that his department is learning about cloud strategy. While he finds the changes to be slower in the financial sector, he recognises the unique limitations and concerns about security in the financial sector. He added that resources and skills are limited, which places a cap on how the organisation can capitalise on technology.
In response to Dan’s query about the main challenges that organisations faced, one participant said that it is a combination of technology limitation, lack of expertise and nervousness surrounding doing new things. To that, Dan echoed Johnson’s point that the three elements of people, process and technology need to come together and emphasised the importance of working with partners.
When asked about the main driver for data analytics and data-driven capabilities within their organisation, approximately half of the delegates (54%) indicated that they are keen to gain better insights and to create a personalised customer experience. The remaining delegates (46%) thought that the main driver is to generate additional revenue through highly targeted marketing strategies.
For Dan, the drivers are interlinked – gaining better insights and creating a personalised customer experience can lead to revenue generation. After acquiring customers, organisations need to understand them and retain them by driving the customer experience.
One delegate concurred with Dan’s point of view but added that as a bank, he has an obligation towards regulators who have non-revenue related concerns.
On the challenge organisations face in obtaining data insights, most delegates (42%) ranked disparate data sources from multiple data silos as the main challenge. This was followed by the shortage of staff who understand big data analysis (38%), data storage and quality (20%).
In response to the results, Johnson opined that challenges can be classified as the elements of people, process, and technology. He observes that in the context of the banking sector, a large part of the challenge comes from having to implement the right systems that are secure to manage customers to ensure that it is safe – the mindset of how technology should be harnessed is a big part of it.
Quality of data was another issue that a delegate pointed out – some data sits on-premise or cloud and others are in the data lake. In that sense, synchronising the data is an ongoing process that needs to be tackled. Other delegates opined that finding data scientists who possess the contextual knowledge to extract relevant insights to drive business is a challenge.
The next poll asked delegates about where they stood and what their next steps are in their digital transformation plan. For almost half (48%), the digital transformation journey has just started, and they are looking at tools, data, processes and channels. Over a fifth (22%) said they are mature on the digital transformation journey and are looking at how to drive the customer experience and top-line growth. The remaining delegates are either between the early stage of building a digital transformation plan (17%) or require help to drive the business use case of digital transformation across the business (13%).
A delegate shared that his organisation might be mature in terms of digital banking but that there is still a long way to go when it comes to organisation-wide transformation. For a small bank like his, the challenge lies in acquiring new customers.
In contrast, another delegate from a company with many entities shared his challenge of synchronising the digital channels and initiatives of the various entities. The difficulty lies in looking at the initiatives across platforms and deciding what ought to be consolidated and kept separate.
On the topic of customer-centric organisations being structured around the experiences of customers, most delegates (52%) agreed that they design and offer the right services, products and experiences to the right customers. About 20% felt that they are a collaborative organisation, where top-down and bottom-up decisions are aligned. The remaining votes were evenly split between the perception that they understand the people who bank with their institution – the market, types of customers and how the needs of customers differ (14%) and ensuring that customer requirements are filtered through to capabilities – as such, processes, capabilities, and systems are systematically aligned to customer needs (14%).
Regardless of the selection, Dan reiterated that there is no end-goal to digital transformation, only a future state digital transformation that is constantly evolving. Johnson added that all options are relevant, but it comes down to resource allocation and overall prioritisation.
Mohit agreed with Johnson that it is a complex topic because the banking sector has been challenged every step of the way, but that technology is an enabler for any organisation’s digital transformation.
The final poll asked delegates the main challenge they face when implementing digital strategy. Most of the delegates (56%) found the biggest challenge to be the legacy technologies lacking integration capabilities, followed by inflexible business processes and teams (22%), lack of properly skilled teams (17%) and regulatory constraints (7%).
In closing, Dan expressed his gratitude for the robust participation and highly energetic discussion. He observed that everyone was at a different stage of digital transformation and that technology is the key enabler that will help organisations to transform the hardest tasks in the organisation. The more an organisation can collect and leverage its structured and unstructured data, the more the business will be able to expand.
He emphasised the importance of partnering with colleagues within the organisation. He encouraged delegates to continue the conversation with the business department to understand what they need. Instead of being reactive to changes on the ground, it is better to be proactive.
Dan reiterated that learning about data is a continuous and ongoing journey and encouraged the delegates to connect with him and the team to explore ways in which the use of data can help agencies improve their operations.
Mohit brought the session to an end with a final remark that the banking sector is under tremendous pressure because of the tremendous competition. He also added that while technology is the enabler, people and skill sets are critical to the implementation of digital transformation initiatives. On that note, Mohit urged delegates to consider external partners to help smoothen the journey.
Cyberspace is transnational and borderless. This means that cyberattacks can be conducted by anyone, from anywhere in the world. Regardless of who the malicious actor is, putting in place cyber resilience measures to protect ourselves is key.
Singapore needs to take precautions in cyberspace to protect the digital security of Singaporeans against cyberattacks by private firms allegedly at the behest of state actors and state-backed entities. Singapore also should take additional and updated steps to address the risk of such attacks in the wake of developments over the last six months.
2021 put cybersecurity under the spotlight with a spate of cyberattacks and serious vulnerabilities discovered around the world; the most recent event of concern being the vulnerability found in an open-source Java package that is widely used by software developers. When there are known incidents and vulnerabilities, the Cyber Security Agency takes immediate steps to ensure that our Critical Information Infrastructure and enterprises are secure.
CSA called for two emergency meetings with CII sectors to issue technical details and mitigation solutions and heightened monitoring for unusual activity. Public advisories and alerts were issued; trade associations and chambers were also briefed on the urgency for enterprises to implement the mitigation measures.
To strengthen Singapore’s cybersecurity, CSA encourages adopting a “zero-trust” posture. This comprises two key principles: first, do not trust any activity on your networks without first verifying it and second, ensure constant monitoring and vigilance for suspicious activities. To raise standards, CSA is developing the CII Supply Chain Programme to ensure that CII owners and their vendors adhere to international best practices for supply chain risk management.
At the same time, CSA also developed actionable cybersecurity toolkits and resources for businesses under the SG Cyber Safe Programme to improve their cyber defences. These toolkits and resources can be found on CSA’s website.
CSA has consistently advocated that the best defence against cyberattacks is a population that is vigilant and adopts good cyber practices. Businesses and organisations are responsible for their own cybersecurity and must take action to strengthen their posture.
This includes regularly updating their software and systems, and practising incident response and business continuity plans to ensure that employees are well-prepared when incidents happen. Individuals should practise good cyber hygiene and stay vigilant against phishing links. We must all strengthen our defences to participate in the digital domain safely and securely.
As reported by OpenGov Asia, CSA has launched a series of tool kits for enterprises, which guide cybersecurity issues tailored for senior business leaders, owners SMEs, as well as employees. The new toolkits help to simplify cybersecurity and enable businesses to make more informed trade-offs between security, system usability and cost.
The toolkit for enterprise leaders and SME owners will focus on the business reasons for business leaders and SME owners to invest in cybersecurity, such as rationalising investment in cybersecurity, and how fostering a culture of cybersecurity would enable enterprises to reap the benefits of digital transformation.
Although 80 per cent of Singapore SMEs embrace digital transformation and have digital transformation in place, cybersecurity has been the key reason for small enterprises not digitalising. Topics include the cultivation of cybersecurity leadership and guidance for employee cybersecurity education.
The programme is one of the major initiatives under the Safer Cyberspace Masterplan, which was launched last year. The master plan was developed in consultation with the cybersecurity industry and academia, to raise the general level of cybersecurity in Singapore for individuals, communities, enterprises, and organisations. Key areas of focus include securing Singapore’s core digital infrastructure, safeguarding cyberspace activities and empowering a cyber-savvy population.
Following the recent spate of SMS-phishing scams targeting bank customers, The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and the Association of Banks in Singapore (ABS) are introducing a set of additional measures to bolster the security of digital banking.
MAS expects all financial institutions to have in place robust measures to prevent and detect scams as well as effective incident handling and customer service in the event of a scam. The growing threat of online phishing scams calls for immediate steps to strengthen controls, while longer-term preventive measures are being evaluated for implementation in the coming months.
MAS is deeply concerned about the recent spate of scams and the financial losses suffered by victims. The threat of scams will not go away, but we can reduce our vulnerabilities. This requires a multi-pronged response across the ecosystem. MAS, together with the Police, IMDA and other relevant government agencies, is working closely with the financial industry, the telco industry, consumer groups, and other stakeholders to strengthen our collective resilience against scam attacks. We will ensure that digital banking remains secure, efficient, and trusted.
– Ravi Menon, Managing Director, MAS
Banks in Singapore, in consultation with MAS, will work to put in place more stringent measures within the next two weeks, including:
- Removal of clickable links in emails or SMSes sent to retail customers
- The threshold for funds transfer transaction notifications to customers to be set by default at $100 or lower
- Delay of at least 12 hours before activation of a new soft token on a mobile device
- Notification to an existing mobile number or email registered with the bank whenever there is a request to change a customer’s mobile number or email address
- Additional safeguards, such as a cooling-off period before implementation of requests for key account changes such as in a customer’s key contact details
- Dedicated and well-resourced customer assistance teams to deal with feedback on potential fraud cases on a priority basis
- More frequent scam education alerts.
Customer vigilance remains of paramount importance. Scammers are quick to adapt in targeting unsuspecting consumers. To avoid falling for online banking scams, customers must:
- Never click on links provided in SMSes or emails;
- Never divulge internet banking credentials or passwords to anyone;
- Verify SMSes or emails received by calling the bank directly on the hotline listed on its official website;
- Verify that you are at the bank’s official website before making any transactions or transact through the bank’s official mobile application; and
- Closely monitor transaction notifications so that any unauthorised payments are reported as soon as possible to increase the chances of recovery.
Banks will continue to work closely with MAS, the Singapore Police Force, and the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) to deal with this scourge of scams. This includes working on more permanent solutions to combat SMS spoofing, including the adoption of the SMS Sender ID registry by all relevant stakeholders. MAS is also intensifying its scrutiny of major financial institutions’ fraud surveillance mechanisms to ensure they are adequately equipped to deal with the growing threat of online scams.
As reported by OpenGov Asia, Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and the Financial Services Regulatory Authority (FSRA) of Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM), in collaboration with commercial partners have successfully concluded the world’s first cross-border digital trade financing pilot of its kind.
The pilot used IMDA’s TradeTrust framework to facilitate the transfer of electronic records between jurisdictions that have adopted the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Model Law on Electronic Transferable Records (MLETR). This harmonises the legal recognition of digital documents such as electronic bills of lading (eBLs) across both jurisdictions and complements the larger global trade movement by the G7 economies on adopting electronic transferable records in international trade.
E-payment has been gaining steam in Singapore with the proliferation of services. The COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated the growth of this form of payment as businesses and banks encouraged consumers to switch to e-payment for contactless transactions. Given the ubiquity of a smartphone, most of us should be no stranger to e-payment services, and many might even be avid users of such services.
The Monetary Authority of Singapore has been encouraging the gifting of used notes or switching to e-hongbaos The reasons are twofold: to support sustainability and to prevent overcrowding in banks during the pandemic. While some people can understand the rationale of not visiting a crowded bank branch amid a pandemic, switching to e-hongbaos in the name of sustainability may be hard for some to justify in abandoning the cultural tradition.
While the current practice of gifting hongbaos (red envelope) is part of the tradition, the sustainability imperative should not be neglected. Most of the red packets will most likely end up in the incinerator because these tend not to be easily recyclable due to their designs and materials.
It is not just the red packets. The new notes that we painstakingly queue for, will only be used momentarily, after which they will become used notes that are deposited back to the banks at the end of the festive season. If the public continues to demand only new notes each Lunar New Year, the used notes have no opportunity to be recirculated.
In Singapore, as many as 100 million pieces of new notes are issued to meet the festive demand annually. The $2 denomination forms the bulk of new notes issued. Some of the used $2 notes that are deposited are reissued as good-as-new notes the following Lunar New Year. This recycling of used notes has helped to meet about 20 per cent of annual festive demand, reduced wastage and supported the environment.
Sustainability is not the only reason why people should be persuaded to give e-hongbaos a chance. The practical cost of printing paper currency is a key consideration too. Using available estimates, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Bureau of Engraving and Printing announced its 2021 currency operating budget to be US$1.1 billion. The cost of printing a U.S. one-dollar note is about 6.2 cents per note. This is just over 6% of the note’s monetary value.
Gifting of e-hongbaos is on the rise in Singapore. In 2021, a bank reported more than 32,000 QR Gift transactions through an app totalling $2 million, as compared to 18,000 totalling $660,000 in 2020 over the first two days of the Lunar New Year. Other banks also saw an upward trend in the transaction. Another bank had three times the increase in e-hongbao transactions.
E-hongbao is convenient as one does not need to visit the bank to queue up for new notes, or to deposit the money received after the festive season. A few clicks are all that is needed to give and receive. One also does not need to worry about misplacing the hongbaos.
As reported by OpenGov Asia, in addressing the digital economy in the country, Singapore will next link its national real-time payment system to Malaysia’s equivalent E-payment infrastructure, just weeks after announcing similar plans with India. The most recent collaboration will allow residents of the two neighbouring countries to transfer funds using their mobile phone numbers.
In addressing the digital economy in the country, Singapore will next link its national real-time payment system to Malaysia’s equivalent E-payment infrastructure, just weeks after announcing similar plans with India. The most recent collaboration will allow residents of the two neighbouring countries to transfer funds using their mobile phone numbers.
Workforce Singapore (WSG), Singapore Food Agency (SFA) and Republic Polytechnic (RP) have launched the Career Conversion Programme (CCP) for the Agri-tech Sector, the first programme for the sector. Benefitting 100 individuals over two years, the CCP would attract and build a local talent pipeline to complement the Singapore Green Plan and “30 by 30” goal to build capability and capacity to produce 30% of Singapore’s nutritional needs locally by 2030.
The agri-food sector is an exciting new field in Singapore. As Singapore works towards achieving the “30 by 30” goal, higher-value jobs will be created in the high-tech agriculture industry in the longer term. By 2030, it is projected that about 4,700 new and redesigned jobs would be created. Of these, about 70% of the jobs are expected to be filled by skilled workers and Professional, Managers, Executives and Technicians (PMETs). The future workforce will require a good understanding of urban food production and multi-disciplinary expertise in science, engineering, and info-communications.
To build capabilities in the future Agri-tech workforce, it is timely for WSG to introduce the CCP for Agri-tech now to help Singaporeans secure jobs in this growth sector, which offers diverse career opportunities. We are happy to partner SFA and RP in this programme to ensure that the Agri-tech sector is supported by a strong Singaporean core.
– Tan Choon Shian, Chief Executive, WSG
To plug the demand for the skills gap, the CCP, therefore, provides an alternative pathway for companies to meet the increasing manpower demands by reskilling mid-career individuals, who possess transferable skillsets, with the relevant knowledge and skills.
There are two pathways for the programme. PMETs will undergo six months of structured class training on top of On-the-Job training and will enter the programme as an Agri-tech Specialist, whose job roles includes farm manager/engineers/technologists, produce specialists, crop scientists and agronomists. An Agri-tech Operator, on the other hand, will undergo three months of training and will include job roles such as supervisors, farm technicians and operations executives.
Some of the modules which individuals will go through include Sustainable Agriculture: Clean and Green Standard for Urban Farms, Plant Factories with Artificial Lighting and Smart Farming Technologies, which will equip participants with the knowledge of cleaner and sustainable farming practices, integration of technology such as Internet-of-Things to enable precision farming and designing indoor vertical farming with technologies.
With Singapore working towards its ‘30 by 30’ goal, this is a timely programme and one which will be welcomed by the agri-food industry as our future high-tech farms would require a workforce with multi-disciplinary expertise in science, engineering, and info-communications.
As reported by OpenGov Asia, agri-tech is more crucial than ever in agriculture during this COVID-19 times. It is a growing industry that employs modern technologies to increase production yield, improve food quality, and promote sustainability in the agri-food value chain.
The NUS Agritech Centre is one of Singapore Science Park’s latest innovation and incubation facilities, powered by NUS Enterprise. The NUS Agritech Centre, housed in the Cavendish building, is a one-of-a-kind fusion of art and technology – a sandpit for researchers, entrepreneurs, and visionaries to present challenges, experiments, and market-based solutions in agriculture.
The establishment of this centre is consistent with Singapore’s “30 by 30” goal of producing 30% of the population’s nutritional needs locally by 2030. The centre is designed to support start-ups from growth to post-harvest, building capabilities in serving up urban farming food options from lab to table.
The centre is one of the first in NUS to offer such specialised support for agri-tech start-ups, employing cutting-edge tools and controls to create an optimised infrastructure and environment for urban farming innovation and production.