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The adoption of cloud computing across Southeast Asia has expanded in terms of services offered and the number of industry competitors entering the market. According to reports, the cloud computing market revenue in the region is estimated to reach US$ 40.32 billion by 2025.

Cloud technology is popular because it is cheaper than installing local servers and it allows regional companies to connect and compete on the global platform. Additionally, at least 57% of large enterprises in Singapore intend to move their finance systems to the cloud. The report also found that one-third (33%) of these companies expect to do so in the next six to 12 months.

However, with the rapid cloud adoption, it holds to logic that cyberattacks are also on the rise. Over a fifth, (21%), of businesses in the country, saw more cyberattacks during the crisis. This landscape necessitates a new optic where the risk profiles of organisations are prioritised and protecting sensitive data and its resources are critical more than ever.

With this phenomenal growth, there is more data in more places and it all must be protected. Data security and residency demand in Singapore are continuously growing as businesses expand. Customers assume and expect that when utilising digital programs and services, their personal information is safe.  IT and business leaders want to know where data is being stored to have more control over how it is being managed and protected. Thus, the need for better data integration and protection technology. With the vast amounts of information and data to collect, work with and safeguard, organisations in the country are increasingly embracing a multi-cloud strategy and cloud-based software as a service (SaaS) – exactly where ServiceNow fits in.

ServiceNow satisfies Singapore organisations’ demands to drive business-wide transformation in highly regulated industries with the Now Platform, available on Microsoft Azure Regions, in Singapore, certified to Singapore’s cloud security standard – the Multi-Tier Cloud Security Standard (MTCS).

The MTCS Standard for Singapore was prepared under the direction of the Information Technology Standards Committee (ITSC) of the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA). The ITSC promotes and facilitates national programs to standardise IT and communications and Singapore’s participation in international standardisation activities.

Generally, MTCS provides a framework to enable cloud service providers are safeguarding customer data and meeting the necessary government regulations of Singapore. For many, embracing MTCS is not only about compliance – even those who are not formally required to comply with MTCS are beginning to use it. Industries like financial services, healthcare, and the public sector want to prove that they are looking for robust ways to protect private data.

MTCS Level 3 – an elite standard for data protection

Not all cloud security standards are created equal. MTCS’ tiered approach accounts for this by providing different security levels. It ranges from a lower cost, baseline option (Level 1) to an extremely rigorous certification (Level 3).

To achieve Level 3 standards, cloud services companies must pass an audit conducted by an authorised third-party Certifying Body (CB). The assessor reviews the breadth of the CSP’s Information Security policies and procedures to determine that the CSP has designed effective security controls in compliance with MTCS requirements. The auditors also review an entire suite of evidence to confirm that these controls have been implemented and operating effectively.

For example, if an organisation’s policy claims to conduct background checks on all employees, the assessor will ask for proof. They may request a list of 100 employees onboarded during the audit period and randomly select individuals from the list to review and test that those background screenings were conducted comprehensively and appropriately. This means that the organisation will need to provide evidence that proves they are complying with the MTCS requirements.

ServiceNow is certified to Level 3, the highest level in the MTCS certification tiering.

Advancing data protection in Singapore with ServiceNow.

It is no longer enough to have one area of the business under secure measures – organisations need security controls across the entire infrastructure. Having strong encryption and appropriate access controls allows Singapore organisations to prevent threat actors from unauthorised access – and ServiceNow provides these capabilities.

The company provides a clear picture of how the platform’s architecture is built, so users know where their data is being hosted and who has access to that data. With this, clients are the custodian of their data and they maintain control over who is permitted to access their data and when.

Multiple encryption solutions for the protection of data are also on the table. For example, with Edge Encryption, customers can configure fields and attachments for encryption, manage encryption keys and rules, and schedule mass encryption jobs from the admin console to mitigate data leakage. Even in the worst-case scenario, if a user experiences a significant data breach or cybersecurity attack, the data will remain encrypted upon exposure, preventing unauthorised parties from being able to read or understand the confidential information and all its content.

With the platform in place, customers can keep data within Singapore, meeting the growing demand for data residency. Government, financial services, and other highly regulated customers’ can accelerate their digital transformation while meeting MTCS Level 3 requirements and data residency laws. And by adopting and complying with the highest level of certification standards, the company meets customers’ data protection needs.

Successful partnerships are built on trust, and the company has a global team of dedicated security, privacy and compliance experts that protect data every hour of every day of the year. As cyber threats and compliance needs evolve, ServiceNow will identify, prioritise, and respond to threats faster, while complying with global standards to help everyone embrace data security and maintain confidence in the cloud.

Learn more about how ServiceNow protects data for organisations in highly regulated industries.

Healthcare and transport are two vital government-managed functions that have been fundamentally impacted, in different, but substantial, ways, by the COVID-19 pandemic. Artificial Intelligence (AI) has eased the burden of healthcare by helping it pivot to a more digital-driven service delivery model while it has kept public transport running across the world.

OpenGov Asia spoke recently with Howie Sim, Vice President, Healthcare & Transport Client Service Unit for NCS. He is convinced that COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption of AI in the healthcare space. Prior to the pandemic, the sector was predominantly service-oriented with a lot of people-to-people interaction. For better or for worse, COVID-19 disrupted that human to human interaction; and with fears over the infection, segregation and distancing became the norm.

The inflexion point for Singapore, Howie believes, came when the nation instituted their lockdown – which coincided with the government setting-up a Community Care Facility (CCF).  As the infection rate began to soar to one thousand cases a day, the CCF quickly turned to AI for help in handling admissions. Public health care organisations, including the CCF, approached NCS to leverage their AI capabilities.

Deployment of AI was from the mundane to the complex. For example, AI allowed patients to take their temperature and upload the information to a platform, where the data would be analysed.

AI-powered virtual nurses/assistants offer help to overwhelmed medical staff with more routine work.  Robots are even more versatile and are constantly being improved on. Robots, like real-life staff, need to travel between floors, but the existing physical infrastructure was not created to cater to such needs. So AI/ML is being used to train robots to take lifts (elevators) between floors.

Another prime example is video surveillance to detect situations where there are physical risks to a patient – falling in the ward or out of bed. While this can be a common occurrence among patients, many of whom may not have the strength to walk or get out of bed, staff may come through in time. AI-enabled surveillance monitored wards can alert workers immediately in case of such incidents.

NCS has been engaged in research and development work with robotics for healthcare facilities before the pandemic, but since COVID-19 struck, it has drawn a lot more attention. Before the pandemic, Howie recalls,  people thought these things were ‘neat’ or a ‘great gimmick’, but with the pandemic, such solutions were seen in a whole new light.

Not only can robotic help free up nurses to attend to more critical services that require human-to-human interaction, but it will also minimise human error. This was, in fact, key learning during the community care facility exercise. Without AI, robotics or virtual assistance, staff were working 14 to 16 hours a day which resulted in a  very laborious and labour-intensive experience. For example, if a patient has a certain allergy or needs special medication, that has to be recorded in the admission. If due to fatigue, being spread too thin or overwhelmed, nurses don’t get the right information, it becomes a potentially patient-safety issue. AI or automation at this stage – admission and registration – can drastically reduce risks and have better safer outcomes.

Moving forward, Howie knows the importance of many applications in the healthcare sector. And right on the horizon is immunisation. As the country prepares to take on its national vaccination exercise, it is, again, nurses who will be called to the frontlines to carry out the inoculation. NCS is planning to build on its experience with the Community Care Facility and adopt AI and robotics to automate and speed up the process while easing the burden on staff.

Is the Public Workforce ready for AI/robotics?

The introduction of AI has not come without any concerns from the healthcare community. A common fear is that automation and robots will replace humans. People are concerned about their relevance and need – in short, they fear losing their jobs.

Howie allayed these fears, saying that it’s a perspective issue. He feels that the workload of nurses increases, but resources are finite, so they need something to augment them. Thinking should be around how to manage staffing in such a manner that AI and/or automation become complementary to the existing workforce.

The question then is how to maintain a set of human resources, established around an AI/automation strategy,  that can be augmented when necessary. Essentially this creates a more stable employee model – where staff can be ramped-up when needed and then scaled-down after the crises have passed.
AI has progressed to a point where it is complementary to both assessment and analytical work, opines  Howie, “There’s no better time to democratise AI to the health care professionals.”

While healthcare has advanced, transport has been challenged

If COVID-19 has driven the healthcare industry to transform, it has forced the transport industry into a painful regression.  Howie acknowledges that the public-transportation space has been very hard-hit.

The aviation industry has been grounded, the cruise industry has dried up, and even public transport has been hobbled by commuters who are steering clear of elbow-to-elbow daily transit.

But that doesn’t mean there’s no opportunity for AI, feels Howie; quite the contrary. Straight off the top, the movement of goods is still vibrant, and Singapore is a transhipment hub for this region and the world – making it ripe for AI and automation-driven transformation.

But far more importantly, people still have to travel, albeit in smaller geographical areas, less frequently and far more intentionally. In the context of the pandemic, this means certain protocols and norms need to be followed – which could be intentionally or unintentionally disobeyed. Here’s where AI and automation come to the rescue.

For example, there is video analytics, where algorithms can be used to measure if the distance between two people is one meter – or whatever the specified norm is. Face recognition technology can be applied to determine whether people are wearing the appropriate masks. And there’s what Howie calls sound analytics to ascertain whether people are talking too long.

These are applications that can be readily deployed in public transportation immediately. Granted, these technologies are used primarily for analytics, but, Howie points out, they can be integrated into solutions and platforms to keep people safe and informed. This would spark confidence among commuters to use public transport and enable governments to rethink WFH norms, movement control and lockdowns.

Before the pandemic Singapore’s goal was to move to a car-lite society, investing more in public transport to ease congestion, and reduce the country’s carbon footprint. Howie is convinced that AI and digital technology can be leveraged in democratising the transport space but more on the operator side.  It can be used to ease the resource and cost pressures of a workforce that has to maintain safety in the new normal.

NCS has been meeting with public transport officials to explore how to overcome the plethora of constraints in the transport sector. “Transport is so important to cities and countries because it keeps people moving, and economic activity going,” Howie states firmly.

In the end, both healthcare and transport are the life-blood of a nation, literally and metaphorically. In an increasingly VUCA environment, it behoves governments and organisations to exploit the potential that AI, automation and robotics have to offer. They can help better-manage the present and create a safer, sustainable future.

Dr Jim Webber had just returned home from dropping his child at school when he found that a rear window had been smashed and that a startled burglar had fled back through it. Fortunately, a neighbour was able to jot down the thief’s number plate as he was speeding off and it was reported to the UK police.

The authorities are able to make use of a POLE (people-object-location-event) database in responding to such crimes. Dr Webber happens to be the chief scientist for the Graph Data Platform management company Neo4j used widely in government and law enforcement. “I believe the police response was partly guided by my software to track the criminals on the A3 road heading into London. They were able to apprehend the gang and return the stuff they had stolen from me and others.”

This is one of Dr Webber’s favourite stories to tell when asked about the functionality of graph data. It’s both personal and social.

The graph platform is essentially a collection of software systems that help people to understand data that is represented in a graph. “And by graph, we mean the mathematical thing, your edges and vertices if you remember that in college,” Jim, the Chief Scientist at Neo4j and visiting professor at Newcastle University, explains. “In short, it’s a system that stores and retrieves connected data fast. Very fast.”

Unlike other types of databases, Neo4j connects data as it’s stored, enabling queries never before imagined, at speeds never previously possible. Users are able to build data models that are circles, connected by arrows, and the arrows are assigned names, and each can produce very rich data models.

Elaborating Jim says, “We know in a relational model we store data in relations or rows. And if we’re being sophisticated, we can join rows across tables in some very clever ways.” But a Graph Data Platform is actually entity relationships that mirror how software people think of the world. In a graph, entities can be established that are related to each other in sometimes very rich and complex ways and sometimes very simple ways.  Jim explained, “So we’re able to build these data models that are circles, connected by arrows, and the arrows have names, and we can produce really rich data models. So we can do all of these rich things because the data is smart. Data in traditional data structures are really ‘un-smart.’”

He said, for example, in a column-store, there is an implicit association of columns that is constraining. And a document-store contains all the data that kind of belongs together by virtue of being in the same document; but apart from that there is not much else.

The database is at the centre of the Neo4j platform. For example, it has systems for visualising and exploring graphs in human terms. It can run sophisticated algorithms to query who is the most popular person in the graph?  While in the aggregate their database platform is probably no different than all the mature databases, the difference is that they process graphs rather than other data models.

THE CASE TO START THE GRAPH JOURNEY

Graph tech is still considered to be in the early stage of its evolution as many people have not used it or maybe have not even heard of it yet.  As the category, founder Neo4j is early in the cycle. And although it feels late for Jim, as he has been plugging away at it for more than a decade, most people are just coming into this.

And Jim also has the perfect book for a graph neophyte. It is a  book he authored titled “Graph Data Platforms for Dummies.” He said it is a very short book that, in one evening of humane reading, can explain everything one needs to know to understand the basics of graphs. The book is available for free on the Neo4j website.

Jim is quick to point out that the book should be seen as a snapshot. If there is a need to quickly understand this graph arena that seems to be a macro-trend in the industry, a CIO can quickly and easily browse through the book and understand the thinking and the use cases.

For anyone who may be sitting on the fence, Jim has a challenge, “What I ask of you is give me an afternoon of your time. Spend one afternoon working with Neo4j with a good part of your problem, with something meaty and useful, and if you can’t make progress in one afternoon, Neo4j and graphs are not for you. But if you can make progress in one afternoon, it will illuminate it for you. You’ll find out it’s not hard or mysterious. We designed this system to be explicitly humane, not arcane.”

There is a plethora of learning material available and a lot of information on government use cases, including Neo4j’s white papers. Yet, interestingly, graphs have frequently made their way into businesses and governments serendipitously. Keen engineers or big System Integrators (that the agencies often use), who are experienced with graphs, may have brought it to their assigned work and that’s how it made its way into the organisation.

The adoption of graphs will likely take more time, Jim conceded, especially among government agencies with well-established systems of record who are disinclined to immediate change. This reticence is understandable, as the public sector has systems of record that have been working relatively-well for them. So, it would make perfect sense for these agencies to be able to understand the associativity before commencing such migration or adoption.

Typical citizen information across diverse bands, such as tax, health and criminal records, are a great example. These cannot be clubbed together ad hoc into one big database – it just would not be workable.  But what can be done is to put an “index” on top of all the information. Called a knowledge graph, this harvests all of the diverse information into a single organised graph. With it, a very sophisticated understanding of the needs of citizens can be created.

Another advantage of having a knowledge graph layered on top is that existing systems do not get disturbed. All sophisticated queries can be done at the knowledge graph level. If the physical row or the physical document from the underlying store is needed, it can be pulled up without disturbing or changing the original data.

In sum, the knowledge graph can collate information across sectors to address complicated queries. A government agency can then more easily conduct an evaluation: Do tax returns match the benefits being claimed?” Do a person’s criminal records allow them to be in a specific kind of job? Such graphs can also be deployed at a population level: What is the level of fraud in a tax system versus the benefits of the system?”  Large scale, macro depictions are vital to intelligent, data-driven governance. This sort of information can be collected to help inform agency or government policy.

WHAT THEN IS HOLDING GRAPH BACK?

The biggest barrier to graph dominance is that there is already well-known technology out there.  There is a lot of data technology, particularly in the relational world, that is very mature, that people know how to run and have been operating for many years.  When agencies and CIOs already have a working solution, why would they take a chance on the graph?

The challenge for graphs in converting CIO’s is to make the impetus to adopt very compellingly. If the benefits are not tenfold or more, a CIO will rightly not even spend a few minutes on it. Further, other systems, while they may be incredibly expensive, essentially provide most government departments, another one or ten licenses basically for no charge because of existing agreements.

Intellectually a CIO could understand that graphs might be better here, but it involves learning new tech, bringing onboard a new supplier and negotiating another licensing agreement for substantial money. While the existing vendor may not be optimal, it can be sort of “shoehorned” in, and it’s free.

That’s not to say there aren’t opportunities for graphs to gain a foothold. When one takes equivalent queries from the relational world and ports them to graph, there is a paradigm-shifting minutes-to-millisecond experience. Something that might take several minutes in the relational world may only take several milliseconds in the graph world. For some people that is so compelling that they will make the jump.

For sectors like policing and health services, minutes are too long. If a fugitive is coming through an airport, waiting 30 minutes for a report to run can thwart a chance to detain them before they disappear into the general population. Similarly, in the medical world, information may be required to help make an immediate diagnosis. It can’t wait several minutes while the patient is in pain or is in a life-threatening condition.

Even things such as product recommendations are much better with graphs. For the digital-native client in today’s world looking to buy something on a web app or a phone app, they may wait for half a second and then they will move on.

Government agencies are challenged with complex, ever-evolving problems every day. While the answers exist somewhere in a vast amount of data, they are only identifiable with the right technology to make sense of the interconnectedness within the data. For proponents like Dr Jim Webber, that technology is a Graph Data Platform.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Intelligent Automation (IA), not only in Singapore but for most of the world have been around for some time. Most government agencies have adopted some form of AI and IA in their respective operational processes. More recently, this adoption has been accelerated because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

AI and IA are here and they are here to stay. Intelligent and automated transformation in the public sector will prove vital in providing citizens with a much more efficient and effective experience. The current challenge is integrating them into all service procedures and processes and how to contextualise, adapt and improve these technologies for specific agencies and functions.

A cornerstone for an organisation’s digital transformation,  AI and IA can be used to automate programmes to ensure that some manual tasks no longer need to be done by people. This will allow staff to focus on other deliverables that need more human intervention, thus promoting productivity. For the public sector, AI and IA can provide efficiency and effectiveness – delivering citizen services cheaper and more quickly for a better overall experience for agencies and people.

However, the public sector is being held back from reaping the full benefits of AI and Intelligent Automation due to unfamiliarity and the lack of skillset within organisations. To harness the full potential of AI and Intelligent Automation, the public sector must scale up AI implementation and democratise its corporate function.

This was the focal point of the discussion during the OpenGovLive! Virtual Breakfast Insight: AI and Intelligent Automation for Public Sector as a Key to Success in the New Normal on 10 March with digital executives from a wide range of Public Sector agencies from Singapore.

How the pandemic accelerated the usage of AI and IA

Mohit Sagar: Humans and robots work hand in hand more in the new normal

To kickstart the session, Mohit Sagar, Group Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief at OpenGov Asia reiterated the fact AI and IA have has been around for several years now. In fact, both the private and public sectors have been deploying them. Dealing with new technology with far-reaching consequences always comes with the risk of failure and it was no different with these as well. At the same time, however, there was no great pressure to adopt them quickly or comprehensively.

Then, COVID-19 came in and drastically accelerated the need for rapid and ubiquitous adoption.  Mohit strongly believes that if organisations did not bring in AI and IA it would have been impossible to cope with the pandemic.

Left with little choice, most governments included automation and AI in their processes leading to greater human-robotic interaction in the new normal. Mohit observed that with these large-scale deployments and the pressing need, inhibition or the scare-factor surrounding these technologies is starting to diminish – but still has a long way to go.

The only way automation and AI to be fully embraced is to democratise them. This implies that everyone in the organisation, even those who do not know how to code, are included on this journey. But what it also means is that when a digital workforce has been set to work, the human resource must be reassigned to tasks that require human intelligence and response.

It is critical that organisations help staff understand that AI and IA are tools for them to use and not something that is going to replace them. This will create an environment of acceptance and openness to genuinely try new things. Of course, this is far easier said than done.

Closing his presentation, Mohit emphasised that this was a journey and organisations must find the right partners to help them implement the right automation strategies – partners who have been down this road and who know what needs to be done.

Scaling and democratising the human-machine collaboration

Ravi Bedi: Humans enabled machines, and machines augment human beings.

COVID-19 has ramped up the collaboration between humans and machines. This was the focal point that Ravi Bedi, Head & Practice Lead, AI-Led NEXT Solutions, NCS Group discussed with the distinguished delegates from the Singapore public sector.

Ravi acknowledged that COVID-19 was a significant catalyst for automation. Further, he added that this is a strong opportunity for the public and private sectors to work collaboratively. The need of the hour is a roadmap that brings AI and IA to every citizen in the most natural way possible. AI and automation must not be seen or be a hindrance to people but should become a positive part of their daily lives.

Statistics he provided prove that Singapore was open to the idea of automation prior to the pandemic. Without a doubt, in this post-Covid era, deployment of AI and IA will go up leaps and bounds. Not just because of the sense of urgency to deal with the current pandemic but to also prepare for the next possible global crisis

Further, recent budget allocations and programmes in the country show that the nation continues to embrace the idea of AI and the fact that it will play a critical part in the recovery of the economy in the long-term.

Not surprisingly, only 1/8 of the world’s governments have not implemented some form of digital transformation. Contrarily, after much trial-and-error by agencies, some have found that AI and IA have not lived up to their promise. Known as AI quicksand, Ravi explained, this phenomenon is a function of premature experimental scaling – most often resulting in failure.

It was vital, Ravi opined, that delegates reflect on how to come together as a society and make organisations and governments settle on a common narrative essential to this transformation. Going further, Ravi added that innovation diffusion must start at the school level.

Ravi conceded that the public sector does not lack ideas, it lacks execution. They fear deploying initiatives in a wider, premeditated manner. Additionally, they do not have a democratised method of implementing procedures. Such constraints are what inhibits the public sector to meet the expectations that citizens and the public have today.

He stressed that AI and IA initiatives are not a competition between humans and robots. It is about scaling and evolution. Humans must continue what they know to scale and machines must also do the same depending on what is given to them. Humans naturally lead, create, judge and improvise, while machines transact and scale, predict and scale and then evolve. The missing element or efficiency is what is being endeavoured in a human-machines alliance. Humans enable machines and machines augment human beings.

Ravi closed his presentation by saying that the key piece is not what is being done as data scientists, engineers or digital transformation heads. The critical area is for organisations to determine the missing middle area in this human-machine alliance by distinguishing the roles of humans as well as the roles of machines within the organisation.

Utilising AI and Intelligent Automation in crises

Pascale Fung: Governments must incorporate AI and IA to deliver services amid the pandemic

Following Ravi’s presentation, Pascale Fung, Director, Centre for Artificial Intelligence Research (CAiRE), Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) shared her perspectives on the discussion at hand.

She started by talking about the many initiatives that the Hong Kong Government has launched such as the promotion of masks, lockdowns, testing, contact tracing and vaccination. HKUST has been at the forefront of innovation for pandemic control measures.

To help governments to persuade the public of the efficacy of mask-wearing, they developed a visualisation tool illustrating the positive effect of mask-wearing and stopping the spread of the virus. To help scientists accelerate vaccine development, they also created a data-analytics tool for vaccines to match the virus’ sequences for worldwide access.

They also have a fast COVID-19 testing kit, providing results in record time, which is the first-ever in the world. A contact tracing app quarantine was implemented with their support.

A more complex area to address was mental well being. Due to the prolonged quarantine and isolation measure, citizens’ mental health has been of much concern – not only in Hong Kong but across the world. To address this, they designed an AI-driven virtual assistant to talk to citizens in isolation to gauge mental health, deep learning and respond with empathy. Their AI component helps people in quarantine to connect with others.

As a closing challenging, she exhorted the government executives to make use of available tech such as AI and intelligent automation to fight COVID-19 and manage its aftermath.

Polling questions and discussion 

After the engaging and informative presentations by the speakers, the session transitioned to an interactive discussion with polling questions. The first question dealt with what the primary objective of AI and IA strategies were for the delegates.

Over 65% of the delegates said that business process enhancement is their primary objective. According to one of the directors from JTC Corporation, they are still in the early stages of their AI journey and they are in the process of enhancing the functionality of their work using these technologies.

A delegate from the Ministry of Health said that cost reduction is at the helm of their priorities because of the rising healthcare costs during the pandemic. The GovTech Singapore representative said that applying AI and IA is a journey that requires financial capacities to extract value from its usage. They too felt that finding the right partner is a challenge. Lastly is their mindset towards utilising the technologies.

The next polling inquired about the organisations’ target for the contribution of AI to their process efficiencies. More than half of the delegates (55%) said there is no real target as they are in their early stages in the journey but they are trying to improve the usage of AI. Just under a quarter of the participants confirmed that 15%-30% of their process will be efficient because of AI.

The audience next discussed the challenges they encounter when using AI and automation. About 87% of the delegates say that the lack of properly skilled teams is the most common challenge in implementing AI strategies.

Ravi agreed that not knowing your data when using AI is a problem. The industry should be helping agencies from a data gathering and understanding perspective. One participant from the health sector said while data is available, the task of harmonising the data throughout the organisation and different institutions is challenging, along with the scaling of administrative and clinical processes.

Ravi acknowledged the humans tend to gravitate to what is urgently needed. He also noted that a partnership between the right service provider and an agency is the key element of a smart relationship.

Just under half (45%) of the delegates say that crowdsourcing from employees and customers is the way to go in terms of how organisations should gather ideas for applying emerging AI tech in new ways to solve business problems.

Conclusion:

The session ended with the closing remarks by Ravi Bedi. He emphasised the crux of the issue – people are the beneficiaries of AI and IA.

If feedback can be institutionalised and involve the citizens more comprehensively, it will be better for the entire process. He agreed that guidance should start from the institutions and ministries. However, to scale and democratise the use of AI and Intelligent Automation, agencies must understand that partnership with experts is the way forward. This will help crystalise roles that will be vital in their journey towards automation.

He invited the delegates to reach out to their team for advice and to explore ways they could collaborate on their AI/IA journey.

The role telecommunication service providers in the Philippines is becoming ever more vital because of the continuous need for information dissemination during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, the country hopes to add more capacity in telecommunications as it welcomes its third major player to the sector.

The telco entered the market by announcing that it will be providing free call and text as well as broadband services to 3000 front liners in ten areas in Visayas and Mindanao. This was made possible with the help of the local government units as a way of strengthening its commitment to nation-building and partnership with its citizens.

Building a network in just over a a year was extremely challenging and many were skeptical, especially as the pandemic came at a crucial juncture in the network roll-out. However just a few weeks before the commercial launch, the telco said that its services exceeded the required benchmarks of the first government-mandated audit.

The findings revealed an average speed of 85.9 Mbps for 4G and 507.5 Mbps for 5G with population coverage of more than 37%, important indicators that point to the company’s readiness to fulfil its mandate of bringing reliable connectivity. None the less, the telco acknowledged that there is more work to be done to make a significant difference in the country’s telecommunications sector.

Department of Information and Communication Technology’s (DICT) Secretary reiterated the importance of having the telecommunications industry to be at parity with the rest of the world, in terms of technology and a level, clean playing filed. He confirmed that the entry of the third telco through transparent and fair bidding has spurred an increase in investment and infrastructure spending in the telecom sector that, in the long term, will benefit the entire nation.

The National Telecommunications’ Commissioner (NTC) further emphasised that the successful launch of the third telco is an example of how cooperation, and active collaboration of government and private corporations, will be key to bring about true recovery headed by advancements in the realm of communications and connectivity.

The company confirmed that its services are no longer available for legacy networks 2G and 3G, and it will only work in 4G and 5G-ready phones. For those interested to switch but who do not want to change their numbers, the telco’s CTO said their system would be ready once the porting platform is already up by June.

The telco said that the rationale for their launch was to serve the underserved and to provide Filipinos with a better option, a wider choice. This was in line with the national thought-leadership that without the right ICT infrastructure and without real competition, the Philippines would not reach its full potential.

The entry of this new player signals the start of more robust competition among telcos, said antitrust body – the Philippine Competition Commission (PCC). Its chairman was confident that as the competition runs its course it would result in competitive pricing and would raise the level of overall connectivity, quality and coverage in the country.

The antitrust chief added that the launch also opens the door for “policymakers to consider other reforms such as the easing of foreign equity restrictions, push for open access and common towers, and prevention of exclusivity arrangements in last-mile internet service.

This week, Amazon Web Services (AWS) released the report, “Unlocking APAC’s Digital Potential: Changing Digital Skill Needs and Policy Approaches.” Prepared by strategy and economics consulting firm AlphaBeta and commissioned by AWS, the report analyzes the digital skills applied by workers in their jobs today and the digital skills required by workforces over the next five years. The report focuses on six Asia Pacific countries: Singapore, Australia, India, Indonesia, Japan, and South Korea.”

Divided into three parts, the report assesses the extent to which different digital skills are being applied at work in 2020 for the surveyed countries in APAC, identifies potential digital skill needs over five years, and provides workforce skills development recommendations for policymakers. The report also identifies current skill levels and gaps for each of the six countries.

Key findings show gaps in current workforce

Almost 150 million workers in the six countries in the study apply digital skills in their jobs today. Each country varies in their level and extent of skills, but cloud computing expertise is among the most commonly applied digital skills in each country. The study found that 48% of the digital workers across these six countries who are not applying cloud skills today believe cloud skills will be a requirement to perform their jobs by 2025.

The report identifies four types of workers who will need to gain new digital skills by 2025: currently digitally skilled workers, currently non-digital workers, future workforce (today’s students), and individuals who are unemployed or involuntarily excluded from the workforce.

The findings showed that digitally skilled workers will need to enhance their skills, non-digitally skilled workers will need to learn digital skills to remain in their roles or access better jobs, students will need to learn in-demand skills to improve their employability, and unemployed individuals will have to learn digital skills to gain access to jobs.

Skilling the workforce for the future

To keep pace with technological change, the number of workers applying digital skills in these countries will increase by over five-fold from 149 million workers today to 819 million workers in 2025. To achieve this level of skilling in the six countries, the average worker in the six surveyed countries will need to gain seven new digital skills by 2025, and 5.7 billion digital skill trainings will be required.

Advanced cloud computing and data skills will become more important for current digitally skilled workers and future workers (today’s students), with these skill needs projected to triple by 2025. Cloud architecture design consistently emerged as one of the top five most “in-demand” skills by 2025 in all countries. Another advanced cloud computing skill—specifically, the ability to help organizations transition from on premises-based to cloud-based infrastructure—will also become more important, including in non-technology sectors.

Current digital workers will need to focus on training in advanced cloud computing skills as well as advanced data skills. These skills include cybersecurity, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning (ML), and are projected to see the largest required increase across all digital skills in the six countries by 2025, with the number of workers needing these skills expected to triple over the next five years.

Bridging Digital Skills Gaps with AWS

AWS helps bridge digital skills gap with training programs for the most in-demand cloud computing skills.   To date, AWS offers more than 500 free, on-demand online courses with many courses available in multiple languages such as Bahasa Indonesia, Japanese, Korean, Simplified and Traditional Chinese; interactive labs, and virtual day-long training sessions through AWS Training and Certification.

AWS also provides in-person and virtual classroom training courses taught by accredited AWS instructors for workers interested to upskill or reskill, and organizations who want to upskill employees. These one-to five-day foundational, intermediate, and advanced courses cover a range of topics like cloud architecture, cybersecurity, and data analytics.

Additionally, students can gain access to free, self-paced, online learning content for cloud career pathways related to in-demand jobs such as cloud engineer, cybersecurity specialist, machine learning scientist, and data scientist.

Click here for more information on how to get started with free AWS skills training.

The public sector IT association, Society for innovation, technology and modernisation (Socitm) released their latest practical guide for public sector CIOs looking at the challenges and opportunities presented by cloud computing. The association says the report is designed to be a practical guide for the public sector CIO and other public service business leaders into the realities of cloud challenges and opportunities of today. It lays out the issues and opportunities raised by cloud computing in the public sector and how best they can be tackled.

The report, at its start, does away with complacency saying, “it would be easy to assume that there is nothing new about cloud computing. After all, it has been around for nearly 20 years. Socitm’s first briefing on cloud, ‘Heading into the Cloud’ is still relevant today and was published in December 2010.”

While the prevailing perception has been that the public sector has been comparatively slow in its adoption of cloud computing, with the civil administration cadre being unfavourable to change, resulting in the retention of inefficient and outdated IT models and services, the report says this is only partially true.

Many other factors play into the decision for cloud deployment. These include advocates and marketers exaggerating the benefits and underplaying the risks, costs and challenges associated with cloud adoption in a government context. The situation is compounded by ambiguous cloud policies at the top along with a paucity of robust governance. The report says that a successful cloud adoption strategy relies on a sound understanding of the different types of services available. Concerns over procurement and logistics are dependent on the type of service that has been chosen.

Hosted cloud platforms, as an example, extend basic cloud infrastructure as a service. While established brands can be considered safe, secure and resilient, it is imperative that care is taken in managing how sensitive data is tracked and shared, and where data is located and processed.

On the other hand, cloud-native applications can be implemented faster and are easier to manage. The flip side to this coin is that leaders need to ensure that their team has mature methods for development and optimisation.

Of course, homegrown solutions can help address particular challenges better than even specialist solutions from the private sector. Many public service organisations are therefore beginning to turn to development work, even in partnership to share services. However, attention needs to be paid to optimise performance and security. It is also imperative to maintain the necessary level of skills and resources for support and development.There must also be careful planning and design to avoid creating future legacy overheads.

Hence, to genuinely enjoy solid returns of cloud investment, agencies must think carefully when planning. Rather than rely exclusively on in-house expertise and teams, they should seek advice on how to best capitalise on the investments.

Cloud migration and deployment comes with a plethora of advantages including robust resilience, enhanced security, the potential to save on a range of costs, sustainability, greater agility and superior innovation.

When convinced about cloud migration, agencies must retain a tempered perspective. While the urge to cover the entire gamut of services at one time, it may be prudent to avoid this strategy. The report said this could be counter-productive. Too many concurrent cloud implementation and transformation projects could lead to confusion and pose a challenge in terms of governance, vendor supervision and change management.

While transitioning to cloud computing is designed to be safer, it does pose unique risks in and of itself. While many expect that the main risks associated with cloud computing to be maintaining resilience and control of the technology environment, security and data management, these may not be the primary concerns.

Instead, cloud technologies commonly cause risks in areas including increased use of shadow IT, a growing dependency on internet connectivity and capacity, the lack of clear data ownership for apps, and the lack of understanding or tracking of data use — which can have regulatory implications.

The report warns that a move to a predominantly cloud model of IT requires even careful consideration. Organisations must expect to face challenges in areas ranging from security to vendor lock-ins, availability of technical support, data governance issues and increased requirements for IT resources.

Careful thought must be given when choosing a cloud service provider partner. Extensive due diligence checks in tendering and selecting a cloud service are a must. These should involve an assessment of both the vendor and its solutions along with credential checks, standards and accreditation evaluation. When reviewing the terms of a proposed contract, provisions must be made for vendor-support for transition and migration.

The global travel industry has been devastated by conditions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic but there is hope on the digital horizon. Lenovo Data Center Group APAC President Sumir Bhatia says there are different ways that technology can help, “Tech was and is a key player in accelerating the distribution of vaccinations across the world, but if we take another step back, tech was also very critical in developing the vaccines and developing these aspects of it. Without technology, we wouldn’t be where we are today. Data is a very, very key aspect of it and it’s about how we mine the data, how we make insights of the data, right from the development of vaccines to the distribution of the vaccines.”

Sumir Bhatia, Lenovo Data Center Group APAC President

Sumir said tech will also be the key to seamless travel with the medical, diagnostic, and track and tracing playing a vital role. Lenovo has a solution for medical researchers. It’s called GOAST (pronounced ghost), which stands for Genomics Optimization and Scalability Tool.  “It really combines the power of high-performance computing which is used for a lot of scientific research and development, and artificial intelligence in a CPU-based architecture optimised specifically for genomics analytics,” Sumir said.

He continued, “Imagine that with GOAST, processing a single human genome has been sped up from 150 hours to a record-breaking 48 minutes…which really helps the research world in developing not just the vaccine but any sort of processing they need to do very, very quickly.”

With lots of pent-up demand for travel, tech will again play a role in helping to meet it. Even after the community is vaccinated, travel in the smart normal has been transformed to become more technology-driven. Automation and AI are ensuring safe travel and minimising inter-human contact. Right from buying tickets, to going to the airport and flying in and landing and going to a hotel, a lot of it will be contact-less.

Checkpoints will be using AI to augment health screening. AI’s ability to personalise experiences and streamline processes based on customer data will prove invaluable over the coming months to customers who now want their tailored experience to also be safe.

One of the key assets Lenovo DCG has is infrastructure but their DNA is around partnerships. So, they collaborate with AI solution partners, like AddFor, who provide solutions like FEVERCheck – which measures body temperature automatically without contact. Additional solutions AddFor has are SAFEworkspace and FACEfind. VISIONsentry analyses video streams of surveillance cameras or transmitted by drones that identify or count people at airports. They can determine who is in violation, who is standing close or breaking the close-proximity laws, social distancing, etc.

All these solutions need infrastructure, and these are aspects that Lenovo DCG is helping customers with to transform during this very difficult time.

Sumir acknowledged many businesses found it hard to adopt technology to accommodate the new pandemic inducted protocols. He explained it with an analogy, “When you have a house and there’s a big hole in the roof, and it’s raining, what’s the first thing that you do? You’re running helter-skelter to fix that roof, so the rain doesn’t come in and flood your house.”

And that’s where many organisations were – scrambling to put things in place that would “plug that hole”.

Businesses had no time to strategise when the pandemic struck and he considers those in charge of tech to be the real heroes, “CIO’s and IT departments were suddenly being asked for a ten-fold increase in bandwidth, computing capacity and storage that they didn’t have a budget for or had planned resources for. How do they do that?”

Accompanying all the remote working and transitions online, gave rise to more cyber-attacks than ever before so security also became very critical.

This is where Lenovo made a tangible difference – working with key customers, across segments. Whether it was governments or large accounts, small and medium businesses, health, or education or end-to-end, one aspect that worked well was the virtual desktop interface, the VDI solutions. They were designed to tackle all the challenges by improving overall security and compliance.

Lenovo was focused on a data centered approach and a smart, intelligent transformation. First and foremost, organisations needed to ensure that employees had limited interpersonal contact. People were going into lockdown, so they needed to maintain contact and have full access to business data while working from home. Organisations had to ensure that employees were able to access the information securely and were able to do their work.

Sumir explained, “If you really look at it, these solutions were already there. It’s not that these were overnight builds and let’s go help them. But this pandemic really accelerated the use of it because VDI brings the ability to help people work remotely in a secure manner.”

He recalled that one of the most useful solutions they were able to offer was Lenovo DCG’s ThinkAgile integrated appliances and systems. They are all certified nodes that are designed to make it easier for the customer to deploy and manage the entire workflow from end-to-end. Based on its simplified infrastructure and its accelerated time-to-value, it has the ability to free up the customer to focus on the business. This was very critical at that point in time.

Going forward in 2021 and beyond into the post-pandemic world, Sumir believes prioritisation will be the game-changer. Lenovo DCG’s technologies have always existed, but during the pandemic, they suddenly rose to prominence. He feels that aspects of AI, HPC and Edge Computing will be key. Cloud computing and 5G are trends that will persist. But as consumers are consuming a lot of this data remotely “AI will be very, very key.”

In the post-pandemic world, remote working will continue to be the norm. Consumption of business data will no longer be just in the office, but also from homes, cafés and basically everywhere. This makes security a critical and essential component.

“Tech needs to ensure and reinvent agility, flexibility and security in the way we are consuming and leveraging data.  At the Lenovo Data Center Group, it’s people who transform work, and people actually reinvent. Tech needs to support this reinvention and transformation, and help customers grow and thrive,” Sumir concluded.

Singapore OpenGov Leadership Forum 2018

OpenGov Conference – A Gathering of Top Minds in Digital Transformation.