The Digital Economy Partnership Agreement (DEPA) for Singapore and New Zealand will begin on 7 January 2021, following the ratification of the agreement by both countries.
DEPA was the first digital economy agreement that Singapore had concluded and signed. It establishes common digital trade rules and fosters co-operation on emerging issues in the digital economy.
It promotes interoperability between the digital systems of different countries. With DEPA, Singapore businesses can expect greater efficiency, increased trust, and reduced costs or digital barriers when trading or conducting business digitally with their partners in Chile and New Zealand.
DEPA fosters co-operation in emerging digital areas
In addition to establishing rules for digital trade, the DEPA fosters cooperation in emerging digital areas. It promotes interoperability between different regimes by aligning standards and addressing new issues brought about by digitalisation.
These digital issues include e-invoicing, digital identities, Fintech, artificial intelligence, data flows and data innovation, trade and investment opportunities for SMEs, and digital inclusivity.
The DEPA for Singapore represents a building block towards fostering greater digital connectivity between countries and developing multilateral rules on digital trade at the WTO.
It complements Singapore’s network of free trade agreements and our efforts as co-convener of the World Trade Organisation Joint Statement Initiative on E-Commerce to develop baseline digital trade rules.
The relationship between Singapore, Chile and New Zealand has demonstrated a strong partnership in increasing digital connectivity and will strengthen economic ties between the countries. Canada just recently announced its interest to begin exploratory discussions to join DEPA.
The Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET) will launch a digital asset trading platform in the second half of 2021 to allow trading on all types of digital token assets excluding cryptocurrencies. According to the SET, cryptocurrencies do not meet its product qualifications and could facilitate money laundering, while causing harm to the bourse’s image as a “high trust” exchange.
The Executive Vice-President of the SET stated that the digital asset platform will be similar to other popular e-commerce marketplaces but all products on SET’s platform will be digital token assets. He said tokens traded on the platform must meet at least one of three conditions. First, the token must have an underlying asset that investors can analyse on value. Second, it must be a valuable product that supports economic activities. Third, the product must have benefits to society and the environment.
The bourse also formulated a fully integrated distributed ledger technology (blockchain) and digital asset investment service in 2020 to link various digital asset exchanges, digital wallets and initial coin offering (ICO) portals in Thailand under one platform via a collaboration with an arm of a banking group in Thailand.
The bank will be responsible for sourcing and screening products entering the SET digital asset marketplace. The SET is looking to sign an agreement with other partners with an aim to achieve exponential growth through tech innovations and investments via its three arms.
The SET also has studied several ICO cases. Most projects being studied have the possibility of making profits in the future. In order to protect investors, the digital asset must meet at least one of the three conditions set by the SET but cryptocurrencies don’t meet any of them. Thus, they cannot be counted as the SET’s product even though some countries accept payments in cryptocurrencies.
Cryptocurrencies are currently used in some countries which are experiencing high inflation and currency fluctuations such as Zimbabwe and Venezuela as an equivalent of fiat money. Thailand has a strong economy. As inflation has remained low and the Bank of Thailand’s measures to keep the baht stable have worked in the past, the SET has no reason to support cryptocurrencies at the moment.
However, the Executive Vice-President said some stock exchanges in Europe currently provide cryptocurrency trading to attract digital asset investors before launching other digital token assets via their platforms.
He said one of the measures to prevent money laundering is to do “Know Your Customer” (KYC) with clients who open trading with the exchanges. KYC will filter and screen unusual investors who come to open trading accounts. Cryptocurrency is just one digital asset product among others, he added.
The bank and other ICO portal firms will search for new products and evaluate the ICO project before putting them on the trading platform. As each product has different characteristics, the bourse must employ experts from different areas to help screen the products.
Digital token assets can be many valuable things such as diamonds and title deeds.
The SET expects that the digital asset marketplace will grow faster than today’s stock market as it emerges in the 4.0 era, while the traditional markets were established in the 1.0 or 2.0 eras which had less technologies to facilitate trading. The stock and bond markets are also governed by regulations that are far less flexible than the digital asset law and usually need intermediaries such as brokers and banks to make transactions.
The pandemic has been seriously affected Vietnam’s economy in general and the tourism industry in particular. Data at the end of last year shows that COVID-19 has had a negative US$1 trillion to tourism worldwide and a reduction of 61% to Vietnam’s tourism revenues compared to 2019.
Clearly, traditional management and business methods cannot adequately cope, globally and in Vietnam as well. The pandemic has required the tourism industry to implement digital transformation solutions and establish a smart tourism data integration and sharing system. Various cities and provinces of Vietnam plan to leverage technology to boost their tourism sectors. This is in line with the governments overall emphasis on digital transformation across the board.
Vietnam’s northern province of Ha Giang is looking to promote the local tourism industry through digital transformation and smart services in partnership with the National Administration of Tourism (VNAT) and a mobile carrier. Under the agreement, VNAT and the mobile carrier will assist Ha Giang to use the carrier’s Smart Travel system to ramp up promotion of tourism as well as to provide useful information to potential travellers.
Ha Giang authorities will provide relevant data about local destinations, scenic spots, historical sites, culture and food to be incorporated in the Smart Travel system. The provincial authorities will also facilitate connection with local organisations and businesses to develop tourism through digital transformation.
The platform features advanced technologies such as virtual reality, augmented reality, big data and e-commerce. The portal has been designed to meet the needs of tourists, businesses, service providers and regulators alike. The data collection and analytic tools will give tourism authorities an overview of their local tourism’s advantages and challenges, allowing them to formulate and introduce policies and provisions.
VNAT has also signed an agreement with Ha Giang to assist the province create and develop tourism products, promote the brand of Ha Giang tourism and develop the workforce for tourism. VNAT Director Nguyen Trung Khanh said the cooperation will open new opportunities to boost the tourism of Ha Giang and Vietnam at large in a more effective manner. He added that digital transformation and smart travel development are the inevitable processes, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic has affected all aspects of life. Ha Giang Vice Chairman Tran Duc Quy was confident that the agreement would significantly drive the growth of the local tourism industry and harness its full potential.
Vietnam has been eager to boost its tourism sector after it was hit by the pandemic. In November 2020, Việt Nam International Travel Mart (VITM) finally took place after being postponed three times. Thousands joined the annual Việt Nam International Travel Mart, one of the tourism industry’s most anticipated annual events.
Vũ Thế Bình, deputy chairman of the Vietnam Tourism Association, said that while the event was smaller, the content is more profound and discusses how we overcome the consequences of the pandemic and also other kinds of crises. Bình stressed that the theme for the event was digital transformation for tourism development, “All of our economic sectors will gradually transform with digital technology. But tourism is one of the first economic sectors to have a chance to transform with digital technology.”
The platform featured over 300 stalls of tourism enterprises, airlines and tourism service providers from 47 cities and provinces throughout the country and six foreign countries and territories, namely Thailand, Peru, Japan, South Korea, Colombia and Taiwan. The exhibition had a separate zone for digital transformation exhibition, where companies could introduce new products at a hall for four days – the very first time the tourism sector got close to technology.
Recently, Vietnam’s tourism industry launched the online tourism mobile app “Du Lich Viet Nam An Toan” (Safe travel in Vietnam) that integrates electronic payment and the monitoring of public health in just one card. The app is aimed at more than 43 million smartphone users. This is a useful tool for travellers in recommending safe destinations and advertising destinations to tourists, as well as effectively serving the second domestic tourism stimulus programme. The app is also considered to be one of the practical digital transformation activities of state management agencies in the tourism industry.
The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) has announced it will establish a Quantum Computing Applications Lab, in collaboration with Amazon Web Services (AWS), to accelerate quantum computing-led research and development and enable new scientific discoveries.
The MeitY Quantum Computing Applications Lab will provide quantum computing as a service to government ministries and departments, researchers, scientists, academia, and developers. It will enable advances in manufacturing, healthcare, agriculture, and aerospace engineering.
According to a press release, AWS will provide hosting with technical and programmatic support for the ab. The initiative aims to provide scientific, academic, and developer communities access to a quantum computing development environment aligned with the government’s science and technology priorities.
Quantum computing is an emerging field that harnesses the laws of quantum mechanics to build powerful tools to process information. It has the potential to solve computational problems that are beyond the reach of classical computers and lead to breakthroughs that can transform chemical engineering, material science, drug discovery, financial portfolio optimisation, machine learning, and much more.
The lab will identify quantum computing problem statements for experimentation from among central and state governments, research institutions, and academia. It will work with subject matter experts from the government sector to define the problem statements, and make them public, inviting applications from researchers, academia, and organisations to address them. The lab will then provide select applicants with free access to quantum computing hardware, simulators, and programming tools, on-demand. This will help scientists and developers to build algorithms, conduct advanced simulations, and run experiments.
Amazon Braket provides a development environment to enable users to explore and design quantum algorithms, test and troubleshoot them on simulated quantum computers, and run them on different quantum hardware technologies.
The Secretary of Meity, Ajay Sawhney, said that India has a rich legacy in science, technology, and innovation. The government believes that India’s path forward will be driven by achieving world-class scientific solutions. Enabling the scientific community with advanced technologies plays a key role in scientific advancements and learning.
An early and successful foundation in quantum computing is important to achieve leadership in this emerging field. The MeitY Quantum Computing Applications Lab is the first of its kind initiative in the world and aims to enable India’s talented researchers to explore the unchartered applications of quantum computing, and pave the way for discoveries and disruptions, another government official noted.
A core mission of MeitY is to identify and deploy technologies to promote innovation and discovery to help India advance and achieve a more sustainable future. Quantum computing has the potential to help countries leapfrog technology generations, achieve scientific leadership, and deliver answers to complex economic and social challenges. This initiative will augment India’s ongoing efforts in developing quantum computing applications, the President and CEO of the National e-Governance Division (NeGD), Abhishek Singh, explained.
The MeitY Quantum Computing Applications Lab will help government bodies and the scientific community identify problems and opportunities rapidly and test real-world challenges through experiments and prototypes in a low-risk environment. Outcomes from these experiments will help researchers evolve problem statements, proofs-of-concept, and prototypes that will lead to the development of new applications, models, and frameworks in quantum computing.
Taking forward the learnings from a recent cyber attack impacting organisations all across the world, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has rolled out a set of central banking rules to mitigate the technology risks in the financial sector.
The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) now requires all financial institutions to assess the suppliers of their technology vendors. The updated guidelines apply to all banks, payment services firms such as GrabPay and Singtel Dash, as well as brokerage and insurance firms.
In a typical assessment, suppliers may be asked to prove that their software source code is rigorously tested and they do not use unsafe programming practices. Suppliers may also be asked to reveal their security measures and how often they monitor cyber risks.
Mr Vincent Loy, assistant managing director of technology at MAS, shared that using an external vendor which may, in turn, procure third-party tools brings significant risks to banking systems. “Unknown third-party suppliers are what MAS is most worried about… Financial institutions that do not allocate sufficient financial resources may be more open to unknown third-party suppliers,” he said.
The hacking of Texas-based SolarWinds, a leading provider of IT management software, had subjected hundreds of thousands of firms and government entities around the world to risks. SolarWinds’ IT management tools are common components in the products of many large vendors including Microsoft, FireEye and Cisco Systems.
Mr Tan Yeow Seng, the MAS chief cybersecurity officer, said financial institutions are increasingly reliant on third-party service providers as they adopt new technologies. “The revised guidelines set out MAS’ higher expectations in the areas of technology risk governance and security controls in financial institutions,” he added.
Straits Times reported that an assessment of third-party suppliers was previously not required under the MAS Technology Risk Management (TRM) guidelines, although due diligence on technology vendors was a must. The screening of component suppliers is now clearly spelt out in the revised TRM guidelines, which cover a wide range of topics to help firms fob off and recover from cyber-attacks and system failures.
Risks through the use of open application programming interface (API), a code that lets different applications talk to one another, are also addressed in the newly updated TRM rules. Banks have used APIs to automatically share foreign exchange rates, for example. This has allowed many external developers to build currency conversion apps using the data. Under the revised TRM rules, financial services firms must vet entities that access their APIs by looking at the nature of their business, cybersecurity posture, industry reputation and track record. They must also secure the development of the APIs and encrypt sensitive data transmitted to prevent leaks or hackers injecting malicious codes in the APIs.
In another key change to the TRM guidelines, the board of directors and senior management in financial institutions must vet and approve key technology and cyber-security appointments. “Organisations that do not have a good cyber-security posture usually do not have a board and senior management oversight for IT functions and key appointments,” said Mr Loy, citing findings of the central bank’s own audits.
Last revised in 2013, the TRM guidelines have been updated at a time of increased data sharing that underpins the sector’s digital transformation. The revision took in feedback from a public consultation in 2019 and other expert engagements. The guidelines elaborate on the mandatory requirements set out in the MAS TRM notice, first issued in 2013 and which carries a fine of up to $100,000 for non-compliance under the Banking Act. In the case of a continuing offence, a further fine of up to $10,000 daily may be levied.
Economies across the globe are streamlining their blueprints in a bid to foster economic recovery despite the challenges brought by the new normal. To do this, they are amplifying their digital initiatives faster than anticipated. Likewise, they are embracing a change in the cultural mindset to enhance their processes.
Key economic sectors are getting support from the government in terms of technological advances. This is evident in the manufacturing and retail industries. Exports are likewise getting a boost from tech as governments strive to make their products more globally competitive and in the long term, be a growth pillar for the economy.
In the Philippines, key areas of the economy are given priority following the onset of the global health crisis. From physical transactions, several government agencies are implementing online schemes to not just fast-track their correspondence with the public sector but to adhere to safety restrictions as well.
Assistance to various sectors of the Philippine economy has been launched and made more convenient through digital tools. This is seen in the innovative measures used by the government not just in providing ease in public transactions but in key areas like social assistance. In an earlier report by OpenGov Asia, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) said that it will be releasing livelihood settlement grants of LSGs to various households in strife-torn Marawi City through a mobile app.
To promote ease in doing business for players in the agricultural sector, state-run Landbank of the Philippines (LBP) announced in a statement that it has installed its Digital Onboarding System or DOBS in its first Agri-Hub in the province of Ilocos Sur.
The online banking system is intended to simplify account opening applications by reducing transaction turnaround time to 10 to 15 minutes. It is likewise anticipated to adhere to safety protocols implemented by the Inter-Agency Task Force during the new normal. It does this by minimising physical contact and promoting remote transactions.
The bank was recognised for launching the DOBS, a web-based programme it launched two years ago to streamline account enrollment processes. This feat made the LBP one of the first lenders in the Philippines to offer a fully digital account application process for individuals, institutions and government agencies. The system was also set up with goals of promoting regulatory compliance in data quality through easy gathering, storage and retrieval of digital bank records.
Launching a new Agri-Hub
The Landbank, through Department of Agriculture Secretary William Dar, stated that the banking scheme, as well as the Sta. Maria Agri-Hub, “are expected to bring financial services closer to more bank clients in the rural area.” This is in conjunction with President Rodrigo Duterte’s directive that the LBP must cater to the needs of farmers, fisherfolks, agrarian reform beneficiaries and agriculture enterprises.
During her speech at the inauguration of the Sta. Maria hub, LBP North Luzon Branches Group Head and First Vice President Ma. Belma Turla noted that the agri-hub is set to provide both financial and technical services to clients. These include account opening, withdrawal and cash encashment. Loan applications and handling of agrarian-related concerns may likewise be facilitated through the hub.
The LBP’s Sta. Maria Agri-Hub is the fifth of its kind established in the country. The state-run lender said it has established these facilities in sites including Calabanga, Camarines Sur; Barotac Viejo, Iloilo and Sual in Pangasinan. Meanwhile, the Echague Agri-Hub in Isabela was earlier put up in a bid to cater to more than 2,500 farmers across 64 barangays in the municipality.
The Sta. Maria hub is expected to speed up account-related transactions for farmers and fisherfolks not only within the Sta. Maria locality but to those from neighbouring towns and municipalities.
“Being a smart nation is not about flaunting glitzy technology, but … applying technology to solve real problems that will make a difference to people’s lives, and across the whole of society.” These were the words of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loog as he addressed the audience at the Smart Nation Summit in 2019.
PM Lee’s statement resonates well with a recent commentary by Carol Soon and Shawn Goh from Institute of Policy studies. They believe that to realise the vision of a Smart Nation for all, the next phase of Singapore’s Smart Nation must pivot and focus on securing impact on citizens in three ways — strengthening our digital psyche, closing the participation gap, and scaling up partnerships.
Singapore has successfully established itself as a digitally advanced nation, one of the few nations who were well placed to manage the consequences of COVID-19 pandemic. But the recent debates about the use of Trace Together data for criminal investigations have highlighted that factors like people’s trust and comfort level with the technology greatly impact the adoption of the digital service.
All these debates and discussions have brought forth the fact that becoming a smart nation requires more than making available the hardware and infrastructure requires to implement it. The “software” challenges also need to be overcome to fully enjoy the benefits of digitisation.
To strengthen these ‘softer’ aspects of becoming a smart nation in the true sense, Singapore needs to focus on the following 3 pillars:
Strengthening our Digital Psyche:
With the rapid digital transformation in the last 10 months, citizens have been bombarded with digital scams and misinformation. In a recent study, it was found that Singaporeans of higher age group and lower socio-economic backgrounds, were found to be more susceptible to false information.
People with high confirmation bias and low knowledge of the digital media landscape were more vulnerable. They were more likely to believe falsehoods aligned with their existing beliefs and were unaware of how and where information online originated from.
These findings highlight key areas of improvement in strengthening Singaporeans’ digital psyche. In particular, public education encouraging residents to be introspective about individual biases when navigating the online space can be ramped up to build national resilience against misinformation that exploit such vulnerabilities.
Another is to equip people with more knowledge on the digital media and tech landscape, so they can better appreciate and assess the credibility of the online information they receive.
Such interventions are resources we can turn to when enhancing digital literacy programmes here by adapting what works for our local context.
Closing the Participation Gap:
The second pillar of focus is to reduce the participation gap due to age, income, and occupational lines. The idea is to not leave behind a single citizen and ensure that they can leverage the technology to its full potential.
A first step to closing these disparities is to establish a national framework that maps out key digital skills all Singaporeans should possess to fully participate in today’s digital world. Countries that have established such guidelines setting minimal standards residents should work towards have seen their efforts bear fruit.
These include digital foundational skills that underpin all other digital skills, such as knowing how to connect to the Internet and maintain online login information.
The framework also outlines digital communication skills, such as communicating with others via email or instant messaging apps and using word processors to create and share documents like a personal resume.
Yet another group of skills looked at those needed for online transaction skills, like being able to access digital financial services and fill in request forms for public goods and services.
Establishing a similar framework for Singapore will help map out basic but critical digital literacies and identify the digital skills gap for different segments of society. This will aid the design of targeted interventions whether by the Government, self-help groups or non-profits to plug existing participation gaps.
Scaling up Partnerships:
The third pillar is to focus on Several new digital initiatives like Seniors Go Digital, and Hawkers Go Digital to speed up the roll out the National Digital Literacy programme.
The private sector has been also been bolstering public sector efforts in meeting the needs of targeted segments. Organisations such as the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Singapore Airlines and Temasek Foundation donated and distributed mobile phones to various communities during the pandemic, in addition to face masks, hand sanitisers.
The people sector has also stepped up to provide ground-up solutions to help fill existing gaps. Initiatives like Engineering Good collected and donated laptops to low-income students. Others, like SG Bono and Readable Asia, have conducted classes for children on how to access the Internet safely.
Singapore has achieved great feats in its smart nation journey and has been able to accelerate it throughout the pandemic. The next step in this journey should be to make technology and digital initiatives more inclusive and citizen-friendly.
Singapore’s smart nation initiative was launched with the vision of better living, stronger communities and the creation of more opportunities for all. A technology-driven, up-to-date healthcare system with the capability to ensure the wellbeing of all its citizens is a pre-requisite to support this powerful mission. Such healthcare infrastructure takes on added relevance and urgency in the light of the current global crisis.
To better understand how the government of Singapore is utilising technology to realise this vision of better living and a stronger community for the nation, OpenGov Asia had an in-depth conversation with Sutowo Wong, Director, Analytics and Information Management Division, Ministry of Health.
Sutowo confirmed that technology and innovation in healthcare procedure and processes support MOH’s strategic shift from Healthcare to Health. Wearable technology, healthcare mobile applications, digitising in-person transactions like payments and on-line registrations are all technology use cases that help the government track and ensure the good health of its citizens.
It was fascinating to know how technology has enabled supporting senior citizens through user-friendly apps like the Moments of Life App (a smart nation and Digital Government office initiative) and has taken healthcare beyond the hospital walls into homes and community of patients using TeleHealth.
Sutowo acknowledged that the Singapore healthcare sector harnesses innovative technologies like Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) in various health care applications and models. AI and ML-driven solutions are, in fact, the key to many of their initiatives and strategies.
- No-Show Predictive Model: Using ML, this model identifies patients who are potential no-shows. This allows administrators to send them reminders or to allocate their slot to another patient. The solution optimises clinic resources as well as maximise available time.
- Multiple Readmission Predictive Model: This model analyses data to create a list of high-risk patients for care teams to focus on. Patients within the elevated risk category are automatically identified for enrolment into intervention programs eliminating up to 90% of nurses’ manual assessment workload, freeing them up to spend more time in taking direct care of patients.
- Singapore Eye Lesion Analyser Plus (SELENA+): Based on a deep learning, artificial intelligence software system, the solution can detect three major eye conditions by highlighting areas with potential vision-threatening eye diseases. This technology has proven to be highly efficient in delivering fast and accurate results.
- National University Health System (NUHS) Automated Diagnosis Engine: The engine helps diagnose appendicitis using clinical notes.The objective of this work is to develop an automated diagnosis system that can predict the probability of appendicitis given a free-text emergency department note and additional structures information(e.g. lab test results). The model can learn important features, and symptoms of patients from unstructured free text notes from doctors helping to make better diagnosis.
It was interesting to learn that the Ministry of Health follows a 2-pronged approach to better respond to rapid changes in the technological landscape.
The first prong is a top-down approach through the National AI Strategy, which maps out how Singapore will develop and use AI to transform the economy and improve people’s lives. AI can also be used to analyse clinical and genomic data, medical images, and health behaviours to better assess the risk profile of patients.
Second is the bottom-up approach which comprises initiatives like AI in Health Grand Challenge. Such programmes and initiatives encourage the development of innovative approaches that use AI to enhance primary care and disease management in Singapore and the world. It supports groundbreaking research ideas that adopt AI technologies and innovations to address current challenges in the medical field.
Speaking about the future for robotic doctors /nurses for treatment and surgeries and the current proximity to achieving this, Sutowo shared that “with the declining old-age support ratio coupled with low birth rates, it is imperative that healthcare is made more proactive to guide people to take pre-emptive steps to keep themselves healthy or to better manage their well-being”.
Leveraging assistive technology and robotics in healthcare is one way of doing it. Explaining further, he shared the example of RoboCoach Xian. A robot trainer enhanced with sensors, it imitates human movements and can teach a range of exercises to senior citizens. It can also help provide cognitive therapy to seniors who have suffered strokes or have other age-related disorders.
The Centre for Healthcare Assistive & Robotics Technology (CHART) has been established with the support of Ministry of Health and Economic Development Board to enable health care professionals to work closely with industry, academia and research institutions to co-develop and testbed impactful healthcare solutions in assistive technologies and robotics.
One such technological enabler is the development of the Robotic Middleware for healthcare (RoMi-H). It standardises communication messages among heterogeneous robotic systems, sensors and information systems, thus facilitating interoperability among multiple systems and easing system integration effort in a bid to digitalise healthcare and automate processes.
Apart from CHART, other bodies or organisations that contribute to creating tech innovations for the healthcare industry are the MOH Office for Healthcare Transformation (MOHT) and Integrated Health Information Systems (IHiS). Both the organisations have pushed boundaries in the digitalisation of healthcare, architecting the national IT strategies and roadmaps for healthcare, connecting and analysing complex systems across Singapore’s health ecosystem.
Sutowo concluded the conversation by reiterating MOH’s vision to be a leader in developing and deploying scalable, impactful technology-driven healthcare solutions to the nation’s citizens. The Ministry continues to relentlessly work towards this vision in future as well.