SG’s 4-decade Tech runway will propel our Smart Nation initiative! (Part 1)

From intelligence to smartness!

Photo (above): Early days of our Smart Nation journey – Sg Tech leaders with our PM during a visit to Hungary in 2007

“Before you discuss your future, remember how we got here – the past.” Founding PM,LKY, in his opening address at NTUC seminar, Nov 16, 1969
Part 1

My 3 decades of involvements with the tech domain in the government sector has helped to shape my views on the new approaches we need for our next challenge in building a smart nation. I had the privilege of being directly involved from the inception to the completion of the last 10 year Intelligent Nation (iN2015) masterplan during my most treasured working days at IDA Singapore.

Singapore’s Tech journey has spanned over 4 decades, with 6 IT masterplans culminating with the most recent launch of the 7th instalment of the Infocomm Media masterplan. The execution of the various masterplans has been crucial in Singapore being highly regarded in numerous tech rankings globally. Amongst all the rankings, we should be most proud of being number 1 for World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business for the last 9 consecutive years, something no other country has ever achieved! Our ICT industry as we see today did not happen overnight, it the result of inspired leaders with the right vision who were the movers and shakers from both the government and the industry responsible for this remarkable achievement.

Its important to realize that in this latest smart nation initiative, we are not exactly starting from scratch as far as tech exploitation is concerned, we are coming more from a brownfield stage of development. Our political leaders have from the onset since the early 70s felt that Singapore’s reliance on technology is all about survival, a ‘force multiplier’ as some call it, an obsession we have to make up for our lack of natural and human resources, coupled with a relentless pursuit to harness the power of technology!

Intel’s Andrew Grove’s famous book quote “Only the paranoid survive”, resonates well with we Singaporeans, which is why our current Minister Vivien Balakrishnan who is helming the Smart nation initiative, recently reiterated that , “what you see in Singapore is as an exercise of desperate imagination, its not that innovation is sexy, but because its survival”
Currently, many countries are experiencing a migration boost urban population, as 5 billion people will surge into cities which has motivated many to have smartcity aspirations. Thus far, Singapore has been successful in building an intelligent nation with the right future-proof fibre infrastructure and other capabilities in place, being a city-state forces us to think big from the onset. We could say that Singapore currently has a slight head start and the right ingredients, in terms of achieving our goal of being a smart nation.

But if we were to do a proper self-examination, which stage of smart nation maturity level are we currently at? Wiki’s definition of a smartcity is an urban development vision to integrate multiple information and communication technology (ICT) solutions in a secure fashion to manage a city’s assets. Singapore has so far successfully laid the foundation as an intelligent nation, but we still have our work cut out for us to achieve the holy grail status of being a smart nation!

Our PM during the launch of the smart nation initiative touched on several factors needed in building a smart nation; integrating the technology into a coherent and comprehensive whole, being more productive, nurturing a strong start-up ecosystem, fibre connectivity to the homes, using Jurong Lake district as a living lab, leveraging on smart technologies, building tech platforms to foster closer community bonds, active ageing, telemedicine etc. He also touched on the several approaches needed to realize the smart nation vision: setting up a Smart Nation Programme office, prototyping ideas, close attention to cybersecurity issues, Innovating and failing fast, willingness to challenge the status quo and disrupt existing ways of doing things and having a risk-taking, experimentation mindset.

Its important to realise that to achieve our dream of being a smart nation, its certainly not just about technology itself, its also about elevating our society’s lifestyle and culture in areas involving our unique multi-racial makeup, giving proper emphasis to creative arts and design, low carbon footprint engagements  etc

Many of the points covered in this article will be presented and discussed in our CIO Academy Asia’s ( upcoming ConnectGov summit with the theme ‘Leading in a Disruptive World’ in Bhutan from the 24-27 July 2016 . Details at

In part 2 of my instalment to this article, I will be elaborating on 4 key areas; Multi-disciplinary approach, Public/Private sector collaboration, Policies and Regulations and R&D. Key factors which will help accelerate our transformation towards becoming a Smart Nation. So do stay tuned for part 2!

By P.Ramakrishna


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Spark (formerly CIO Academy Asia) brings together a community of technology and business leaders from across Asia.