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Getting Singapore’s Smart Nation vision right

Nurdianah Md Nur | July 20, 2015
The Smart Nation initiative isn’t about technology alone, but how the republic applies technology to enhance the quality of life for its citizens, says a minister of the Singapore government.

ABB and Dr Balakrishnan
From left to right: Johan de Villiers, country managing director of ABB; and Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, and Minister-in-charge of Smart Nation initiative.

Even though technology seems to be the main focus of Singapore's Smart Nation vision, technology is "just the means to an end", said the republic's Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, who is also Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation initiative.

"Our Smart Nation initiative is not about technology alone, but how we apply it to enhance the quality of life for citizens, and create greater opportunities for everyone," he told the audience at the Smarter Cities Roundtable in Singapore on 14 July 2015. 

For instance, technology may be used in healthcare to meet the needs of the growing ageing population in Singapore. Recently, the Housing & Development Board of Singapore announced that it is testing smart personal technologies at its Centre of Building Research in Woodlands. Technologies being trialled include wearable motion sensors that enable rehabilitation exercises to be carried out at home through video conferencing, and tele-health technologies that allow caregivers to monitor patients remotely.

To create opportunities for businesses in Singapore to thrive, the government needs to create the right environment for businesses to innovate without taking on too much risk by providing incentives and removing administrative barriers. Besides that, the workforce needs to be equipped with the right capabilities and skills to face the challenges of the digital age. "We need to equip ourselves with relevant skills and organise our society to remain relevant and maintain a competitive edge; it's the only way of dealing with global changes," said Dr Balakrishnan.

The economy and environment: a virtuous cycle
Even though many perceive environmental degradation as a necessary trade-off for economic development, Singapore leaders believe otherwise.

"To the late Lee Kuan Yew and our early leaders, the economy and environment is not a zero sum game, but form a virtuous cycle. Having blue skies, clean water, city in a garden, healthy population, and a focus on waste reduction and energy efficiency are all crucial for a competitive economy, as well as attracting talent, ideas and new products and services," said Dr Balakrishnan. He added that this belief propelled Lee's decision to power the country with gas instead of coal-fired plants from the 1950s even though doing so was not the cheapest option.

Continuing this belief, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint last November to complement the Smart Nation vision. The blueprint outlines a S$1.5 billion effort for Singapore to become more liveable and sustainable by focusing on five key areas, including energy efficiency, smart residential towns, a car-lite culture, a zero-waste nation, and a green economy.


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