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Integrated digital platforms key for Smart Nation: Vivian Balakrishnan

Nayela Deeba | March 6, 2017
Singapore’s Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Programme Office shares the government’s initiatives to move closer to realising its ambition.

Screenshot of Dr Balakrishnan speaking at the Committee of Supply Debates 2017

The government will "build more integrated digital platforms that will enable innovation, benefit citizens and reduce business costs" to realise the Smart Nation vision, said Vivian Balakrishnan, Singapore's Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Programme Office (SNPO). He was speaking at the Committee of Supply Debates 2017.

For instance, his office is looking to improve SingPass so that it is "good enough as a secure digital identification system" for citizens to use when interacting with the government online.

The team plans to add biometric elements and encryption abilities to enhance SingPass' security. It will also open SingPass' Application Programming Interface (API) so that SingPass can be used not only for e-government services, but also for services offered by the private sector.

"We need to do all this in order to engender greater confidence, reduce transaction costs, allow information to be exchanged secure and seamless, to create new services, and to improve consumer experiences," Dr Balakrishnan explained.

Simplifying e-payments

SNPO will also be focusing on simplifying e-payments to push Singapore towards a cashless society. It plans to roll out a Central Addressing Scheme, in which mobile numbers are mapped to bank account numbers or unique entity number (UEN) of businesses. As such, the payee only requires the recipient's phone number to transfer funds via mobile or over the internet, Dr Balakrishnan stated.

He added that even though DBS' PayLah! offers the same feature, he wants this function to be available to all users, meaning that it shouldn't matter if the payee and recipient have accounts in different banks.  

"We believe that having a Central Addressing System is one way to get a move on with e-payments in Singapore. [Since the system enables] consolidation at the infrastructural level, [it will improve] interoperability and lowers barriers to entry," he explained.  

However, he highlighted that there isn't a "need for consolidation at the customer facing side" to enable competition and provide customers with choices.

Empowering individuals and private sector to innovate
The government will also continue opening its data sets. "By freeing data, we believe that we can enable both businesses and citizens to innovate and to develop new products that will serve their own needs," said Dr Balakrishnan.

One app that has benefited from open data is BusUncle. It is a chatbot on Facebook Messenger, which uses Singapore's Land Transport Authority's real-time data for free to provide bus arrival times. BusUncle differentiates itself from other transport apps by replying in Singlish.

"This is an example of where providing government data and allowing private sector to ride on top of it creates a whole new level of services that we could not have imagined or could not have delivered with such style," said Dr Balakrishnan.


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