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Govt to make more data available for Smart Nation initiative

SINGAPORE — The Government will commit to making more data available to the public as it seeks to get the private sector — especially homegrown companies — to play a big role in the country’s transformation into a Smart Nation, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan yesterday.

Singapore Central Business District skyline. TODAY file photo

Singapore Central Business District skyline. TODAY file photo

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SINGAPORE — The Government will commit to making more data available to the public as it seeks to get the private sector — especially homegrown companies — to play a big role in the country’s transformation into a Smart Nation, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan yesterday.

There have been doubts expressed by app developers, among others, over whether the Government will loosen the red tape in order to reap the full benefits of the Smart Nation initiative. They had cited past experiences where they faced difficulties in getting access to data.

In response, Dr Balakrishnan, who is overseeing the new Smart Nation Programme Office under the Prime Minister’s Office, said that as long as national security and privacy are not compromised, and there is protection against identity theft, data will be made available for the public and companies to tap.

At the same time, privacy safeguards could be strengthened, with Dr Balakrishnan suggesting legislative changes might be afoot in this regard. A balance has to be struck, he reiterated. “The Government is already quite transparent with data, we are trying to make as much data available as possible, with some caveats.”

Dr Balakrishnan was speaking to the media on the sidelines of the Singapore Makers Festival Makers Meetup held yesterday at the National Design Centre in Middle Road.

Referring to data.gov.sg, where data sets from government agencies are made available to app developers, Dr Balakrishnan said more will be done to improve the website, including wider data sets and more real time data.

He said: “The key point is to break down the barriers ... So a key word there is sharing — that you can derive value by sharing information, that you can devise more innovative solutions to the major challenges.”

He added that the Government wants to make it easier for local companies to enter the industry by providing prototyping labs and giving them opportunities to pitch their products and services to the Government, among other things.

The homegrown industry is one of three groups that the Government will focus on in the Smart Nation transformation. The others are seniors and youth.

As the elderly are likely to be key consumers of the new smart products and services, such as telehealth, they would need to have sufficient digital literacy, Dr Balakrishnan noted.

On the young, he added that the Government wants to build a generation that is digitally literate and proficient in programming, for example. To that end, there will be various enrichment programmes to teach coding, from primary school level onwards, he said.

He also cited public transport as a key area. Next month, trials for driverless vehicles will start on public roads at one-north and, possibly, at sites such as Sentosa.

Dr Balakrishnan said: “Why we choose to call this Smart Nation, rather than the more commonly heard term Smart City? Because although we are a city state, and we are small, we are actually functioning as a single level government ... So there is a chance for us to generate solutions that apply nationally.”

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