The city-state of Singapore is a “living laboratory” in its use of data and technology to become more sustainable, enhance competitiveness, and improve quality of life.
It is one of the world’s wealthiest and most competitive countries and is admired globally for its quality of life. In recent decades, it has created a respected public housing system and developed infrastructure that supports economic growth and social progress.
But Singapore’s position – on a small island in a tropical climate, with a population that has grown by a quarter since 20101 – brings plenty of challenges. Today, it is using digital innovation to prepare for a future defined by climate change.
“We look long-term, and plan comprehensively,” says Dr Cheong Koon Hean, Chairman of the Centre for Livable Cities at Singapore’s Ministry of National Development. “We need to ensure we have enough land to house all our needs on this small island – ports, airports, housing, schools, commercial areas, hospitals, and everything else. We are mindful that being sustainable is an existential issue for Singapore to ensure that our citizens have a good quality of life.”
We are mindful that being sustainable is an existential issue for Singapore to ensure that our citizens have a good quality of life.Dr Cheong Koon Hean, Chairman of the Centre for Livable Cities at Singapore’s Ministry of National Development
Striving for a digitalized future
Singapore scores eight out of ten in digital readiness, on a par with London, according to Siemens’ Atlas of Digitalization. “We want a digital economy, a digital government, and a digital society,” confirms Cheong.
In 2014, the country launched the Smart Nation vision, an initiative to harness technology by boosting competitiveness, improving sustainability, and delivering reliable public services. To help achieve the first of these goals, the government developed transformation plans for 23 sectors, which included helping construction companies use building information modelling (BIM) tools, while encouraging hawkers to develop e-commerce platforms.
When it comes to urban development, the government and private developers are using computer modelling and AI to simulate air flow around buildings, to locate the optimal spots to install photovoltaic panels, and to pinpoint development areas where parks and trees could offset the heat.
Dr Thai-Lai Pham, President & CEO, Siemens ASEAN, believes that data and technology are helping Singapore achieve net zero carbon targets. “Buildings are responsible for 40% of energy consumption and CO2 emissions worldwide,” he says. “There’s a huge potential to make buildings sustainable using digitalization.”
There’s a huge potential to make buildings sustainable using digitalization.Dr Thai-Lai Pham, President & CEO, Siemens ASEAN
How data enriches citizens’ lives
The Singaporean government is working in partnership with the private sector to make new technology available to its population.
To connect Singaporean homes to fiber broadband, for example, the government provides the supporting infrastructure while private sector firms develop smart apps and systems utilizing the internet of things.
Meanwhile, Singapore’s Housing and Development Board is using AI to monitor elevators in residential blocks, to detect faults before breakdowns happen, and gives elderly residents devices that alert their family or neighbors if their patterns of behavior suggest something is wrong. The government has also used its traffic data to develop apps that help people navigate the city and find parking places more easily.
Seamless public services
Already a leader in e-government, Singapore is aiming to provide seamless digital services through GovTech – the Government Technology Service.
“Singapore has taken the lead in organizing data in a way which is accessible to other agencies,” explains Ayesha Khanna, co-founder and CEO of Singapore-based tech company ADDO AI. “Interoperability is extremely important. You want to make it easy for citizens to navigate all government functions, from parking tickets to children’s immunizations. Everything revolves around the right data infrastructure, and Singapore is at the vanguard of that globally.”
Khanna notes that most government departments have a chief information officer to manage data, while GovTech has its own data science department.
“There’s an increasing understanding that what you need is a digital civil service, and that a significant part of government should be dedicated to data and metrics,” she says.
Everything revolves around the right data infrastructure, and Singapore is at the vanguard of that globally.Ayesha Khanna, co-founder and CEO of Singapore-based tech company ADDO AI
Cheong from the Centre for Livable Cities believes that enabling innovative investment, and judiciously sharing data with private sector partners, is crucial to achieving Singapore’s goals.
“The government needs to chart the course, and act as an enabler,” she says. “The private sector can bring innovation and financial resources. We produce a lot of data that can be shared for the private sector to create new products.”
Some partnerships are already in operation, such as Siemens’2 work to develop an integrated traffic and central management system for the city’s North-South Corridor.
Siemens’ Pham argues that a drive for greater sustainability will support business growth. “It’s clear that sustainability has become a KPI – it’s not just good for the planet, it’s good economically,” he says. “We can make use of the data we have from infrastructure that’s been there for years and make that infrastructure smart. It’s a win-win, for the environment, for society – and for business.”
Singapore, with its commitment to becoming an even smarter nation, and its embrace of public-private partnerships in technology and infrastructure, is becoming a global testbed for the cities of the future. “We’re like a living laboratory, where people can try new things,” says Cheong. “And we’re happy with that.”