James Tan: “Our goal is to be a country that serves as an international mediator in a global world”
There are few places like Singapore in the world. It is a unique country (a city-state of 719 square km), geographically located in a special place (an island situated on the sea coast of the South Asian region, in the commercial zone of Malacca), and with one of the most flourishing economies on the globe.
Therefore, in the final ranking of the Top 10 cities prepared by Cities in Motion, it occupied seventh position, standing out in the field of technology and international projection, which included being among the top four. This is why the technological challenge is key if you are one of the most advanced nations respecting the latest trends in the current industry.
We talked about all this with James Tan, director of the Smart Cities Technology Division of GovTech and the Smart Districts Division of JTC of Singapore.
TSCJ.- How would you explain to the world the special uniqueness that Singapore represents?
J.T.- It is easy and at the same time difficult to define it. On the one hand, there is a special geographical location, in the middle of two worlds, always being a place of economic and cultural exchange and mediation. On the other hand, the spirit and particular courage of its inhabitants, of its leaders, to constantly improve their living conditions, to be entrepreneurial and, ultimately, to survive well in this hectic and convulsive world. That's where our desire to connect with new technologies comes from, to apply them to create a better world for us and for everyone.
TSCJ.- That seems very interesting to us. What is shocking is that, being a technologically leading country, but with just under 6 million inhabitants, you have agreements with someone as immense as China... with 1.4 billion people! Isn't it paradoxical?
J.T.-(Laughs) Well, we're talking about really different figures. But precisely because it is our will to be where we are, it does not scare us, but rather makes us proud, to be able to reach these agreements with 'giants'. We can be small in everything, but not in the desire to improve, to explore new avenues, to explore more solutions, to invent and innovate. As I said before, mediation, agreement, and the trade of goods and ideas are in our DNA. We intend to continue our development and at the same time help our own and others in this search for improvement in human life. It is a pride to reach agreements of this type, not only with China but with any other country. We have also recently signed deals on digitalization with the European Union, Chile, New Zealand...
It's not about fighting, but on the contrary: doing business, prospering, having good will, etc. In that sense, our aspiration is to continue being a kind of global mediator.
TSCJ.- In this sense, what are the main lines of development in your projects for 2030, the date that is on everyone's lips?
J.T.- We have a wide variety of projects of all kinds in Singapore. As you may have seen in our presentations here in Barcelona, or in our videos, our state is embarked on multiple scenarios that touch all types of technologies applied to improving the lives of our citizens: governance, mobility, health, construction, urban planning, environmentalism, recycling, etc. Practically everything is in the pipeline and we hope to reach the goal in 2030. But that will not mean the end of everything, but rather one more season into the future.
TSCJ.- Could you give us a summary of the current situation in the country?
J.T.- Our economy has long been characterized by strong growth, moderate inflation, low unemployment, ample fiscal and monetary reserves, a stable financial situation, and openness to international trade and investment. That is our starting point and our constant launching point. We want to continue like this, although always improving. The infrastructure that Singapore has developed is based on accessibility, but, I insist, on thinking about the population. As it is a small territory, the homes were established close to transport services and now are always built with sustainability in mind. We are concerned about leaving a good place to live for our children while still taking care of our elders. One in three of our inhabitants is over 55. We do not forget about them.
TSCJ.- Tell us about information technologies and start-ups. How is Singapore doing?
J.T.- Singapore wants to be a smart nation, combining policies, people, and technology. A smart nation improves the lives of citizens of all ages, creates more opportunities for businesses of all sizes (especially start-ups, which need more help), and builds a government that uses technology to better serve people's needs. We actively support the growth of innovative technology companies and business creation in collaboration with leading global IT companies, as well as the development of excellent information technology and telecommunications infrastructure, policies, and capabilities. The Next Gen NBN (Next Generation National Broadband Network) will reinforce Singapore's status as an information and communication hub, and open new doors to economic opportunities, business growth, and social vitality.
TSCJ.- Singapore has exhibited in Barcelona, on the occasion of the Smart City World Congress, its latest projects to improve the lives of its citizens. Your pavilion has caused a sensation, due to the modern and spectacular nature of its proposal. You yourself have just shown us those advances that are included in the ODP (Open Digital Platform). Could you summarize its scope for us?
JT.-The Open Digital Platform (ODP) is a key product in Singapore’s digital transformation. Is a joint development between Singapore’s Government Technology Agency (GovTech) and the JTC Corporation (JTC). The ODP is a secure platform that collects various types of data –real-time, environmental, building– and, using machine learning and artificial intelligence, develops real-time changes to manage energy consumption and optimise resources. It is currently deployed at JTC’s office (JTC Summit), and at an industrial park located to the north of Singapore called the Woodlands North Industrial Park. It will next be deployed at a third location, which is at Singapore’s Punggol Digital District. It will house digital leaders in key growing tech sectors such as Cybersecurity, Blockchain & Fintech, Robotics & AI, Cloud Computing and Smart Living.
TSCJ.- Tell us something more about JTC, please
JT.- Since its inception in 1968, JTC has played a strategic role in ensuring Singapore stays innovative and dynamic amid global manufacturing trends. As a government agency under Singapore’s Ministry of Trade and Industry, JTC is paving the way forward for Singapore’s industrial landscape with green and smart estate masterplans such as one-north, Seletar Aerospace Park, Jurong Innovation District, and Punggol Digital District. Our estates attract new investment and foster collaborative ecosystems that strengthen Singapore’s position as an advanced manufacturing hub. We also drive innovation in the Built Environment sector by piloting new construction technologies.
TSCJ.- And about the Government Technology Agency (GovTech)…
JT.- Is the lead agency driving Singapore’s Smart Nation initiative and public sector digital transformation. As the Centre of Excellence for Infocomm Technology and Smart Systems (ICT & SS), GovTech develops the Singapore government’s capabilities in Data Science & Artificial intelligence, Application Development, Smart City Technology, Digital infrastructure, and Cybersecurity. GovTech supports public agencies to manage enterprise IT operations and develop new digital products for citizens and businesses. GovTech is the public sector lead for cybersecurity oversees key government ICT infrastructure, and also regulates ICT procurement, data protection and security in the public sector. GovTech is a Statutory Board under the Smart Nation and Digital Government Group (SNDGG) in our Prime Minister’s Office.
Miguel Angel Santos.