Don’t go solo along the path of innovation
TL:DR: The government cannot build a smart nation on its own; it welcomes citizens and businesses to participate in the creation of novel technologies. From online portals to funding sources for collaborative projects, the government is seeking to create a cohesive ecosystem for innovation. An expert panel discusses how public agencies, academia and industry stakeholders can co-create value for citizens.
No company or organisation has a monopoly on innovation. Just as it takes two hands to clap, the public and private sector can complement each other in the development of novel technologies for a smart nation.
This was the prevailing sentiment at the Smart Nation and Digital Government Industry Briefing organised by the Government Technology Agency of Singapore (GovTech) on 7 June 2018.
“As we transform public service delivery, we want to work with the various stakeholders in order to create solutions,” said Ms Vivian Chow, director of applied innovation and partnership, GovTech, during the event. She was moderating a panel discussion on ‘Partnering the technology community to realise the Smart Nation vision’.
Joining her on the panel were Mr Tan Ying Kiat, director, Science and Engineering Research Council, Agency of Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR); Mr Howie Lau, president, Singapore Computer Society (SCS); and Mr Lau Shih Hor, CEO and co-founder of Elixir Technology Pte Ltd and BizInsights Pte Ltd.
Many hands make light work
Businesses seeking opportunities to collaborate with the government on Smart Nation initiatives will have no shortage of channels to do so, said Ms Chow. She highlighted some platforms for companies and institutes of higher learning to engage with the government and co-create technological solutions that can improve the lives of Singaporeans.
One such platform is InnoLeap, which aims to bring together academia and industry players to address key challenges faced by public sector agencies. Through thematic workshops and one-to-one consultation clinics, the programme forms a framework for exploring viable partnerships and kickstarting pilot projects.
The Gov-PACT programme is another conduit by which small and medium enterprises can work with the government to develop and test-bed novel technological solutions.
Acknowledging the power of crowdsourcing, the government has also set up the eCitizen Ideas! Portal, a one-stop repository listing hackathons, contests and challenges that the public can participate in, sometimes with prizes to be won.
Furthermore, in terms of funding, the Translational Research and Development for Application to Smart Nation (TRANS) Grant, jointly administered by GovTech, the National Research Foundation and the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office, will support research, development and deployment of smart nation technologies.
Set sail in the same direction
While platforms and funding sources for public-private partnerships are critical elements of an innovation ecosystem, the panelists emphasised that starting a collaborative project is not the same as finishing it.
“Even with the right start, along the way you’ll probably have to figure out what is the best ‘chemistry’ to take things forward,” said Mr Howie Lau. He recommended that all stakeholders be clear on the contributions and costs from the outset so that the downstream development processes will not be hampered by disagreements.
Mr Lau Shih Hor also explained the need for having common goals when embarking on collaborative endeavours, especially when deep research and development is involved. From a business perspective, the commercial aspect of a piece of technology matters, but “if [the researchers’] goal is to publish papers and raise their Google Scholar index, then we are not aligned,” he said.
Of plans and pace
Getting past the hurdle of goal alignment, Mr Tan pointed out that it was critical to think about how emerging technologies will be implemented—even before they are market-ready. He noted that under the TRANS Grant, the government agency and the research institute that it works with must already submit a deployment plan for potentially translatable technologies.
At the same time, innovation partnerships should not focus solely on technologies that require long gestation periods. Mr Howie Lau advised the audience to capitalise on “quick wins” as well. He cited the ‘ERPS’ strategy to rapidly move from experimentation to implementation.
“’Explore’, and within 30 days make a decision whether you want to ‘refine’ the proposal. Then, ask yourself if you are prepared to start a ‘pilot’ trial, and within three to six months, decide whether you want to ‘stop’ or ‘scale’,” he said.
Nonetheless, throughout the development process, the value that citizens reap from an innovation should remain a top consideration, said Mr Howie Lau, emphasising that “it is important to not only understand their functional needs, but also their behavioural and emotional needs.”