Will Privacy Laws Deny Us A Better AI World?

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As we move towards a digital economy, governments and industries are adopting AI to improve operational efficiencies and user experience. To do so, conventional AI requires to collect data – lots of it! And a large proportion of this data is personal data such as names, telephone numbers, email and physical addresses, marital status, age, and so on.

But over the past decade, countries have been boosting up their privacy laws. Singapore’s Personal Data Protection Act 2012 (PDPA), the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), China’s Cyber Security Law and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) are some of the regulations enacted to protect personal data. Not surprisingly, renowned companies such as Facebook, Capital One and even Google, have been fined due to these laws. In some cases, companies have lost data due to security breaches or hacks, creating embarrassment and concern for governments, corporations, and customers or citizens.

Citizen Concerns Around Data Privacy

Yet, despite the presence of these regulatory frameworks, there is a growing lack of trust among citizens and consumers regarding how governments and organisations handle personal data. A survey on data privacy was conducted by Pew Research Center in June 2019 indicated that 79% of American adults are concerned about how companies use their data while 64% are concerned about how the government use their data. A whopping 70% of the adults think that their personal data is less secure now as compared to five years ago.

Public awareness of data privacy rights has also been improving worldwide. Surveying respondents in 12 of the world’s largest economies in Europe, Asia Pacific and the Americas, the Cisco Consumer Privacy Study conducted in May 2019 showed that 84% of these respondents care about privacy – of these, 80% stated that ‘they are willing to act to protect it’.

While both surveys convey strong sentiments about data privacy, findings also imply that beyond mere awareness, there is an insufficient understanding of privacy regulations on a deeper level. The study by Pew Research Center showed that 63% of American adults disclosed that they have ‘very little or no understanding of the laws and regulations’ that are set to protect their privacy. 33% of them stated that ‘they have some understanding’, while only 3% stated that they have a good comprehension of these laws. In the Cisco Consumer Privacy Study, only approximately one-third of all respondents knew about the regulations.

The Importance of Building Trust

These findings illustrate that more needs to be done to gain consumer trust in the digital realm.  And if the majority of the consumers don’t trust how the government and organisations such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon and the like, handle data, then will the doors shut on the large AI community that is focused on collecting data and helping create a better world for all citizens? How could government agencies and organisations drive operational efficiency and better user experience if they are unable to obtain value and insights from a collection of very limited dataset, with all the regulatory compliance requirements?

Lately, tech giants such as IBM, Google, Facebook and Microsoft have been researching and developing advancements towards a better AI world, while at the same time remaining compliant to any data privacy laws. Here in Singapore, institutions of higher learning such as the National University of Singapore (NUS), the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and the Agency of Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) are similarly researching and developing privacy preservation technologies (PP technologies).

At A*STAR, a programme team was formed and named the Trusted Data Vault (TDV) Programme, to research and develop a suite of PP technologies – be it as a standalone or in combination – to be commercialised by industry partners.

The Role of Privacy Preservation Technologies

Through intense research, technology development and industry collaborations, the TDV programme aims to advocate PP technologies towards applications that will unlock the potential of AI. This will create new value for digital services while ensuring compliance with privacy regulations and high ethical standards.

The heart of the TDV programme lies in the various PP technologies that have been garnering massive interest worldwide in resolving data privacy challenges, stemming from the rapid advancement of digital technology coupled with global privacy laws. The programme covers the research and development of federated learning (a technology coined by Google back in 2018), homomorphic encryption (a technology founded by Craig Gentry from IBM), secure multiparty computing, blockchain, and so on.  Progressively, PP technologies have been a subject of interest for organisations who are pursuing ways to relieve privacy concerns of consumers and fulfil the terms of privacy laws. In short, PP technologies aim to keep sensitive data secure and protected while it is being used, as well as enhance the privacy of data when it is being analysed.

The traditional method used to preserve the data privacy is anonymisation where personal identifying information is disassociated from an individual’s record in a dataset. A dataset is anonymised through a combination of pseudonymisation (the replacement of clear identifiers with fictitious information) and de-identification.

This technique may have worked in the past, but it is not sufficient for dealing with the complexities of present technological advancements. Research has proved that anonymisation does not promise privacy. In some cases, researchers were able to re-identify individuals by using statistical techniques or cross-referencing them with publicly available datasets.

As datasets become larger, more complex and diversified, PP technologies have emerged as the most feasible solution to privacy issues. A patent analytics study conducted by Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) stated that homomorphic encryption (HE), secure multiparty computing (MPC), differential privacy (DP) and federated learning (FL) have emerged as promising solutions among various the PP technologies developed. These are the same technologies that institutions such as NUS, NTU and A*STAR are pursuing.

In summary:

  • Homomorphic encryption (HE) transforms data to a different dataset to protect sensitive information while allowing computation on its encrypted version, also known as cyphertext. This method, therefore, does not compromise any data integrity.
  • Secure multiparty computing (MPC) is a cryptographic protocol that distributes computation across multiple parties where no individual party can see the other party’s data.  MPC protocols can enable data scientists and analysts to compliantly, securely, and privately compute on distributed data without ever exposing or moving it.
  • Differential privacy (DP) is an easier process compared to MPC and HE, and it involves introducing noise such that the query result cannot be used to infer much about any single individual and therefore provides privacy.
  • Federated learning (FL) is an emerging PP technology, which is a machine learning technique that achieves computation and model training without exchanging data between data owners and data consumers. This prevents data leakage from the data owner’s premises.

Of these four PP technologies that were outlines, HE, MPC and FL are at the forefront of research and development in the A*STAR’s TDV programme.

On the whole, industrial implementation of these PP technologies are still at an early stage. It has been reflected in the patented inventions at IPOS that the financial sector is the top industry of interest, followed by healthcare, social media applications and logistics/supply chain.

On a global scale, patented inventions relating to PP technologies have been on the rise. From 2009 to 2018, over 23,000 PP-related inventions were being published worldwide, with high annual growth of 18% in the recent five years, according to IPOS. Due to strong market demands, innovations in these technologies are expected to grow even as more research and development works are needed to improve their capabilities and industrial applications.

The Role of Blockchain

A*STAR’s TDV programme also focuses on blockchain.  As the literature shows these days, blockchain has grown to varying types since it was first mooted by Satoshi Nakamoto.  Blockchain these days is classified into public blockchain, private blockchain, and consortium or sometimes known as a federated blockchain.

A*STAR’s TDV Programme is focussed on consortium/federated blockchain, which is deployed in a decentralised manner on multiple hardware managed by different owners and where authority is shared among members.  Consortium/federated blockchain usually involves a group of enterprises collaborating to use the blockchain technology to improve businesses.

Ms. Angela Wang, the Programme Manager of TDV at A*STAR, says, ”The big difference between public blockchain and consortium/federated blockchain is that anyone, even those you don’t trust, can join the public blockchain, while consortium/federated blockchain considers each member as a trusted partner to begin with.”

 

The future appears bright for the privacy landscape worldwide, as researchers and top tech companies continue to invest their resources in PP technologies to create secure digital platforms, products and services. This will give rise to a healthy ecosystem of digital trust between organisations and consumers.

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Healthcare Fintech Alliance formed in Singapore

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In the report, Ecosystm Predicts: The Top Healthcare Trends for 2020, we had noted the similarities between the healthcare and the financial services industries and that Healthtech will take lessons from the Fintech industry.

In the report, Ecosystm Principal Analyst, Sash Mukherjee said, “Fintech plays a significant role in driving greater inclusion, especially to drive the induction of the unbanked into the mainstream economy, give the underbanked more options to leverage the broader financial services available, and reduce disparity in the adoption of financial services by bridging the gender gap and differences based on ethnicity and socio-economic status. It is not hard to imagine a similar fate for Healthtech. As the industry focuses on value-based outcomes, governments put in more regulations around accountability and transparency in the industry, and people expect the customer experience that they get out of their retail interactions, Healthtech start-ups will become as mainstream as Fintech start-ups.”

However, Mukherjee notes that there might be some pitfalls in this journey, especially when organisations focus more on the technology and less on the actual application and benefits of the technology. “Innovators and start-ups need to align themselves early, with corporates and technology providers to gain a better understanding of the market and regulatory landscape.”

Singapore bringing key industry stakeholders together

The MoU between Alibaba Cloud, Pfizer and Singapore’s Fintech Academy announced yesterday, is a move in the right direction that promises to give early and necessary guidance to Healthtech start-ups. Under the newly formed Healthcare Fintech Alliance (HFA), Alibaba will provide infrastructural support and technological mentorship to the Healthtech and Fintech start-ups to help them leverage cloud, AI and other technologies for their future requirements. The Fintech Academy will guide these start-ups through talent management and venture building programs. Pfizer will provide thought leadership through its network of healthcare experts and opinion leaders, including guidance on commercialisation of the products and services. The Healthcare Fintech Alliance initiative will begin with a pilot in Singapore, Indonesia, and Vietnam before expanding to other regions – Malaysia and the Philippines.

Mukherjee says, “The healthcare industry, for all the cutting-edge research, that it represents, has been remarkably slow to transform. But the COVID-19 crisis has forced the industry to transform, without the luxury or time to think about it. While the implications on the life sciences and provider organisations is clearer, there has simultaneously emerged a need for transformation in the healthcare payer industry. There will be greater demand from consumers for micro-financing to tide over sudden healthcare crises and greater transparency in how these funds are managed. Again, there is an immense potential here for the industry to learn from Fintech.”

Healthcare Fintech Alliance Focus Areas

The focus areas for Healthcare Fintech Alliance shows the deep connection between Healthtech and Fintech.

  • Healthcare Affordability. Micro-financing and other financial models involving patients, family members, payers, and other healthcare stakeholders
  • Value Based Healthcare. Linking payment schemes to a drug’s effectiveness, health outcomes or utilisation
  • Outcome Monitoring. Tracking and reporting of outcomes derived from patients, wearables, healthcare providers, R&D databases and real-world evidence.
  • Personalised Healthcare. Using digital technology to tailor healthcare to individual needs
  • Innovative Healthtech Devices. Driving adoption in digital tools, such as diagnostic tools linked to medicine access and reimbursement
  • Population Health Management. Leveraging patient and associated data in a compliant way to better understand population health characteristics, for effective wellness programs, treatment protocols and cost management.

“Alliances such as these have potential benefits for the industry stakeholders such as Alibaba and Pfizer. Alibaba has been focusing on the Southeast Asia market – earlier in the month the Alibaba Cloud Philippines Ecosystem Alliance was formed to support digital transformation in start-ups and small and medium enterprises. Initiatives such as this is an effective way to associate themselves with the evolving start-up community in the region,” says Mukherjee. “Life sciences companies operate in an extremely competitive global market where they have to work on new products against a backdrop of competition from generics and global concern over rising healthcare expenditure. Against that backdrop, this alliance is the right go-to-market messaging for Pfizer as well.”

“However, the deepest positive impact of alliances such as these will be on the Healthcare industry as a whole. It makes concepts such as value-based healthcare, remote care and personalised healthcare achievable in the near future.”

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Preparing Your Organisation Against Cyber Attacks

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Last week, the Australia Government announced that they have been monitoring persistent and increasing volumes of cyber-attacks by a foreign state-based actor on both government and private sector businesses. The Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) reported that most of the attacks make use of existing open-source tools and packages, which ACSC has dubbed as “copy-paste compromises”. The attackers are also using other methods to exploit such as spear phishing, sending malicious files and using various websites to harvest passwords and more, to exploit systems.
Cybercrime has been escalating in other parts of the world as well. The World Health Organisation (WHO) witnessed a dramatic increase in cyber-attacks directed with scammers impersonating WHO personnel’s official emails targeting the public. The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) in the UK alerted the country’s educational institutions and scientific facilities on increased cyber-attacks attempting to steal research associated with the coronavirus. Earlier this month, the Singapore Computer Emergency Response Team (SingCERT) issued an advisory on potential phishing campaigns targeting six countries, including Singapore that exploit government support initiatives for businesses and individuals in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.
Such announcements are a timely reminder to government agencies and private organisations to implement the right cybersecurity measures against the backdrop of an increased attack surface. These cyber attacks can have business impacts such as theft of business data and destruction or impairment to financial data, creating extended business interruptions. The ramifications can be far-reaching including financial and reputational loss, compliance breaches and potentially even legal action.

A Rise in Spear-Phishing

In Australia, we’re seeing attackers targeting internet-facing infrastructure relating to vulnerabilities in Citrix, Windows IIS web server, Microsoft Sharepoint, and Telerik UI.
Where these attacks fail, they are moving to spear-phishing attacks. Spear phishing is most commonly an email or SMS scam targeted towards a specific individual or organisation but can be delivered to a target via any number of electronic communication mediums. In the spear-phishing emails, the attacker attaches files or includes links to a variety of destinations that include:

  • Credential harvesting sites. These genuine-looking but fake web sites prompt targets to enter username and password. Once the gullible target provides the credentials, these are then stored in the attackers’ database and are used to launch credential-based attacks against the organisation’s IT infrastructure and applications.
  • Malicious files. These file attachments to emails look legitimate but once downloaded, they execute a malicious malware on the target device. Common file types are .doc, .docx, .xls, .xlsx, .ppt, .pptx, .jpg, .jpeg, .gif, .mpg, .mp4, .wav
  • OAuth Token Theft. OAuth is commonly used on the internet to authenticate a user to a wide variety of other platforms. This attack technique uses OAuth tokens generated by a platform and shares with other platforms. An example of this is a website that asks users to authenticate using their Facebook or Google accounts in order to use its own services. Faulty implementation of OAuth renders such integration to cyber-attacks.
  • Link Shimming. The technique includes using email tracking services to launch an attack. The attackers send fake emails with valid looking links and images inside, using email tracking services. Once the user receives the email, it tracks the actions related to opening the email and clicking on the links. Such tracking services can reveal when the email was opened, location data, device used, links clicked, and IP addresses used. The links once clicked-on, can in- turn, lead to malicious software being stealthily downloaded on the target system and/or luring the user for credential harvesting.

How do you safeguard against Cyber-Attacks?

The most common vectors for such cyber-attacks are lack of user awareness AND/OR exploitable internet-facing systems and applications. Unpatched or out-of-support internet-facing systems, application or system misconfiguration, inadequate or poorly maintained device security controls and weak threat detection and response programs, compound the threat to your organisation.
Governments across the world are coming up with advisories and guidelines to spread cybersecurity awareness and prevent threats and attacks. ACSC’s Australian Signals Directorates ‘Essential 8’ are effective mitigations for a large majority of present-day attacks. There were also guidelines published earlier this year, specifically with the COVID-19 crisis in mind. The Cyber Security Agency in Singapore (CSA) promotes the ‘Go Safe Online’ campaign that provides regular guidance and best practices on cybersecurity measures.
Ecosystm’s ongoing “Digital Priorities in the New Normal” study evaluates the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on organisations, and how digital priorities are being initiated or aligned to adapt to the New Normal that has emerged. 41% of organisations in Asia Pacific re-evaluated cybersecurity risks and measures, in the wake of the pandemic. Identity & Access Management (IDAM), Data Security and Threat Analytics & Intelligence saw increased investments in many organisations in the region (Figure 1).Investments in Cybersecurity
However, technology implementation has to be backed by a rigorous process that constantly evaluates the organisation’s risk positions. The following preventive measures will help you address the risks to your organisation:

  • Conduct regular user awareness training on common cyber threats
  • Conduct regular phishing tests to check user awareness level
  • Patch the internet-facing products as recommended by their vendors
  • Establish baseline security standards for applications and systems
  • Apply multi-factor authentication to access critical applications and systems – especially internet-facing and SaaS products widely used in the organisation like O365
  • Follow regular vulnerability scanning and remediation regimes
  • Conduct regular penetration testing on internet-facing applications and systems
  • Apply security settings on endpoints and internet gateways that disallow download and execution of files from unfamiliar sources
  • Maintain an active threat detection and response program that provides for intrusion detection, integrity checks, user and system behaviour monitoring and tools to maintain visibility of potential attacks and incidents – e.g Security Information & Event Monitoring (SIEM) tools
  • Consider managed services such as Managed Threat Detection and Response delivered via security operations (SOC)
  • Maintain a robust incident management program that is reviewed and tested at least annually
  • Maintain a comprehensive backup regime – especially for critical data – including offsite/offline backups, and regular testing of backups for data integrity
  • Restrict and monitor the usage of administrative credentials

 


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Tech Spotlight for May – Cybersecurity

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In his blog, The Cybercrime Pandemic, Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Andrew Milroy says, “Remote working has reached unprecedented levels as organisations try hard to keep going. This is massively expanding the attack surface for cybercriminals, weakening security and leading to a cybercrime pandemic. Hacking activity and phishing, inspired by the COVID-19 crisis, are growing rapidly.” Remote working has seen an increase in adoption of cloud applications and collaborative tools, and organisations and governments are having to re-think their risk management programs.

We are seeing the market respond to this need and May saw initiatives from governments and enterprises on strengthening risk management practices and standards. Tech vendors have also stepped up their game, strengthening their Cybersecurity offerings.

Market Consolidation through M&As Continues

The Cybersecurity market is extremely fragmented and is ripe for consolidation. The last couple of years has seen some consolidation of the market, especially through acquisitions by larger platform players (wishing to provide an end-to-end solution) and private equity firms (who have a better view of the Cybersecurity start-up ecosystem). Cybersecurity providers continue to acquire niche providers to strengthen their end-to-end offering and respond to market requirements.

As organisations cope with remote working, network security, threat identification and identity and access management are becoming important. CyberArk acquired Identity as a Service provider Idaptive to work on an AI-based identity solution. The acquisition expands its identity management offerings across hybrid and multi-cloud environments. Quick Heal invested in Singapore-based Ray, a start-up specialising in next-gen wireless and network technology. This would benefit Quick Heal in building a safe, secure, and seamless digital experience for users. This investment also shows Quick Heal’s strategy of investing in disruptive technologies to maintain its market presence and to develop a full-fledged integrated solution beneficial for its users.

Another interesting deal was Venafi acquiring Jetstack.  Jetstack’s open-source Kubernetes certificate manager controller – cert-manager – with a thriving developer community of over 200 contributors, has been used by many global organisations as the go-to tool for using certificates in the Kubernetes space. The community has provided feedback through design discussion, user experience reports, code and documentation contributions as well as serving as a source for free community support. The partnership will see Venafi’s Machine Identity Protection having cloud-native capabilities.   The deal came a day after VMware announced its intent to acquire Octarine to extend VMware’s Intrinsic Security Capabilities for Containers and Kubernetes and integrate Octarine’s technology to VMware’s Carbon Black, a security company which VMware bought last year.

Cybersecurity vendors are not the only ones that are acquiring niche Cybersecurity providers. In the wake of a rapid increase in user base and a surge in traffic, that exposed it to cyber-attacks (including the ‘zoombombing’ incidents), Zoom acquired secure messaging service Keybase, a secure messaging and file-sharing service to enhance their security and to build end-to-end encryption capability to strengthen their overall security posture.

Governments actively working on their Cyber Standards

Governments are forging ahead with digital transformation, providing better citizen services and better protection of citizen data.  This has been especially important in the way they have had to manage the COVID-19 crisis – introducing restrictions fast, keeping citizens in the loop and often accessing citizens’ health and location data to contain the disaster. Various security guidelines and initiatives were announced by governments across the globe, to ensure that citizen data was being managed and used securely and to instil trust in citizens so that they would be willing to share their data.

Singapore, following its Smart Nation initiative, introduced a set of enhanced data security measures for public sector. There have been a few high-profile data breaches (especially in the public healthcare sector) in the last couple of years and the Government rolled out a common security framework for public agencies and their officials making them all accountable to a common code of practice. Measures include clarifying the roles and responsibilities of public officers involved in managing data security, and mandating that top public sector leadership be accountable for creating a strong organisational data security regime. The Government has also empowered citizens to raise a flag against unauthorised data disclosures through a simple incident report form available on Singapore’s Smart Nation Website.

Australia is also ramping up measures to protect the public sector and the country’s data against threats and breaches by issuing guidelines to Australia’s critical infrastructure providers from cyber-attacks. The Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) especially aims key employees working in services such as power and water distribution networks, and transport and communications grids. In the US agencies such as the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the Department of Energy (DOE) have issued guidelines on safeguarding the country’s critical infrastructure. Similarly, UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) issued cybersecurity best practices for Industrial Control Systems (ICS).

Cyber Awareness emerges as the need of the hour

While governments will continue to strengthen their Cybersecurity standards, the truth is Cybersecurity breaches often happen because of employee actions – sometimes deliberate, but often out of unawareness of the risks. As remote working becomes a norm for more organisations, there is a need for greater awareness amongst employees and Cybersecurity caution should become part of the organisational culture.

Comtech received a US$8.4 million in additional orders from the US Federal Government for a Joint Cyber Analysis Course. The company has been providing cyber-training to government agencies in the communications sector. Another public-private partnership to raise awareness on Cybersecurity announced in May was the MoU between Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) and Capgemini Netherlands. With this MoU, Capgemini and Europol are collaborating on activities such as the development of cyber simulation exercises, capacity building, and prevention and awareness campaigns. They are also partnered on a No More Ransomware project by National High Tech Crime Unit of the Netherlands’ Police, Kaspersky and McAfee to help victims fight against ransomware threats.

The Industry continues to gear up for the Future

Technology providers, including Cybersecurity vendors, continue to evolve their offerings and several innovations were reported in May. Futuristic initiatives such as these show that technology vendors are aware of the acute need to build AI-based cyber solutions to stay ahead of cybercriminals.

Samsung introduced a new secure element (SE) Cybersecurity chip to protect mobile devices against security threats. The chip received an Evaluation Assurance Level (EAL) 6+ certification from CC EAL – a technology security evaluation agency which certifies IT products security on a scale of EAL0 to EAL7. Further applications of the chip could include securing e-passports, crypto hardware wallets and mobile devices based on standalone hardware-level security. Samsung also introduced a new smartphone in which Samsung is using a chipset from SK Telecom with quantum-crypto technology. This involves Quantum Random Number Generator (QRNG) to enhance the security of applications and services instead of using normal random number generators. The technology uses LED and CMOS sensor to capture quantum randomness and produce unpredictable strings and patterns which are difficult to hack. This is in line with what we are seeing in the findings of an Ecosystm business pulse study to gauge how organisations are prioritising their IT investments to adapt to the New Normal. 36% of organisations in the Asia Pacific region invested significantly in Mobile Security is a response to the COVID-19 crisis.

The same study reveals that nearly 40% of organisations in the region have also increased investments in Threat Analysis & Intelligence. At the Southern Methodist University in Texas, engineers at Darwin Deason Institute for Cybersecurity have created a software to detect and prevent ransomware threats before they can occur. Their detection method known as sensor-based ransomware detection can even spot new ransomware attacks and terminates the encryption process without relying on the signature of past infections. The university has filed a patent for this technique with the US Patent and Trademark Office.

Microsoft and Intel are working on a project called STAMINA (static malware-as-image network analysis). The project involves a new deep learning approach that converts malware into grayscale images to scan the text and structural patterns specific to malware. This works by converting a file’s binary form into a stream of raw pixel data (1D) which is later converted into a photo (2D) to feed into image analysis algorithms based on a pre-trained deep neural network to scan and classify images as clean or infected.

 


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Singapore’s first 5G Industry 4.0 trial

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Manufacturing is estimated to account for a fifth of Singapore’s GDP and is one of its growth pillars. Singapore has been talking about re-inventing the Manufacturing industry since 2017, when the Industry 4.0 initiatives to enable digitalisation and process automation of processes and to ensure global competitiveness were first launched. As part of the long-term strategy, the Government had spoken about investment into research and development (R&D) projects, developing transformation roadmaps and strengthening the skill sets of the workforce.

Singapore’s 5G Rollout

Last month, the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) announced that Singtel and JVCo (formed by Starhub and M1) has won the 5G Call for Proposal. They will be required to provide coverage for at least half of Singapore by end-2022, scaling up to nationwide coverage by end 2025. While Singtel and JVCo will be allocated radio frequency spectrum to deploy nationwide 5G networks, other mobile operators, including MVNOs, can access these network services through a wholesale arrangement. The networks will also be supplemented by localised mmWave deployments that will provide high capacity 5G hotspots.

In October 2019, IMDA and the National Research Foundation had set aside $40 million to support 5G trials in strategic sectors such as maritime, aviation, smart estates, consumer applications, Industry 4.0 and government applications. Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Jannat Maqbool says, “Reach, performance and robustness of connectivity and devices have long held back the ability to scale with the IoT as well as successful deployment of some solutions altogether. The integration of 5G with IoT has the potential to change that immensely. However, and possibly even more importantly, 5G will see the emergence of a true ‘Internet’, defined as ‘interconnected networks using standardised communication protocols’, made up of ‘things’ enabling never-before contemplated innovation – supporting economic development and community well-being.”

“While 5G offers enormous potential to produce economic and social benefits, to reach that potential we need to evaluate from a strategic perspective what it could mean for industries, employers and communities – then we need to invest in the infrastructure, innovation and associated development required to leverage the technology.”

Singapore’s Industry 4.0 Transformation

The Government is also focused on getting the industry ready for the transformation that 5G will bring. Last week, Singapore announced its first Industry 4.0 trial, where IMDA collaborates with IBM, M1 and Samsung to design, develop, test and benchmark 5G-enabled Industry 4.0 solutions that can be applied across various industries. The trials will begin at IBM’s facility in Singapore and involve open source infrastructure solutions from Red Hat to test Industry 4.0 use cases.

The project will test 5G-enabled use cases for Manufacturing, focusing on areas such as automated visual inspection using image recognition and video analytics, equipment monitoring and predictive maintenance, and the use of AR in increasing productivity and quality. The focus is also on leveraging 5G to reduce the cost of processing, by shifting the load from the edge device to centralised systems.

Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Kaushik Ghatak says, “For some time now, the Singapore Manufacturing industry has been in the quest for higher productivity in order to regain its foothold as a destination of choice for global manufacturing outsourcing. The 5G Industry 4.0 trial is a great initiative to fast-track identification and adoption of the right use cases in Manufacturing, in the areas of automation, visibility, analytics, as well as for opening new revenue streams through servitisation of smart products.”

5G will see increased collaboration in the Tech industry

With the advent of 5G, the market will see more collaboration between government agencies, telecom providers and cloud platform providers and network equipment providers. Governments globally have invested in 5G and so have the network and communications equipment providers. However, telecom providers are unsure of how to monetise 5G and cater to the shift in their customer profile from consumers to enterprises. IBM and Samsung had already announced the launch of a joint platform in late 2019. Collaborations such as these will be key to widespread 5G deployment and uptake.

Talking about the benefits of collaborative efforts such as this, Maqbool says, “Robustness and security built into 5G deployment from the outset is essential to enable the applications and innovation that many are promising the technology will deliver, including the ability to self-scale, automate fault management and support edge processing.”

It is interesting that the solutions developed will be featured at IBM’s Industry 4.0 Studio 5G Solutions Showcase, and that IBM and Samsung will evaluate successful solutions developed during the project for possible use in their operations in a broad range of markets and sectors. “Availability of proven use cases at IBM’s Solutions Showcase centre would benefit local manufactures greatly; in terms of easy access to right skills and proven technology architectures,” says Ghatak.  “This initiative is a huge step towards realising the promise of the cyber physical world. The collaboration between the leaders in communications, equipment and software will ensure that the use case development is truly cutting edge.”

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Survive to Thrive: How the Right Technologies can keep you Engaged with your Employees

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As we get into the second month of Circuit Breaker here in Singapore and most people are working from home, we are hearing a lot more about the difficulties that organisations and individuals have faced when it comes to operating as a remote workforce – or what is commonly called working from home or “WFH”.

As the CEO of technology research and advisory platform, I am lucky to have some of the global experts and thought-leaders in remote working as part of our team. While it is not an easy ask of staff, and some find it harder than others, remote working is going to be an increasingly important component of our work lives in the future, and something we need to get right in order to “Survive to Thrive”.

People and Engagement

​Let’s face it – we are in a humanitarian crisis, foremost and the economic crisis is just a fallout of it. So impact on People has to be the number one consideration. Working from home can be a real culture shock. Gone is the ability to quickly speak to the colleague next to you, meet someone for lunch or even just have a discussion in the pantry. Taking away these social interactions can impact employee morale and therefore productivity. Putting an effort into team-building – as hard as it is to do remotely – is very important.

Groups on social messaging apps (outside of the work-related ones) can help rebuild that camaraderie and strengthen social bonds. Plan team-building exercises such as quizzes, virtual drinks, or even networking lunches that can be done remotely. Remember, the wellness of your teams is directly proportionate to the well-being of the business.

Process and Practice​

Working from home requires a different mindset to being in the office, and it is easy to get dragged into an endless cycle of emails and conference calls. This often means that the act of planning and discussing replaces the act of doing!

This is where good-practice from the pre-COVID-19 era becomes an essential practice right now. Note-taking, summarising discussions, and recapping roles and responsibilities for project execution becomes paramount. Documenting and tracking progress will have a positive impact on productivity and ensure that teams are focused on their collective and individual responsibilities.

While there are many applications that you may consider to manage and monitor projects, you may also want to explore appointing dedicated people whose role is to identify how processes have been affected by remote working, and how bottlenecks can be cleared with more effective use of collaboration software.

Technology to get Digital Ready

Teams need the applications to communicate and carry out their responsibilities diligently. Luckily, in the age of cloud computing, most organisations were able to quite easily transition to a work from home environment. Those that struggled were the companies that had not embraced digital and were not using any cloud-based software (for email, collaboration, bookkeeping, HR or CRM); or those that are mandated by strict compliance and cybersecurity measures that cannot be enforced in employees’ homes.

While many organisations were already using a variety of communication & collaboration solutions, in the new work from home setups, you may want to consider additional solutions to help you get through your current challenges. The good news is that many technology providers have made their offerings available for free trials during this period, so the financial outlay may be minimal or non-existent.

You should also not overlook the importance of cybersecurity at this time. Regulations around data privacy are still applicable, and home-networks are not as secure as enterprise networks. At the same time, social-engineering and phishing attacks are also on the rise. So be sure to provide regular updates to your teams with guidance on how they can help maintain the security of your data and networks.

 

In conclusion, as we come to terms with the current normal, and get a glimpse of what the future normal may look like; we continue to see the old adage that it’s people, process and technology – in that order – which will guide us through the current situation and set us up for continued success. While no one has a crystal ball, it is actions – how you interact with your colleagues and the processes you put in place – and not technology that will ultimately best position your organisation to thrive in the future.

 

As published in the tabla! (An SPH Publication)

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How Will COVID-19 Change the Telecom Industry?

5/5 (1)

5/5 (1)

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of the telecommunications industry which has now become the backbone of the new normal, both in a social and business sense. The last few months have seen a number of changes including more video usage, location of traffic and time of traffic. Network usage is on the rise and telecom carriers are prioritising on the resilience of their networks and the quality of services offered to their customers.

What goes up must come down

According to Speedtest, global mobile and broadband speeds have suffered as a result of the increase in traffic with speeds dropping in March 2020 for mobile to 30.47 Mbps (from 31.62 Mbps in February) and fixed broadband to 74.64 Mbps (from 75.41 Mbps in February). In Southeast Asia, only Singapore and Vietnam averaged mobile speeds of 54.37 Mbps and 33.97 Mbps respectively, exceeding the global average speeds. As for fixed broadband, Singapore ranked highest globally achieving 197.26 Mbps while Thailand and Malaysia clocked 149.95 Mbps and 79.86 Mbps respectively, trumping the global average speeds.

Southeast Asian carriers increase network efficiency and quality

Singapore. The country’s ICT regulator, Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), reported an increase in internet usage and its intentions to support telecom carriers in boosting network capacity to ensure essential services run smoothly. Priority will be given to high traffic and residential areas where a larger proportion of the population are working from home. The Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) reported that Singapore has at least 30 percent buffer in network capacity even during peak periods. Major TV operators Mediacorp, Singtel and Starhub have made more content available for free during this period. This may further impact network speeds as customers are consuming more content over wifi (on mobile apps) or over the fibre networks.

Thailand. Part of the country’s public assistance measures during the pandemic, include offering about 30 million mobile subscribers 10GB free data. The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) will also upgrade the speeds of fixed broadband to at least 100 Mbps which is expected to benefit 1.2 million household subscribers. Leading operator Advanced Info Service (AIS) recently announced that it has deployed 5G networks at hospitals to boost network capacity and speeds, and is deploying robots for telemedicine to empower the healthcare system to fight COVID-19.

Malaysia. Maxis and Telekom Malaysia (TM) reported a surge in traffic since the movement control order (MCO) was implemented by the Government on the 18th  March 2020. The MCO is expected to run at least until 28th April 2020. TM cited a 30 percent increase in usage attributed to the increase in traffic for streaming, online games and teleconferencing. Leading operators Maxis, Digi, Celcom and U Mobile have offered 1GB free data during the MCO period as part of the Government’s stimulus package. Maxis, TM, Digi and Celcom have also committed significant manpower to ensure that the networks are operating efficiently and to ensure customer support. Leading TV operator Astro has made all movie, news and cartoon networks available to all its customers until the 28th April 2020.

Social distancing fillip for video conferencing

The rise of social distancing has made us all seek new ways to connect, mainly through video chat. Video conferencing traffic is on the rise as it is the next best thing to face-to-face meetings. Microsoft Teams and Zoom have been big benefactors. The American Economic Institute (AEI) notes that Zoom hit some 200 million users daily from a daily average 10 million. Microsoft Teams added some 12 million registrations to a total of 44 million.

Many predict that the home working trend will continue in the recovery stage and beyond, due to improvements in the telecommunications infrastructure and impending rollout of 5G. It is also predicted that the commercial property sector is likely to suffer due to this trend. This period also highlights the critical importance of cybersecurity with increasing occurrences of hacking and fraud. Zoom is being forced to reinforce their privacy and security measures, as an example.

COVID-19 has changed the way we web

On the social front, many are also using video conferencing to communicate with friends and family. Operators relaxing and offering additional data has undoubtedly contributed to the increase in this usage too. Now that many are homebound, network traffic in residential areas are higher than ever. In the past, peak hours of traffic at homes were at night – this has changed with adults and children homebound. Adults are using video conferencing and more voice calls; while children are using elearning, playing games or streaming videos. The European Commission had asked Netflix and other streaming platforms to reduce streaming quality to standard definition (SD). Netflix has assured that it has the capability to manage levels of streaming quality in accordance with the networks quality requirement of individual countries.

Online gaming and video streaming have emerged as winners and have seen an increase in consumption in these times as they provide for entertainment for millions stuck at home. There is tremendous opportunity for both telecom operators and content providers to increase their number of services in this area. Netflix, YouTube, Microsoft Xbox and PlayStation are among the winners in this sector. YouTube provides for a primary news source and commentary on the epidemic for many. Netflix’s stocks are near an all-time high at present.

eCommerce boost for essentials goods and services

The eCommerce sector should see a major improvement in Southeast Asia as physical channels to market have reduced. Emerging economies such as Malaysia and Thailand should see an improvement in services and embrace eCommerce like their mature counterparts. Statista reports that the average Malaysian eCommerce shopper spent just US$159 and Thailand just US$100 on online consumer goods purchases in 2018, considerably lower than the global average of US$634. There is huge opportunity to provide for basic necessities such as online grocery, food and delivery of goods. As a consequence, contactless payment and the transport and logistics sector will be forced to adapt their business operations to ride this wave successfully. As eCommerce transactions diversify and increase in emerging markets, it will give telecom providers an opportunity to keep engaging with platform players.

 

 

Telecom carriers are likely to suffer financial losses due to the scale of the disruption COVID-19 has brought about. However, there are some positives takeaways from this period. The increase of network traffic and the changing patterns have driven carriers to better understand network traffic management. The sharp consumer and business onboarding as far as applications and digital services are concerned, has given the digital economy and 5G use cases a shot in the arm. This is likely to spur innovation in services including communications, eCommerce, payments, logistics and healthcare among others.

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Deep Tech: Now and in the Future

4.5/5 (2)

4.5/5 (2)

Deep Tech companies are aiming to transform the world through scientific, engineering and technological advances. As technology evolves, researchers are looking to apply engineering and technological advances in areas such as processing and computing architecture, semiconductors and electronics, materials science, vision and speech technologies, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, and so on – for the greater good. For example, finding a cure to a disease, developing new medical devices, sensors and analytics to help farmers increase yield, or developing clean energy solutions to reduce the environmental impact are some of the areas that Deep Tech is finding real-world applications.

Deep Tech Impacting Industries Today

There are several industries that are benefitting from Deep Tech innovations today. Here are only a few examples of Deep Tech innovations in some industries:

Healthcare

The combination of computational and biotechnology is accelerating the development of new cures, augmenting R&D and improving health outcomes. Deep Tech in healthcare has multiple applications from the manufacturing of affordable medical devices to redefining healthcare. Vibrosonic, has designed what they call a “contact lens for the ear” which can be directly placed on the eardrum. Unlike other hearing aids speakers are not used to transport sound through the ear canal but the eardrums are stimulated through electric impulses. A Singapore-based biotech company X Zell has patented a “liquid biopsy”- detecting cancer from a 10ml blood sample by measuring the presence of tumour-derived Circulating Endothelial Cells (tCEC) – which reduces the need for invasive cancer detection processes.

Food and Agriculture

Food crisis is a reality today with factors such as overpopulation, urbanisation, decreasing land per capita, extreme climates and so on impacting the food and agriculture industry immensely. Deep Tech companies are working to bring us sustainable food options and building climate resilience. Cell-based meat options are being researched globally, and companies such as foodtech start-up Shiok Meats is producing meat by harvesting cells from animals with a view to be environmentally friendly and to reduce the impact on biodiversity. In agriculture, Deep Tech companies are working on technologies to develop better farming methods to improve yield and precision sensors for weather forecasting. Examples such as UbiQD, that has worked on a greenhouse quantum dot film that improves crop quality by optimising sunlight spectrum for plants to improve production, show how Deep Tech will continue to transform the industry.

Environment and Energy

Deep Tech continues to come up with solutions that will help us in climate change mitigation, development of sustainable energy and energy efficiency. Innovations include Carbon Upcycling Technologies’ solution to capture and neutralise carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide-enriched nanoparticles are used to make commercial construction materials and even consumer products such as jewellery. Celadyne Technologies has developed hydrogen fuel cells and electrolysers with nanocomposite membranes for a more efficient, cost-effective and eco-friendly energy source.

Advanced Computing

As technology evolves, there will be a need to support even greater compute and data-intensive tasks.  Deep Tech has impacted and will continue to impact advanced computing. The semiconductor and microchip industry is getting disrupted by cutting-edge global research, many by the top universities. MIT, for example, has developed a process called “remote epitaxy” to manufacture flexible chips. Potential use cases include VR-enabled contact lenses, electronic fabrics that respond to the weather, and other flexible electronics. Atom Computing is working on scalable quantum computing that will be able to scale millions of qubits using individual atoms – without scaling up the physical resources – in a single architecture.

Communication and Security

Communication and connectivity have seen a sea change in the last decade. As we wait for 5G to take off, this industry has become a playground for inventions. Aircision, is working on making 5G more accessible using its laser-based communications technology. The technology is developed to enable high-bandwidth communication and beam data between buildings thus aiming to eliminate the need for optical fibre installations and microwave. Another area that will keep getting a lot of attention from Deep Tech firms is communication security. Speqtral is working on space-based quantum networks to deliver secure encryption keys.

Examples such as these are an indication that Deep Tech is a reality today and has the potential to disrupt several industries and impact the lives of millions.

Where is Deep Tech Headed?

Government Interest in Deep Tech

Since Deep Tech is aimed at leveraging technology and engineering for sustainability and greater good, several countries are promoting Deep Tech R&D and initiatives. From emerging to mature economies, governments are supporting their Deep Tech industry. The New Zealand  Government has formed a Deep Tech Incubator program. The program is headed by the Government’s innovation agency to help Deep Tech companies and to create new tech jobs.

Singapore has created a strong Deep Tech ecosystem leveraging the funding ecosystem, the presence of global corporations, research and higher learning organisations and the Government that promotes innovation and entrepreneurship. Agencies such as SGInnovate and Enterprise Singapore are working with Deep Tech startups in advanced manufacturing, urban solutions and sustainability, and healthcare and biomedical sciences. Partnerships between universities, industry bodies and research organisations further fuel this ecosystem – the Critical Analytics for Manufacturing Personalised-Medicine (CAMP) is a partnership between Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) and A*STAR for cell therapy manufacturing. The Government also funds and incentivises Deep Tech startups. The 2020 budget announced additional funding to support Deep Tech companies under the Start-up SG Equity scheme.

As global governments get serious about the quality of their citizens’ lives and sustainability goals, they will invest in Deep Tech research.

Challenges of the Deep Tech Industry

While Deep Tech has enormous potential, mainstream adoption is still some way off. There are some unique challenges that the industry faces today. Future uptake will depend heavily on how fast the industry can circumvent these challenges. The key challenges are:

  • Securing Finances. Despite initiatives by several global governments, Deep Tech projects often find it difficult to secure funding. Very often the research duration can stretch without any real guarantee of success. Funding is likelier to go to organisations developing consumer products as the ROI are seen earlier and are easier to quantify, especially in the early stages.
  • Identifying Market Opportunities. Researchers who develop Deep Tech solutions and products might not be able to identify opportunities to present their development from a marketing as well as an economic perspective. Very often these companies rely on other channels or third-party services for a proper marketing and planning strategy. This is where working with incubators or government bodies becomes crucial – countries that give that opportunity through a well-defined ecosystem, will lead the Deep Tech revolution.
  • Scalable Development. Many Deep Tech innovations get stuck at the proof-of-concept stage – not because they are not innovative enough, but because they are not scalable to mass production. That requires the right infrastructure as well as a deep understanding of how the products and services can be commercialised.

 

There are several global companies trying to disrupt entire industries with their inventive offerings. We are witnessing some novel innovations in autonomous vehicles, foodtech, computer vision, AI, weather predictions, Clean Energy solutions  – the list continues – that we will benefit from in the future.

Let us know which Deep Tech companies have impressed you in the comments below.

 


For more about Deep Tech and enabling technologies, please visit Ecosystm TV.
SGInnovate and Ecosystm Event, ‘Looking into 2020 – Opportunities in Deep Tech’


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SMEs in Singapore Adopting Digital Solutions according to UOB Survey

5/5 (1)

5/5 (1)

Singapore maintains its competitiveness through strong Government support and an environment that encourages trade and investments. The economy sees a huge contribution from start-ups and small and medium enterprises (SMEs), which receives financial incentives and technology guidance from the Government.

The success of SMEs in Singapore is at the core of national economic growth with approximately 261,000 SMEs contributing to nearly 50% of the country’s GDP.

A survey conducted by United Overseas Bank (UOB) in November 2019 illustrates that SMEs in Singapore are focusing on boosting productivity as they grapple with macro-economic and socio-political uncertainties this year. The UOB survey included 615 local SMEs with a revenue of less than S$100 million. Nearly half of the SMEs surveyed have a  positive outlook for their business in 2020, while nearly a third are not so optimistic about it.

While cost reduction and new streams of revenue generation are top business priorities, more than half of the SMEs polled, mentioned increasing productivity as their top priority. Technology adoption has often been linked to an increase in productivity. SMEs in Singapore appear to be on the right track as currently 65% use digital solutions, mostly geared towards accounting, HR and customer relationship management. Digitalisation involves a widespread adoption of cloud and automation solutions. If we look at the key drivers of cloud adoption across all global organisations (Figure 2), we find that optimisation and productivity are key incentives.

Interestingly, the UOB survey also finds that more than half of SMEs in Singapore have sustainability goals. Resource optimisation and energy efficiency will also see higher adoption of technology in the future.

 

Government Initiatives Empowering SMEs

Government agencies and industry bodies have always been proactive in empowering SMEs with technological knowledge. There are various programs and initiatives to promote digitalisation, which have made Singapore SMEs competitive at a global level.

The Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) is helping Singapore SMEs to scale and improve their digital capabilities, expand their network and go global through collaboration with multinational companies (MNCs). The SMEs Go Digital program launched in 2017, has seen an estimated 4,000 SMEs adopting pre-approved digital solutions.

Several organisations in Singapore – such as A*Star and Enterprise Singapore – have targeted programs for the SME community. One of the key challenges for SMEs that impacts their ability to invest in technology is a lack of internal IT skills. Initiatives such as the Technology Adoption Programme (TAP) recognise this and bring in multiple industry and technology stakeholders to translate new technologies into Ready-to-Go (RTG) solutions, aimed at SMEs.

Apart from technology, access to financing is a key factor that determines the success of an SME and remains a key focus of Singapore’s banking and financial sector. The digital wholesale licenses are also aimed at SME financing, especially targeting those that are unable to procure funds from traditional sources.

 

Technologies Enabling Digitalisation in Singapore SMEs

Cloud

As mentioned earlier, cloud is the key enabler of digitalisation, giving organisations the ability to access solutions anywhere and anytime. Ecosystm research shows that 80% of SMEs in Singapore use an IaaS solution, while more than 75% use a SaaS solution.

There are programs that boost cloud adoption in Singapore SMEs as well. As an example, SMECEN, developed by the Association of Small & Medium Enterprises (ASME), and supported by Enterprise Singapore, Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) and Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS) is a SaaS solution with accounting, HR and compliance modules – integration with other business tools is on the cards.

AI/Automation

Digitalisation will eventually involve investments in Automation and AI.  For Singapore, AI is a key technology as it continues to focus on IoT, smart buildings, smart electricity, autonomous electric vehicles and other smart city solutions. The Government is working to open up access to data and AI tools so everyone can experiment. It especially wants to encourage SMEs to adopt AI and work on government use cases.

Singapore SMEs are ramping up their AI investments, especially in IoT sensor analytics (27%), machine learning (21%) and robotic process automation (16%), according to the Ecosystm AI study. Their key short-term drivers are insights into the competition and enhanced internal process monitoring. However, in the longer term, they are looking at cost reduction and better profit margins.

Fintech

According to an OCBC survey in 2018, which polled 200 such companies, two-thirds of SMEs in Singapore are likely to go cashless by 2023. It is estimated that over 75% of Fintech transactions in Singapore are digital payments and it receives over a quarter of Fintech funding. Government initiatives such as FAST and SGQR, have opened up digital payment options for consumer use as well as for SMEs.

However, the UOB survey notes some concerns that SMEs have over digital payments adoption, including customer/supplier acceptance and security. This is an encouraging sign, which indicates that SMEs are not just adopting technology because of the hype – but are evaluating the pros and cons of tech adoption before embarking on a digitalisation project.


By creating a free account on the Ecosystm platform SMEs can benchmark their tech priorities and investments against their country, industry and global peers.

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