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Leading Singapore on growth path

Vincent Hoong
Chief Executive
Singapore Land Authority

From a tiny dot with barely any natural resources, Singapore has catapulted itself from Third World to First World in just one generation. Among other things, it is now the world's top logistics hub, fifth largest foreign exchange trading centre, third largest oil-refining centre, one of SouthEast Asia (SEA)'s main financial services and investment hubs.

It is also a major Asia and transportation hub, and an aviation hub for SEA. In this special edition, we focus on how Singapore is broadening its technological capacities vis-àvis the geospatial arena, in order to remain relevant in the new world order and the directions it is seeking to thrive in the growing geospatial industry.

Singapore Land Authority (SLA) is a statutory board under the Ministry of Law. With a vision to be a worldclass land authority, SLA's mission is to optimise land resources for the economic and social development of Singapore. Globally, more than one-third of government spending and revenue are into the geospatial market and the market is growing at an annual rate of 35%, with the commercial sector of this market expanding at the rate of 100%. Singapore and Singapore Land Authority intend to harness the potential growth and benefits of applications brought about by this geospatial explosion.

Use of GIS in government agencies
In the 1990s, many Singapore government agencies had begun moving away from manual paper records towards using Geographic Information Systems (GIS). The benefits were countless – enhanced data quality, user-friendly systems, building of knowledge repositories that can be shared and passed down the years, not to mention the saving of tonnes of paper required for manual paper filing. More importantly, the use of GIS allowed consistent and faster analysis of spatial data that is important for policy and decision-making.

For example, base reference maps are being used by agencies like National Environment Agency (NEA) for address points to help in outbreak management, while Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and Land Transport Authority (LTA) use land ownership data in their planning.

GIS in Land Maintenance
SLA is responsible for the administration and management of State land and properties. As the State agent of about 14,000 hectares of State land and 5,000 State properties, SLA is one of the heaviest users of geospatial information and technologies in its daily operations in the public sector. SLA tackles complicated day-to-day land management issues that require fast response time and careful analysis of the problems. Issues like soil erosion, overgrown vegetation, dengue-control and even landslide-prevention are part and parcel of a day's work. To deal with these increasingly complex issues, SLA piloted the use of mobile GIS and GPS in its daily land management operations. SLA's land management officers are all equipped with PDAs that are installed with ArcPad software. These PDAs allow the officers to display, capture and analyse 10 layers of geographically referenced information like land ownership, land boundaries and maintenance-related issues.

Eradicating inaccuracies and duplication in data collection, ground officers build and share a reliable common knowledge repository. These trend studies of spatial data captured onsite help detect, pre-empt and prevent incidents like landslides on State land. With less time spent in the field, officers devote more time to data analysis and management of contractors' performance. This also allows SLA to play a proactive role in land management in detecting problem areas before they become issues to the public.

In a first of its kind, SLA piloted the use of GIS and statistical tools to identify locations in Singapore prone to slope failure. This project uses GIS-based coincidence modelling to prepare a Slopes Susceptibility Map (SSM) for spatial analysis. It allows preventive measures to be put in place to minimise damages and dangers and provides a longer-term solution to manage the risk of slope failure on State land.

Other applications of GIS by SLA
For a long time now, SLA has also been using GIS to maintain sound land asset and survey records. It is very basic and elementary. GIS is used to maintain a centralised land data exchange system that is used by various government agencies. As a leading GIS agency in the Singapore public sector, SLA has begun to leverage on GIS even more. In November 2006, SLA rolled out a GIS application that is more than just an online street map. In that online service, members of the public can select any piece of land on the street map and seek basic information pertaining to its ownership.

If it is land belonging to a particular public agency, an email and a map of the subject land information can be conveniently generated for correspondence. In essence, members of the public can direct the attention of relevant public agency to an issue at a specific location with ease. This is called LandQuery and is found at www.map.gov.sg. This apart, [email protected] is another pioneering service that map.gov.sg started. Since their launch in November 2006, the services have garnered more than 70 million hits per month. SLA has also received about 300 public feedback and suggestions on these two free map services and has incorporated a number of new features and enhancements.

The maps are updated more frequently to ensure that users get the most up-to date information. On an average, each month, SLA's digital maps capture more than 300 changes made to buildings, roads, addresses and other features. The [email protected] Coverage Map Service, for example, utilises the mapping information of SLA and presents additional information on free wireless connection hotspots provided by Infocomm Development Authority (IDA). By using the search key, for example a building name, users will be able to locate any of the 5000 [email protected] SG hotspots island wide on a single map. Users will even be able to know the particular establishment that offer the free wireless connection.

These apart, SLA had since added three more services on the portal to make it more comprehensive and informative. These three services are built on SLA base maps, with the most comprehensive attributes and latest updates.

Positioning Singapore for the future
As the national land survey authority, SLA also positions Singapore for the future by managing and maintaining the national land survey system under the coordinated cadastre system (SVY21) and the Singapore Satellite Positioning Reference Network* (SiReNT) that supports differential GPS.

SiReNT was launched in 2006, ushering in a new era of high-precision positioning and navigation in Singapore. SiReNT is a nation-wide GPS reference station network infrastructure to support various positioning businesses and industries. The system consists of five reference stations connected to a data control centre. The multi-purpose high-precision positioning infrastructure provides real-time DGPS data and services and supports all types of GPS positioning formats and modes. Under DGPS, the margin of error in determining the locations of objects can be as low as 0.5 m, as compared to 5 to 10 m or more of GPS.

As a telematics (navigation and tracking) tool, SiReNT can provide positions with a margin error of just 1-3 m, as compared to 5-10m or more of GPS. The accuracy of its positioning is not compromised even under Singapore's urban canopy. In Singapore, getting GPS reception around built-up buildings like flats in residential areas, skyscrapers in the business district and shopping malls in shopping areas, can be a challenge, not to mention its accuracy. SiReNT can change all that by showing drivers the way accurately, whenever, wherever.

SiReNT for Telematics (Navigation and Tracking) SLA and InfoWave Pte Ltd worked together to produce first market- compatible prototype for high-accuracy navigation, tracking and fleet management. SLA and InfoWave intend to launch it to the logistic management and surveying market soon. The Mobile Data Terminal (MDT) leverages on the benefits of SiReNT to make high-accuracy navigation and tracking available to the public. Uncorrected GPS suffers severe multipath at best, and blind spots at its worst in the CBD area. DGPS and other augmentation like Dead Reckoning (DR) will improve navigation and tracking.

Since SiReNT has been launched, over 100 private surveyors, five public sector agencies have subscribed to it, with many more ready for trial tests with SLA. SiReNT ushers in a new era of high accuracy positioning and navigation in Singapore.

Two such public agencies which have since come aboard are SP PowerGrid, in managing and pinpoint positioning of sub-stations above ground, as well as power valves, cables and utilities underground for maintenance and repair. The other subscriber is LTA's Road Inventory Management System (RIMS). Using SiReNT, LTA can plan and maintain layers of their road inventory data like roads kerb lines, location of traffic signs, lamp posts and speed cameras islandwide. With this, the demand and expectation for efficient and higher accuracy surveying and positioning methods have increased in Singapore.

Chief Surveyor of Singapore, Soh Kheng Peng says, "SLA had set up the SiReNT system as a national infrastructure so that in the future, all Singaporeans will be able to enjoy the benefits of high-accuracy positioning system. We are glad that more agencies are beginning to see the benefits of SiReNT and adopting it in their work processes and hope that many more will soon follow suit."

SLA maps in every pocket
SLA worked with MapKing Pte Ltd to launch the SLA StreetMap Mobile, downloadable for free on any mobile device running on Windows Mobile Operating System. This mobile version of SLA's [email protected] gives Singaporeans access to SLA's free maps.

SLA StreetMap Mobile has similar functions with its online [email protected] at www.map.gov.sg, which peaked at 70 million hits. Anyone with a compatible mobile device can search for location maps using address, road name, postal code, building or development name on the move. Containing about 2,000 buildings, 4,200 named roads, and some 120,000 updated address points, the StreetMap Mobile is driven by the MapKing engine with a user-friendly interface.

SLA's Director of Land Asset Management Services Division and Land Information Centre, Ng Siau Yong said, "SLA StreetMap Mobile is another public service launched by SLA as the national mapping authority. We have provided this free and no-frills mobile version because we want to offer members of the public an additional means to access SLA's free maps on the move, especially when more and more Singaporeans own a mobile device nowadays."

Map software provider, MapKing (Singapore) Pte Ltd, has been given the licensing rights to put SLA base maps on Personal Navigation Device and Pocket PC devices. This is also the first time SLA maps are made available on mobile and navigation devices. SLA's Head of Land Information Centre, Lim Ming Khai said, "The purpose of this free map application is to allow public to have a set of SLA map on their mobile devices as well and make map data freely accessible to the public."

Promoting GIS in local schools
SLA has been facilitating the development of GIS and proliferating the use of GIS among schools. SLA is also working with the local Education Ministry to consider including GIS in school curriculum, as part of the teaching subject of geography. GIS is already a tool to be used in the teaching of 'A' level geography, though not mandatory. To encourage the use of GIS in schools, SLA started Spatial Challenge in 2008. The competition is organised for pre-university students, and encourages them to look at their community with a spatial perspective and propose location-based solutions. Through this Challenge, SLA hopes to provide pre-university students an opportunity to gain insights into the growing geospatial industry and the opportunities that it presents. Tertiary institutions such as National University of Singapore, National Technological University, Singapore Management University, Singapore Polytechnic, also participated in SLA Spatial Challenge 2009 by showcasing their in-house GIS projects.

SLA also opened applications for full-term and mid-term undergraduate scholarships to pursue spatial science related disciplines over three to four years, both locally and overseas such as in Australian universities. Apart from recruiting mid-career officers with GIS-related degrees and GIS work experiences, recruiting talents via the scholarship channel will enable SLA to attract more talents into SLA to develop and tap the fast-growing geospatial industry. Two such overseas universities which offer spatial science disciplines are New South Wales University and University of Melbourne. There is a four to six-year bond, consistent with public sector scholarship guidelines. The candidates undergo an internship with SLA at least once during the study period.

Singapore's geospatial story
Singapore's geospatial story started in the late 1980s, with the establishment of the Land Data Hub (LDH), spearheaded by SLA. LDH, the fore-runner of the national spatial data infrastructure, is a one-stop national repository of land data to facilitate sharing of data across the public sector. All spatial data are collated and presented in SLA's Land Information Network and clearinghouse, which was its LandNet system. Today, LandNet has 15 participating public agencies sharing more than 200 layers of geospatial information. Some of these land information was also bought on by SLA's Integrated Land Information System (INLIS), a one-stop land information portal, which provides all land and property ownership information.

SLA's award-winning LandNet is a web-based system that allows government agencies to access, view, upload and download land data directly from the Land Data Hub. With LandNet, it is now possible to view graphically multiple types and more than 200 layers of land data using a web browser without the need of a costly GIS. Agencies without GIS systems can also use LandNet for decision making.

Three Awards garnered by LandNet:
1.1Urban and Regional Information Systems Association Distinguished Systems 2008 Award in the Enterprise Systems category;
2.1the Government Technology 2008 Award in the Geographical Information System category;
3.1GIS Development's Geospatial Excellence 2008 Award.

Developing capabilities – SG-SPACE
The evolution of land information is taking shape in SLA where since April 2008, SLA has already begun development of a $12-million national spatial data infrastructure for whole-of-government, enterprises and communities at large. Over an evolving three-year master plan, key projects spanning government agencies and tapping shared geospatial data will change the way public sector makes policies, creates new knowledge, tackles crises and manages incidents. With land and authoritative land information as the strong foundation, SLA is well-poised to take on the leadership role in building and implementing a strong governance and culture of leveraging on geospatial information amongst public and private sectors. As geospatial industry in Singapore gains prominence, SLA has embarked on several geospatial initiatives to help support this fast-growing industry both within the public and private sectors. At the same time, it is also promoting the prolific use of GIS in day-to-day operations of the public sector, to increase efficiency and productivity through seamless workflows.

SLA and Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) are jointly leading whole-of-government efforts to develop a national spatial data infrastructure called Singapore Geospatial Collaborative Environment or SG-SPACE. SG-SPACE will facilitate greater sharing and use of geospatial information for both the government agencies and the private sector, investment in a geospatial information exchange system and a thriving geospatial information industry that uses advanced technology. This will not only reduce duplication of geospatial information collection, reduce administrative costs, reuse geospatial data in the public sector, but also offer potential for new business opportunities.

To facilitate sharing of spatial information from various sources within the public sector, the first step is to build the core GIS infrastructure. By next year, Singapore will have a clearinghouse that links up the four data hubs and various public agencies that supply key data.

Beyond data-sharing, SGSPACE aims to create a sustainable environment where data is interoperable, accessible and usable. This on-going effort will eventually extend to enterprises and citizens for value and knowledge creation. The infrastructure comprises the following components:

  • Geospatial information management policies and guidelines that enable sharing and innovative use of information
  • Fundamental datasets (e.g. addresses, administrative boundaries, road networks) to align other datasets
  • Institutional arrangement comprising decision making forums and working groups to sustain operation of SGSPACE
  • Technical and data content standards that allow data from multiple sources to be easily exchanged and integrated
  • An infrastructure to search and share geospatial information, i.e. the SG-SPACE Clearinghouse
  • Services and applications that are developed with the integration of data

The SG-SPACE framework is an integration of several components which will serve as the building blocks in realising the vision of SG-SPACE. The components of the SG-SPACE framework are:

The Institutional Framework comprises committees and work teams to carry out operational work. Each committee and work team have defined roles and responsibilities, which they report the progress of to an overseeing committee.

Currently, three technical committees are focussed on developing their respective areas of the SG-SPACE framework components such as the SG-SPACE clearinghouse applications and services, data standards documentation, as well as capacity building. A policy and governance team works in parallel to develop the policies which direct the operation of SG-SPACE activities.

Policy refers to a suite of best practices and policies which guide the operation of SG-SPACE through governance of data collection, data management, data access, data ownership, data utilisation and data dissemination. These policies are carefully crafted to harmonise with existing data governance policies whilst addressing data governance issues that are unique to geospatial data.

In addition to policy documents, we aim to develop initial protocols and guidelines for geospatial data, intended to guide the development of geospatial data and services in Singapore, and to ensure the smooth operation of SG-SPACE. Singapore recognises the impor- tance of having a core set of accurate and current geospatial data which can be immediately accessed and used for critical emergency readiness, public safety and security functions; therefore it is vital that data owners and data custodians who run various data hubs (i.e. people, business, land) in its public agencies are involved in the work to specify standards for these fundamental datasets, and ensure the availability of these as well.

The Clearinghouse is an online portal through which users can discover or search for geospatial datasets coming from multiple sources. It serves as one-stop access point for all government geospatial data. It also provides the common tools and service components as the building blocks for other customised applications.

Whilst the clearinghouse is being developed, a list of exiting datasets has been made accessible via the SGSPACE website, to give agencies an insight into the wealth of data already being collected and shared within the government. The intention is to allow those agencies who may have an immediate use for such data to leverage on this information which will enhance their decision making through the use of this data.

Applications and Services are the final outcome of SGSPACE which is visible and apparent to the stakeholders. These applications and services leverage on geospatial information for effective and efficient decision making, by enabling users to visualise data, perform analyses or even create mashups of different datasets.

As this nationwide initiative requires the active support of government agencies for all stakeholders to reap economies of scale from SG-SPACE capabilities, the successful implementation and sustainability of SG-SPACE hinges critically upon capacity building and active engagement with stakeholders.

SG-SPACE achieves these twin goals through outreach activities, which range from forum presentations to online engagement. SG-SPACE presents projects and initiatives which aim to build capacity amongst our stakeholders to leverage the capabilities offered by SG-SPACE. A top priority of SG-SPACE is to equip stakeholders with a working knowledge of the uses of geospatial information. SG-SPACE activists reach out to audiences at forums or meet agency representatives with presentations that give a holistic overview of what SG-SPACE is working to achieve. For one, SLA is reaching out to identified stakeholders through initiatives as the recently completed user needs assessment. The survey allowed SG-SPACE members and respondents alike to gain an insight into what geospatial capabilities are now available and the areas that require development for SG-SPACE.

Stakeholders are also engaged through the intranet SGSPACE website, which provides visitors with information about the SG-SPACE organisation and scope of work, geospatially-related events and news, as well as presentations and information. Through the website, visitors are engaged through understanding SG-SPACE activities, and even by trying out a demonstration web-GIS application to get a feel of how GIS can enhance their decision making.

An Intelligent One Map
The plan for SG-SPACE is to include the private sector and the community. SLA will seek to develop partnerships with the private sector in promoting the use of GIS and harnessing spatial information to create innovative products and services. To facilitate this, SLA is building an interactive and intelligent map system which will be rolled out early next year. SLA awarded the tender for the development of an intelligent map system. This brought SLA one step closer to its aim of creating a common and consistent map interface for government agencies and the public to build their own applications to support their operational and personal needs.

Using SLA's street maps as a base, SLA hopes to build more layers pinpointing parks, museums, hawker centres, libraries and government buildings, among others, to provide push-map accessibility to public services and facilities. With these information at their fingertips, locals and foreigners in Singapore, alike, will find it more convenient when planning their weekend activities or searching for public buildings.

In sum, this is a another government-wide initiative to give public and private sector a one-stop access to a wealth of government geospatial content from authoritative sources. It will be a launch-pad for government agencies to build their own map services using an API through which a common and consistent look-and-feel map interface can be created. It will also be the gateway for the private sector to tap on rich government content and mash it up with their own collection of spatial information to create services and to support enterprises' business needs. Besides presenting public sector information, this intelligent map system will allow businesses and users to mash up some of the public spatial information via convenient technical interfaces such as APIs.

Ng Siau Yong says, "In an increasingly connected world, there is an exponential increase and exchange of spatial data and information. SLA is working on creating an intelligent map system that gives the public access to essential government map services, so that they can experience rich information when searching for map services online. Eventually, we hope that everyone can discover a variety of information, like opening hours of a library, booking rates of a badminton court, or special events at the museums, all presented on an interactive map interface."