Assistant Editor, Geospatial World
Geospatial technology has played a significant role in Singapore’s march into the league of developed nations within a short span of time. Not content to rest on the achievements so far, Singapore is actively implementing the technology to secure its growth
The leading financial and business hub of South East Asia, the city-nation of Singapore has been successively rated as one of the most favoured destinations globally to work and live. That Singapore has achieved this feat in a remarkably short time since its independence in 1965 speaks volumes not just about the country’s vision and policies, but also the prudent use of technology in establishing the right infrastructure that makes the city a destination to be reckoned with.
THE GEOSPATIAL BEGINNING…
The geospatial journey of Singapore began by design rather than default, finding its genesis in land information management. The practice of sharing land information among the government agencies dates back to the 1980s. 1981 saw the launch of the Civil Service Computerisation Programme (CSCP) to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of public administration. CSCP saw the introduction of proprietary GIS systems into individual land-related government agencies.
It was during this time that the Singapore government noticed that with the newly acquired IT resources, agencies had started to migrate from tracing paper to digitised maps. However, a lack of integration and disparate electronisation efforts of the various land-related agencies resulted in duplication, inaccuracy and inconsistent land data across the Singapore public sector. Consequently, the government realised that the public administration could be greatly improved if data were treated as a corporate resource and shared across the civil service through a centralised data hub. This led to the conceptualisation of Land Data Hub (LDH).
Singapore is considered as one of the most open and competitive markets in the world. The 2011 World Bank Ease of Doing Business Index ranks Singapore as the best country in the world to do business – ahead of Hong Kong and New Zealand.Between the 1960s and the 1980s, the manufacturing industry attracted numerous multi-national companies and foreign direct investment into the country. This became the foundation for Singapore to grow into one of the most advanced and technologically driven economies in the world. According to the 2011 Index of Economic Freedom, Singapore is the 2nd freest economy in the world. Singapore’s business freedom score is exceptionally high – it takes three days to start a business in Singapore compared to the world’s average of thirty-four days.
Singapore’s economy staged a spectacular comeback in 2010. After contracting to 1.3 percent in 2009, GDP growth for 2010 is estimated to be nearly 15 percent.
Mature government framework
Singapore Land Authority (SLA), the national geospatial data agency of Singapore, is the front runner in the development and consumption of geospatial technology. The setting up Land Data Hub (LDH) gave impetus to the concept of data sharing which was further given thrust by the NSDI initiative, called Singapore Geospatial Collaborative Environment, or SG-SPACE, provides an infrastructure, mechanism and policies to allow convenient access to quality geospatial information in usable form across government agencies and the public. The architecture of SG-SPACE allows agencies to share data via the system without the need for each to have their own individual portal. The policy framework sets standards for data collection and sharing, with a central clearinghouse, and common tools and services.
Emphasis on ICT
For more than 30 years now, Singapore Government has tapped advances in information and communication technologies (ICT) to transform public administration and service delivery. It has launched several plans to enhance the nation’s economic competitiveness and ability to innovate using ICT, from the Civil Service Computerisation Programme in the 1980s, to the e-Government Action Plan I and II from 2000 to 2006. The Intelligent Nation 2015 (iN2015) is a 10-year master plan with the vision to build Singapore into “An intelligent nation, a global city, powered by infocomm.” Another plan is the Master plan 2011-2015 (or eGov 2015). Through this plan, the government aims to shift from a “government-to-you” approach to a “government-with-you” approach in its delivery of government electronic services (or e-services).
Land information is the biggest consumer of geospatial technology in Singapore and also the biggest input provider for the technology. Singapore Land Authority (SLA) optimises land resources, maintains the national title registry and land survey systems and promotes usage of geospatial information. SLA has developed many systems and infrastructure leveraging on cuttingedge geospatial technology.
Efficient industrial infrastructure development has been one of the key factors in establishing Singapore as a regional and global economic hub. Industrial infrastructure development in Singapore is spearheaded by JTC Corporation that extensively uses geospatial technology in planning, promotion and development of a dynamic industrial landscape.
JTC started using MapInfo as a land planning tool in 1995. In 2004, JTC launched a Web-based GIS (WGIS) using Esri ArcGIS to search for and analyse spatial information with greater efficiency, informs. WGIS has now been replaced with the new portal, GIS Dashboard.
Singapore’s national land use planning and conservation authority, Urban Redevelopment Authority, has been using GIS for land use planning since 1995 when it implemented the first GIS in URA called the Integrated Land Use System (ILUS), which was the first integrated GIS implemented in Singapore, informs Peter Quek Ser Hwee, Director, Information Systems, URA. In 2006, URA migrated ILUS to Integrated Planning and Land Use System (iPLAN). iPLAN is among the world’s first nationwide enterprise GIS for urban planning.
Providing affordable homes of quality and value has been integral to nation building in Singapore. Singapore aggressively leverages GIS in public housing, through its Housing and Development Board. As a repository for HDB with more than 100 map layers, HDB’s corporate GIS, Integrated Land Information System (ILIS) ensures that data is “captured once and used many times” and is sharable across the departments, says Loh Loon Tong, Director (Properties & Land), HDB.
With more than 80 percent of Singapore’s population living in HDB estates, the challenge for HDB is to strengthen the communication of clear, timely and authoritative information to the public in a cost-effective way. Web-GIS is set to play a bigger role within HDB’s enterprise GIS in meeting this challenge.
Land Transport Authority, being the main government agency for land transport developments in Singapore, in the course of building land transport infrastructure such as RTS lines and major expressways, amassed a wealth of information pertaining to the soil structures surrounding the structural foundations of land transport infrastructure projects. Goh Gin Howe, Deputy Director (IT Planning & Governance), LTA informs that the civil engineering domain utilises GIS technology to capture borehole information for soil analysis, planning of construction site excavation, foundation design and tunnel alignment. As safety is a primary objective of LTA in the planning, design, construction of land transport infrastructure, LTA has deployed GIS-related technology to this end. LTA has committed SGD 60 bn for its various infrastructure projects to improve land transportation in Singapore.
Electricity: SP PowerGrid, a member of Singapore Power Group, manages Singapore’s electricity and gas transmission and distribution networks. SP PowerGrid has embarked on next generation geospatial enterprise platform. The new platform will help SPPG in the management of daily operations for the Energy Utilities Network. In addition, SPPG will have improved access to outage information and incidents through intuitive user interfaces, and be able to continue to respond to and rectify outage incidents efficiently in the face of growing customer demands.
Water: Singapore’s national water agency, Public Utilities Board, is strengthening its water management system. The organisation has embarked on Intelligent Water Management System (IWMS). IWMS aims to enhance PUB’s capability to integrate real-time information on water resources in Singapore and manage water operations across the entire water supply, water catchment, used water and drainage systems more efficiently. Leveraging geospatial asset management system maps, the IWMS will visually display critical information including the location of water incidents such as damaged or leaking pipes.
The identification as a Garden City in the tropics is the X factor that has contributed to Singapore’s distinctiveness and competitive advantage. Singapore takes its green cover and recreational spaces very seriously and extensively uses geospatial technology to manage the same.
National Parks Board (NParks) is responsible for providing and enhancing the greenery of the city. Beyond green infrastructure, NParks is committed to enhancing the quality of life through creating memorable recreational experiences and lifestyles.
Other than the traditional users, a number of segments are realising the benefits of the technology. Food and veterinary sector is one such example. Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore, which works towards maintaining a safe and steady supply of food, as well as in nurturing the country’s flora and fauna, mainly uses GIS for disease control. Under the GIS initiative, AVA geo-references existing data of premises, establishment (such as animal establishments), and import/export information. AVA has also shared the developed GIS layer with other agencies, informs an AVA spokesperson.
Use of geospatial technology in the private sector, most notably amongst banking, real estate, insurance and finance, is on the rise. One of the key factors is the availability of data. Commercial data sets are now available through companies like Navteq, observes Bill Shepherd, Strategic Business Development, Esri Singapore. Climate change is another sector. Singapore is addressing issues concerning climate change impacts through an inter-agency technical group, led by the National Environmental Agency. The impact cuts across different sectors – land use, town planning, coastal and water resources management etc and the analysis calls for a lot of precise data. GIS acts as a platform to manage and analyse the cross-sector data, informs Lim Tian Kuay, Deputy Director, Climate Studies, Climate Change Programme Department, National Environment Agency.
Singapore is taking aggressive initiatives to spread awareness about geospatial technology and groom geospatial professionals. SLA is working with the Ministry of Education (MOE) in this direction. Basic GIS courses have been rolled out to the public. SLA is also conducting innovative contests to enhance interest and awareness about geography and GIS among school students.
Standardisation and data sharing
Singapore realised the benefits of standardisation early on and therefore data standardisation levels are fairly high in Singapore. Service providers feel that further standardisation of technology that would allow portability of data formats and data sets amongst various agencies and technology platforms would play a key role in the future utility of geospatial technology. Data sharing levels too are at advanced levels, however initiatives are on to further enhance data sharing.
Even though Singapore is home to a number of geospatial product and service providers, users feel that the GIS industry could do with more well-established market players. Current situation may leave clients with limited choices when selecting GIS products for their enterprise GIS platforms, opines a JTC spokesperson.
The early adoption of technology has been instrumental in helping Singapore achieve the status of a globally favoured destination that it enjoys today. Its compact size no doubt comes handy where issues like implementing initiatives and getting consensus on data sharing are concerned. But more than that, it is the concerted, ongoing efforts and initiatives to increase the usage of the technology that has helped the country achieve the status of a mature tech user.