Digital Globalization: Lessons New Zealand can learn from Singapore’s SmartNation initiative

In today’s context, whether a country is a developed one or developing nation, Digital globalization is an important part of the growth agenda. This post talks about digital globalization by taking references from Singapore’s SmartNation initiative. The blog post also touch down upon some areas hindering digital growth of New Zealand. There are also some ideas about how New Zealand can adopt best practices from Singapore’s SmartNation initiative and make use of digital transformation to aid better public services. In-depth discussion on the cutting edge digital transformation tools and technologies will be covered in subsequent blog posts.

Digital Globalization is an ongoing process where the world is increasing becoming interconnected as a result of exchange of goods, services, ideas, funds etc to name a few. According to critically acclaimed author Thomas Friedman’s book, The World Is Flat, he termed the current era as “Globalization 3.0”. He attributed it to the convergence of the personal computer, fiber-optic Internet connections and software. Truly all these factors have created a “flat-world platform” that allows small groups, businesses and individuals to go global. As rightly said by Thomas Friedman the world has shrunk from size “small” to size “tiny”.

The digital Globalization has paved way for success of many businesses and made it easy for them to capture international markets irrespective of geography, language or culture, for example aliexpress, bookdepository, Amazon, eBay to name a few. This has been possible because organisations can now locate and hire experts from the global labor pool and then connect with them remotely thereby allowing organisations to pay lower cost depending on the wages prevailing in that country. Having employees in different time zones in different countries help organisations to provide services 24 * 7.

As per McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) report New Zealand has been doing reasonably good with regards to digital globalization. But as compared with other small countries like Singapore, New Zealand still needs to tap in the full potential of the technology for improving public sector services in order to better connect and assimilate the countries resources.

According to broadband testing site Ookla, NZ ranks quite low in broadband speed and moreover broadband quality varies from city to city. We have lost out on many small businesses due to the broadband speed. Dunedin gaming developer Dean Hall, founder of gaming company Rocketwerkz and creator of DayZ, moved a multimillion-dollar project offshore because of broadband speed issues.

The public sector online services in New Zealand are not quite up-to the mark, as most of the websites are running on old infrastructures and there is a lack of in-house technology experts. A lot of websites are not designed keeping the maximum load abilities for coping in peak hours and news of low performing public system are quite common. For example in 2013 NCEA site was brought to near-standstill after results released due to high number of students trying to see their results and more recently the Work and Income New Zealand clients experienced delays as a new IT system failed to handle the amount of users. Public sector agencies also hold duplicate records leading to inconsistent data. This clearly shows that New Zealand need to revamp old systems and become more interconnected in terms of data. Different public sector agencies have been trying to improve technology but there have been no common standards or benchmarks that could be followed across different public sectors, which calls for a need to create some common technology platform to connect the whole country digitally.

At this point it will be great to take some ideas from Singapore’s SmartNation initiative. Where most nations are focusing on creating “smart cities”, Singapore is focusing on creating “Smart nation” thereby promoting world-ranked universities and medical facilities, investment in research and development (R&D) facilities, actively supporting fast-growing community of technology start-ups, environmental greenery management, superior energy management, smarter communication and transport etc.

According to Steve Leonard, the Executive Deputy Chairman of Singapore’s Infocomm Development Authority (IDA), says, “Technology is an important enabler to bring to life Singapore’s vision of a Smart Nation. We are taking the lead in solving difficult yet critical global challenges, with a holistic approach that will see our universities, tech start-ups, R&D institutes and investment capital firms all working together. Bringing solutions to the table is just the first step, and we look forward to partnering other countries and global companies to share expertise, experience, smart technologies along this journey.

Though the government styles are quite different in New Zealand and Singapore but still we can learn a lot about the digital transformation journey they embarked so far. Government definitely need to make some robust policy and strategy changes promoting better adoption of technology in various sectors. For example some of the areas where we can improve upon by borrowing some great ideas from Singapore are:

Use of Big data: Start investing in Business Intelligence and Big data analysis to better forecast the growing demand in various sectors like housing, education, healthcare, transport and energy thereby making more informed decisions. The data stored in various public agencies over these years can offer great insights into innovating public services.

Fighting cyber-crimes with technology: Start a website to educate people on how to use technology safely and thus opening a platform to make people and organisations aware of ongoing risks and scams. Here individuals can share personal scam incidents and lodge police complaints online. This is similar to Singapore’s initiative Scam Alert web site, which is a joint effort by the Singapore Police Force (SPF) and National Crime Prevention Council, aimed at preventing cybercrime by educating and empowering people to stay safe in cyberspace.

Greenery management through technology: New Zealand is a tourism hotspot because of its green cover and its natural splendor and the government do spend a lot to monitor and maintain these national parks. On the other hand, in Singapore the National Parks Board (NParks) is using technology innovation to manage around 1.5 million trees, more than 350 parks and 2,300 hectares of public green areas across Singapore.

Improving Healthcare: With an already strained healthcare systems in New Zealand there are times when the medical facilities are delayed for patients. But if we take advantage of technology these glitches can be controlled easily. For example, in Singapore several public hospitals are trying a tele-health rehabilitation system where data can be transmitted wirelessly through sensors attached to patient’s limbs as they carry out therapy sessions at the home. This reduces the needs for a patient to travel to hospital and wait in long queues for treatment appointments. This approach also frees up Singapore’s pool of therapists to give greater care to a larger group of patients.

Improving Education and funding technology R&D: New Zealand has to start special programs in school and colleges to build its own technology experts pool and promote R&D industry to come up with innovative solutions and new products.

This just touches down on some of the technology initiative New Zealand can take that will make a big difference to country’s economy. Certainly the push needs to come from the government in devising policies and strategies to uniformly connect all the public bodies across the country.

Keep watching this space I will cover more information on these areas in next few blog posts.