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On Cloud Nine: Singapore’s journey to a Smart Nation

The Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) wants to make Singapore the world’s first Smart Nation, and this vision means connecting devices, things and people to provide better quality of life in an era of mobility, urban density, aging population, and so on. IDA's executive deputy chairman, Steve Leonard, has said that when tackling difficult urban challenges in areas such as healthcare and energy, enterprises in Singapore need to capture and analyze massive amounts of data, and use that situational awareness to take meaningful actions (link).

From a technology perspective, cloud has reached a tipping point in the enterprise. An exciting new era of cloud deployments is being ushered in, one characterised by high levels of flexibility, agility and innovation. Today, cloud is no longer just a buzzword, but an integral fabric of the modern enterprise. Conversation nowadays have shifted from cloud deployments to optimizing those resources and thus improving the overall user experience.

Let's explore 7 relevant questions about Singapore's approach:

  1. Singapore’s Smart Nation vision has entered the “build” phase. What gives?

The focus on infrastructure and services will serve as the nation’s framework. There are three areas of innovation: Smart Logistics, Smart Nation Tech Challenges and Smart Health-Assist. The vision to connect devices, things and people is a grand one, and starts with ensuring the integrity of the nation’s framework is built on a strong foundation.

Applications and connectivity are at the heart of this vision and the technologies enabling flow of information are increasingly cloud-based. Enterprises are fast adopting a hybrid-cloud infrastructure, so sensitive data can be stored in a private cloud while the public cloud can be leveraged for computational resources to provide for the running of less critical applications.

2.To cloud or not to cloud? – That is the question!

As early as 2013, 83% of Singaporean companies felt they have already experienced the financial advantages of cloud deployments. This is 16% more than the global average (link). The journey of cloud adoption is aligned with the Smart Nation Initiative and Singapore is a significant investor in cloud adoption. State initiatives aside, a question to ask is “to cloud or not to cloud”? The many benefits of cloud adoption include quicker disaster recovery times and increased collaboration amongst employees since they are able to sync up and work on documents and shared apps simultaneously. All these can only result in a positive business impact as productivity goes up. More importantly the cloud provides for business agility allowing companies to scale up and down their information infrastructure in a relatively short time frame, sometimes with the benefit of paying for capacity that is being consumed. “Pay to use” versus “Buy to depreciate” provides for a better financial argument, which generally goes well with CFOs.

As technologies such as IoT become mainstream and as Singapore moves forward to becoming a Smart Nation, the correct question to ask is “How do we effectively deploy and maximise the potential of cloud?”

  1. Right…so, how can we fully maximise the potential of cloud and turn them into a positive business impact?

Business has reached the tipping point of cloud computing with the utilisation of cloud both inside and outside the enterprise. To fully maximize the potential of cloud, there are 4 notable considerations for an enterprise cloud strategy.

Applications:

Companies today run a remarkable number of workloads within their IT environments, with some enterprises running more than 100 concurrently. Most of these applications demand differing sets of requirements and characteristics. However, as cloud-based services start to demonstrate the capability and maturity to run core workloads, confidence in off-premise solutions is increasing. The result, today’s enterprises are gaining more confidence in migrating critical workloads to a cloud environment.

Business Decision-makers:

The self-service nature of cloud solutions is starting to evolve decision-making process away from IT, and into one that involves multiple stakeholders and business leaders. More and more, departmental heads will play major role in identifying needs and shortlisting cloud solutions. Compliance/risk directors then need to take the lead in evaluating solutions and manage risks, while the entire C-suite make the final purchase-decision.

Customers:

Cloud, and indeed IT in general, has traditionally focused on internal enterprise and benefits such as cost savings, resource optimization and business agility. However, this ignores a key segment of IT user pool – the customer! Forward-thinking businesses are now beginning to evaluate what cloud means to their customers and how they can leverage it to enhance the customer experience.

Defence:

Security and privacy of IT environments are perennial topics to any cloud discussions, whether it is about apps, business or customers. Security is often highlighted as the biggest impediment in adopting cloud services or choosing service providers. Security considerations should never be an afterthought to any cloud migration planning and should be considered and deliberated extensively prior to any move to the cloud.

A “security-first” approach to a cloud strategy will ensure that the move to the cloud does not cause any major operational or internal policy issues as well as ensure a smooth customer experience. This should be complemented with a “follow the apps” defensive posture where the app security services should be fronting the application wherever it resides.

  1. Where’s the future of cloud headed?

From optimization to orchestration. Today, the primary use of cloud services is to optimize and streamline conventional business processes. This will change. Enterprises will next leverage cloud services to automate business processes and drive business transformation. There will also be more collaborative decision-making in cloud service procurement. The role of the CIO is set to shift from information to innovation.

With the inclusion of customers in the IT user pool, enhancing customer experience through high availability and performance of business apps is crucial. Cloud will continue to evolve.

    5. Is cloud safe? As more applications and technology becomes increasingly cloud-based, especially as we mature into a Smart Nation, how can we ensure information transfered via cloud is safe?

Every battle is won before it is fought, says Sun Tzu. This is also the philosophy undertaken by Singapore in the march towards being a Smart Nation. And security continues to be one of the largest barriers to cloud adoption. It is also a key consideration in a hyper-connected environment and the prolific use of applications adds an additional layer of challenge.

Organisations generally do a decent job securing their infrastructure but face challenges when securing applications regardless if these applications are hosted in-house, in a cloud environment or both. The security strategy should encompass considerations at the network/infrastructure area, applications and web assets, endpoints and devices, users behaviours. Security is everyone’s business and a foresight consideration.

  1. How can cloud benefit enterprises as Singapore moves to become a Smart Nation?

Companies are investing in cloud and using it for competitive reasons. 77% of senior information technology executives have placed high importance on digital transformation and count it as a key factor for driving the business growth of their organisations (link). Improving operational excellence and customer experience are some of the reasons why cloud adoption is on the rise. Innovations in IoT are evolving and continue to shape how people use and interact with the technologies. New devices will emerge and the technologies will evolve with these devices which in turn will shape how information is being delivered to users. In a Smart Nation where hyper-connectivity is at the heart of everything, accessing information and applications in a secure and seamless manner is key and cloud will play a crucial part in its success.

  1. OK, so cloud deployment and Smart Nation: they are highly intertwined but the investment outlay and management complexity remains a key barrier. How can we efficiently manage this?

It is a common perception associated with the build out of a cloud strategy, but the key consideration is knowing how applications are being consumed and the corresponding services they need. In reality, not all applications will be delivered from the cloud due to the nature or the intent of the application, especially if there is a high level of data sensitivity or the need for high operational in house secure management. We will likely see the emergence of a hybrid cloud architectures requiring seamless management and orchestration services with a balanced security posture both in house and in the cloud. This will be especially applicable for the delivery of citizen services in an aspiring smart nation like Singapore where mobile and internet penetration rates are high and technology adoption is prevalent in every aspect of our daily lives.

The expectation for service on demand will increase as IoT adoption becomes mainstream and becomes interconnected with the social platforms. Architecting the infrastructure from this perspective allows for better and efficient management and reduce costs in deploying cloud. Organisations and Governments alike are already starting to build out their own cloud strategy in an attempt to drive business growth and national transformation. In an increasingly connected world where mobility is driving productivity and consumption of information, cloud adoption in a hyper-connected Smart Nation will spur productivity and improve customer satisfaction, with the right consideration and strategy. At the end of the day, a cloud strategy is just one of the many means to an end – an end to become a smart nation, a nation where the citizens and corporations alike are empowered to harness technology for driving growth.