The entire experience of visiting Singapore is enhanced by the efficient use of technology. Blaise Costabir shares a few touch points where visitors get a glimpse of the efficient and proactive way of using technology.
I was going back to Singapore after eight years and was looking forward to it. When we were there last, with the kids, it was easy and stress free to let them roam around and catch the sights on their own.
I was sure this time it would be no different and Singapore would have changed for the better; and I was not wrong. It started with the visa. An e-visa, issued within three days! After that, you have to log in your details three days before you arrive so they are expecting you.
Immigration, a breeze!
You are greeted by, to me, a new immigration method – electronic registration. The data you filled gets updated with your biometrics and your entry authorisation is emailed to you. This is pretty quick too.
I had some old, expired travel cards that we lost the balance on. That is now corrected with an updated system that accommodates contactless credit cards. It addresses the fact that tourists or visitors cannot use the travel cards completely and since refunds are not possible, this is a good way to ensure you pay only for what you are going to use. A friendly policy leveraging technology.
Since I was visiting Singapore for the Industrial Transformation Asia Pacific 2022: Industrial Automation exhibition, it was fascinating how they have leveraged Meetings Incentives Conference and Exhibitions (MICE) even for tourism. The exhibition had more than 150 exhibitors and 300,000 visitors over three days. It was seamless and glitch-free, end-to-end.
Registration was online and passes were printed with QR codes, so exhibitors could capture your data for follow-up by simply scanning. There was no need to fill forms or study business cards manually.
Getting a taxi, too, is pretty easy. You can wait on a curb or ask for one online. The driver asks if you wish to use toll roads or avoid them, you can decide. If you choose toll roads which are usually faster, the toll is debited and added to your bill automatically. The driver enters your destination, house number and street name followed by the post code. He then follows the map to your destination. There is no question of taking a tourist for a ride because if you are overcharged, you can simply complain to the transport authorities who can verify the price paid based on tracking history. Needless to say, this rarely happens. The system is beneficial not only to locals but also visitors as in most of the world, taxis are known to fleece visitors. But, a little digging, and lo and behold, the innovation is not by accident!
The Singapore government actually has an agency with a mandate to deliver digital services and develop Singapore into a smart nation. ‘GOVTECH’ advocates innovative technology to shape the way business is done in the government. The government is now working on a new strategic national project where visuals will replace notices – people have no time to read. To finalise on this, they will seek views from different sources. Imagine this – a government not reacting but being proactive!
What you see happening is a result of the efforts of capability centers, established to strengthen public sector engineering and build government capabilities in emerging technologies, not waiting for private sector initiatives to deliver innovative citizen-centric products.
‘Singpass’ is one strategic initiative rolled out. It is a digital identity of every resident, and gives you access to 2,000 government and private sector services. With it, one can log into digital services, used as an identity card, digitally sign documents etc. It is a combination of our ADHAR and digilocker, but easy to use in daily life.
Ride the road!
I mentioned toll roads earlier, well, the traffic density is tracked and if it is increasing, the toll amount is increased to reduce the load and maintain an average speed of 20-30 kmph. If the traffic reduces, the toll reduces. The system that monitors this is called Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) and huge gantries span the expressway, monitoring the traffic.
This is possible because of the Expressway Monitoring Advisory System (EMAS). EMAS is an intelligent incident management tool, like a big meta Google map showing travel times, congestion and road traffic conditions so one avoids entry or contributes to chaos.
To own a car one pays for a certificate that entitles you to drive a car; this ensures that the number of cars on the road in Singapore is as per the carrying capacity of the roads. These initiatives along with a great public transport network ensure that Singapore is not faced with nightmare traffic jams like most other cities across the world.
Big brother is watching, but despite the cameras, it is not 100% monitoring but artificial intelligence at work, which automatically monitors the camera feed and throws up violations. The technology was on display where for e.g., someone not wearing his helmet is flagged; this way, no one has to stare at screens, the system does it for you. So overspeeding or jumping a red light will be caught automatically on camera, and details sent to you by the authorities.
Priority: public health
The public health system is also driven by technology, a change from earlier. Health Hub is an app for medical records of every citizen, and Health Buddy for any citizen to log in and make appointments to see a doctor. The person’s records are available to any hospital he may visit, and if he moves his address to another location and visits a hospital closer to that location, his records are electronically available there too. So it’s easy to transfer case papers and records.
And when you leave Singapore, you will be signed out again. Once the machine reads your passport, scanners for retina and fingerprints, you are signed out. The entire experience of visiting Singapore is enhanced by the efficient use of technology. These are a few touch points where visitors also get a glimpse of the efficient and proactive way of using technology.
What we can learn from the Singapore system is that they use technology to make the lives of citizens better. It is not just using technology for the sake of technology but upgrading and ensuring it touches lives in a positive way – for citizens and visitors, both.