Eyes on APAC

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November 23, 2017  6:29 AM

Asia is pace-setter in IoT

Aaron Tan Aaron Tan Profile: Aaron Tan

A Vodafone survey has put Asia on the forefront of internet of things (IoT) adoption, with 36% of the region’s businesses reportedly using connected devices in 2017, up 200% from 2013.

The global survey of business sentiment relating to investment and innovation in IoT showed that 77% of Asia’s businesses now see IoT as mission-critical to their business, with 88% of respondents reporting an increased use of IoT in the past year. Over half acknowledged that IoT has increased their market competitiveness.

When it came to optimism and the future, Asia’s message to the world was even clearer. Over 90% of businesses in the region believe IoT will have a sizeable impact on the wider economy in the next five years, while 79% believe IoT usage will rise as security and privacy concerns decline.

But how has IoT benefited businesses? According to the survey, topping the list of benefits were greater business insights, reduced costs and improved productivity. Asian businesses also reported improved brand differentiation (42%) and market competitiveness (53%), as compared to 35% in the Americas and 33% in Europe, respectively.

It may come as a surprise that Asian businesses tend to view IoT security more positively, rather than being a barrier to IoT deployment, giving them the confidence to do more. In fact, 86% of respondents saw security as an enabler of IoT deployment compared to 79% globally. Some 83% of businesses also claimed to have adequate skills to manage IoT security, ahead of Europe (70%) and the Americas (65%).

When it comes to IoT connectivity, the survey found that businesses are looking at using a mix of technologies from fixed line to low power wide area networks (LP-WAN) depending on the application.

Large scale projects tend to use mobile and Wi-Fi connectivity, though there is increasing interest in narrowband IoT (NB-IoT), with 28% of all companies now considering it and other LP-WAN options, for new IoT projects.

To Singapore bike-sharing startup oBike, LP-WAN connectivity supplied by UnaBiz, a Sigfox network operator, will enable it to locate its bikes at regular intervals.

Currently, the operator’s bikes are connected to its users’ bike-sharing app via Bluetooth and 3G/4G networks. When a user concludes a ride, the user’s phone will send a signal of the bike’s last location to a cloud service run by oBike, which will then highlight the bike’s location on the map. The issue is that if a bike is moved when locked, oBike will not be able to track and trace it.

Meanwhile, China’s ofo, another bike-sharing service provider, is using China Mobile’s NB-IoT network and Huawei’s IoT chipsets to manage its bikes through smart locks. Each lock collects information such as equipment status, user data and operating data, allowing bikes to be located and serviced easily.

Such proven use cases, whether they involve the use of NB-IoT, Sigfox or other types of LP-WAN networks, will go a long way to instil confidence in organisations that are still holding back any IoT adoption plans.

November 6, 2017  6:02 AM

How one Singapore library is keeping up with the digital age

Aaron Tan Aaron Tan Profile: Aaron Tan

At a time when traditional industries are being upended by technological disruption, the most progressive libraries around the world in places like South Korea are pulling all stops to stay relevant to users who prefer to turn to digital resources rather than visit a local library.

In Singapore, public library users have been able to download e-books and electronic versions of popular magazines for free, as well as access information databases that cover a broad range of subjects for some time now.

The Sports Hub Library is no exception. Located at the Singapore Sports Hub, the city-state’s largest sporting and events facility, the library offers easy access to a wide range of digital resources such as e-books, e-journals and images, which are searchable through library management software provided by Civica, a supplier of library services and systems.

The library also subscribes to the SportDiscus online database that provides full-text access to sports, fitness and health-related journals and publications.

Like the public libraries run by Singapore’s National Library Board, the Sports Hub library also uses a recommendations engine to suggest resources based on the user’s borrowing preferences, as well as radio frequency identification (RFID) that lets users check out physical items at self-service stations, and return them at a 24-hour book-drop with immediate cancellation of loans.

The RFID technology also makes stocktaking much easier as books on shelves can be scanned directly without having to remove them from the shelves, says SS Chopra, managing director of Civica Singapore.

With libraries evolving to become learning and participatory spaces, rather than merely serving as book repositories, the Sports Hub Library offers activities and programmes that cater to sporting professionals, children and elderly users who are interested in amateur games. The library facilities include video viewing stations, virtual sports stations, a giant chess and checkers board, internet stations, meeting rooms and a kids’ zone.

These efforts to remain relevant are already bearing fruit. At the time when libraries are facing declining membership and loans, the Sports Hub’s library membership grew by 62.4% compared to 2015. Along with this increase, the library’s loan rate also jumped by 196%, with the total number of loans transacted reaching 73,973 from 25,619 for the same period ending June 2016.

More can be done, however, given that the Sports Hub Library is one of the newest libraries in Singapore, and is hence free from the shackles of legacy systems and thinking that have held back some libraries from transforming themselves in the digital age. For example, it could explore the use of AI chatbots to help users with their enquiries or enable users to check out physical items using a smartphone without having to use a self-service terminal.

November 3, 2017  8:52 AM

DBS Bank shows off API platform in fintech gold rush

Aaron Tan Aaron Tan Profile: Aaron Tan

DBS Bank, Southeast Asia’s largest bank by market cap, has claimed the honour of having the world’s biggest banking API (application programming interface) platform with over 155 APIs that developers can plug into to create a variety of services.

These APIs run the gamut, from mortgage loan APIs that can be used to create and save, retrieve, update, cancel and search for mortgage loan applications, to fund transfer APIs for transferring money between own accounts or to third parties within or outside the bank.

The bank claims its API platform is the largest of its kind in the world, having counted the number of APIs made available to developers by rival banks, its executives told the media during a briefing earlier this week.

Banks and the financial services industry are in the midst of a gold rush to ramp up their digitisation and fintech efforts, in a bid to stay relevant to customers and better compete against disruptive fintech start-ups rivals looking to bypass traditional financial services.

Ireland’s Currencyfair, for example, has been offering a foreign exchange service that claims to offer better exchange rates and lower fees than banks for several years now. Then, there’s also PayPal, one of the earliest fintech companies even before the term fintech was coined.

By opening up an extensive library of APIs, DBS hopes organisations with products and services that touch some aspects of the financial system – be it payments, fund transfers or payroll processing – will plug into its platform rather than turn to fintech upstarts.

The API platform is already off to a good start. DBS claims over 50 companies including household names such as AIG, McDonald’s, MSIG, PropertyGuru, as well as start-ups like FoodPanda, Homage and soCash have already hopped onto the platform.

McDonald’s, for one, is using DBS’ APIs under the PayLah payments category, enabling to offer the PayLah payment option to McDelivery customers. Online property portal PropertyGuru is also tapping DBS’ APIs to provide users with instant loan affordability assessments.

DBS’ group CIO David Gledhill says the bank started to transform its technology infrastructure as early as nine years ago, noting that the head-start has given it the ability operate with fintech-like agility and nimbleness.

While so-called “open banking” efforts by DBS and others can be a force for innovation, the risks of sharing data with a wider ecosystem beyond a bank’s reaches should not be ignored.

Banks must put in place measures to ensure that customer data is used in line with existing compliance and data protection rules, as well as upcoming ones such as the Payment Service Directive (PSD2) in the EU. In addition, customers should also provide consent in one way or another (whether it’s implied or direct consent) for the use of their data by third-party services.

October 27, 2017  8:34 AM

Singapore cements position as regional datacentre powerhouse

Aaron Tan Aaron Tan Profile: Aaron Tan

With 90% of the world’s data created in the last two years, it’s hardly surprising that the datacentre industry is booming, with cities around the world racing to entice the global tech giants and datacentre providers to open facilities in their hometowns.

The economic benefits of datacentres are immense. Not only are they magnets for the brightest minds from around the world, they also draw investments in local infrastructure and create jobs. Datacentres, the equivalent of air and sea ports in the virtual world, also elevate a city’s standing on the global information superhighway.

While it’s easy for governments to declare their intentions to become datacentre hubs, it takes more than that to become one. For one, a city needs to offer reliable and sustainable energy sources, a robust network infrastructure with good international connectivity and plenty of bandwidth, a sound regulatory framework, and a pro-business and stable political environment.

Singapore ticks all the right boxes, at least according to the new Data Center Risk Index study that identifies the top risks likely to affect datacentre business operations. Conducted by global real-estate services firm Cushman & Wakefield, the study placed the city-state in pole position out of 10 Asia-Pacific (APAC) countries in terms of robustness of datacentre business operations. Other countries/territories in the top five are South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan and Australia.

Singapore already sits at the top of the APAC datacentre market in terms of capacity, with a current total supply of 370 MW of IT power supply among co-location operators, according to Cushman & Wakefield.

“Around 59 MW of IT power is readily available for datacentre use, and 103 MW can be converted into IT power within three to six months should demand keep pace. Singapore has seen an influx of new datacentre capacity in the last two years, with an additional 130 MW on top of the existing capacity of 240 MW at the beginning of 2015,” it said in its report.

The company predicted that over the medium to long term, Singapore should be able to expand its capacity by another 100 MW on the back of its smart nation initiative. “Local datacentre providers such as Singtel, Keppel Data Centres and ST Telemedia stand to be the primary beneficiaries of this, while the international datacentre providers will continue to focus on winning international deals from medium to large enterprises coming into Singapore,” it added.

Krupal Raval, Digital Realty’s chief financial officer for APAC, noted that one of the key factors behind Singapore’s booming datacentre industry lies in its vast interconnectivity. With no less than 17 submarine cables, businesses are able to take advantage of the low-cost and low-latency connectivity, enabling them to be agile when operating across regions.

“Geographically, Singapore is also close to major emerging markets such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, while being well connected to established locations like Australia, China and Japan – making it an unmatched internet and trading gateway across the Asian market,” Raval said. “Constant uptime is crucial to datacentre operations. In this day and age, downtime will have a profound impact across industries.”

Singapore’s land constraints, however, could put a damper on its position as a datacentre hub. Earlier this year, the Singapore government said it will conduct a feasibility study with Huawei and Keppel Data Centres to explore the possibility of developing a high-rise datacentre building possibly more than 20 storeys high.

However, the study will not be just about stacking datacentres on top of each other in a high-rise complex. It will also look into building architecture and innovations that can significantly reduce energy use, or increase efficiency to lower the best PUE ratings in Singapore by 10-20%.

Such efforts are laudable, and will go a long way to cement Singapore’s leadership in the regional datacentre market, beyond creating a green datacentre scheme.

October 20, 2017  7:30 AM

Backing up is not hard to do

Aaron Tan Aaron Tan Profile: Aaron Tan

When some employees at FCM Travel Solutions lost their laptops over the past year, they were able to get their data back within half an hour.

“People were really happy with the kind of support they were getting, as there are not many technical people in our industry,” says Surender Arora, head of IT at FCM Travel Solutions in India. “It was like a miracle and was something they had never expected.”

That FCM’s employees thought that they would still be able access the data they thought they had lost says a lot about the state of adoption of backup and recovery processes in organisations, especially among small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs).

Some studies suggest that nearly 30% of people have never backed up their data. Why anyone, or any company for that matter, would not back up data is puzzling, especially since it has been widely extolled that data is the new gold – and thus catching the attention of cyber criminals who have been unleashing more ransomware attacks in recent memory.

Today, there’s an abundance of software that makes it easier to back up data to the cloud or to an on-premise datacentre. Gone are the days when administrators had to go around initiating backups – the process can now be automated using a slew of backup and recovery tools.

Earlier this year, FCM put a stop to inefficient, manual backups using USB drives and recovery media, and turned to Commvault’s backup and recovery software to automate and manage its data management processes. At the same time, it also moved data from over 1,000 employee devices to the cloud.

The result: data backup and restoration times were slashed by up to 70%, enhancing awareness and visibility of data storage and improving FCM’s ability to recover quickly and completely.

Surender says FCM had also been able to back up data over a wide area network, particularly for data hosted on cloud-based systems that reside on Amazon Web Services. The Commvault software also adheres to the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), giving FCM peace of mind when it comes to security and compliance, Surender says.

But backup and recovery is only the first step. Organisations should also encrypt their data to make any stolen or lost data unreadable and unusable. Backups should also be tested on a regularly basis, and scanned for vulnerabilities that could be exploited by pesky hackers.

How have you been protecting your data from prying eyes or recovering business-critical information in the event of a disaster? Tell us more in the comments!

October 13, 2017  7:34 AM

Chinese IT giants flexing cloud muscle in APAC

Aaron Tan Aaron Tan Profile: Aaron Tan

In Southeast Asia, Huawei and Alibaba are already household names to those who have either bought something online from Alibaba-owned Lazada or used Huawei’s Leica-branded P10 smartphones to take snapshots.

While the two Chinese tech giants have made significant inroads in the region’s consumer markets, they are only getting started in making themselves known to enterprise IT buyers – at least in Southeast Asia.

This week in Hangzhou, Alibaba said it is on-track in overtaking public cloud leader Amazon Web Services (AWS), claiming that some of its products have already exceeded that of AWS’s.

Alibaba’s confidence dovetails with that of a rising China which has been investing aggressively across the region, driven by its Belt and Road initiative that aims to foster closer economic cooperation and connectivity between Asia and Europe.

In Southeast Asia, Alibaba has positioned itself as the only global cloud service supplier from Asia, and claims to have the cultural and contextual advantages to provide data intelligence and computing capabilities to customers in this region.

“Among global cloud top players, we are the only company originating from the East. By working extensively with China or Asia-based clients, we have a better understanding of their needs and more insightful knowledge of the China and Asia market,” an Alibaba spokesperson told Computer Weekly.

In Singapore, it is collaborating with National University of Singapore and EZ-Link, Singapore’s largest issuer of contactless payment cards, to boost Singapore’s smart city and data-driven capabilities.

In Malaysia, it signed a memorandum of understanding with Conversant Solutions and Prestariang Berhad to collaborate on building an integrated education platform that will deliver a range of cloud-based education and related services, such as campus management, teaching and learning, and digital payment.

Alibaba is also building a datacentre in Malaysia to provide enterprises in the region with cloud capabilities to support their global expansion.

These efforts are already bearing fruit. According to Gartner, Alibaba was the world’s third largest public cloud service provider in 2016, buoyed by its position as the volume leader and dominant player in China’s cloud services market.

Lesser known to enterprises are Huawei’s cloud services, which are just starting to take shape. This week, the company said it plans to invest $500m globally in developing cloud-based professional services, a cloud platform and a cloud ecosystem as part of its APAC strategy. In the next five years, Huawei will also pour more resources into cloud-related R&D, increasing annual investment by more than 50%.

Like Alibaba, Huawei is riding on China’s economic clout, hoping to help Chinese companies expand overseas and non-Chinese companies enter the China market through a global cloud network and a suite of ICT services.

That the two Chinese tech giants are aggressively pursuing customers in APAC spells good news for enterprises. Besides keeping the two incumbents Amazon and Microsoft on their toes, Alibaba and Huawei may well bring new innovations honed through years of operating in the cut-throat, highly-competitive Chinese technology market.

October 6, 2017  8:01 AM

Open source gaining momentum in Singapore

Aaron Tan Aaron Tan Profile: Aaron Tan

If you live in Singapore and have started using the newly-minted parking.sg app developed by the government to pay for street parking at public car parks, you may have noticed something in fine print in one corner of the app’s menu that says “built with open source software”.

This was unthinkable more than a decade ago, when the government was generally seen to be using more proprietary software than open source ones, sans a few high-profile deployments such as the use of OpenOffice at the Ministry of Defence and a Linux desktop trial by the National Library Board.

As a young reporter covering the open source beat at that time, I was hungry for news on developments in the open source community, whether it was attending an event graced by Richard Stallman, the founder of the Free Software Foundation, or nabbing an interview with Linus Torvalds, creator of the Linux operating system.

Open source software wasn’t as “mainstream” as it is today, no thanks to some of the FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) that some of open source software’s biggest detractors were spreading in the market.

A proprietary software company once handed me a folder of research papers that they commissioned to debunk the benefits of open source software. A top executive from that company even asked me straight in the face: “What can we do better?”

Of course, we now know all of that has changed. Today, proprietary software companies aren’t as averse to open source software as they once did. Some have even open-sourced their software code and participated in open source communities, because they realise that open source is here to stay. Most companies now use a mix of proprietary and open-source offerings, so it’s in the interest of proprietary software companies to play nice.

That a government-built app is now brandishing the open source tag says a lot about the strides that open source software vendors and the open source community have been making in Singapore.

September 29, 2017  3:31 AM

Asia a hotbed of healthcare IT innovation

Aaron Tan Aaron Tan Profile: Aaron Tan

Asia-Pacific has been a hotbed of IT innovation, thanks to technology-driven growth policies and a relatively young population who are not reined in by legacy technology when solving the region’s pressing issues, especially in healthcare.

As the winners of this year’s Asia-Pacific HIMSS-Elsevier Digital Healthcare Awards 2017 have shown, hospitals across the region are on the frontier in healthcare IT – from a patient-centred healthcare programme in Taiwan to combining the use of smartphones and portable imaging devices to capture eye images of diabetic patients in India’s rural communities.

Here’s a look at some of the winners:

Outstanding ICT Achievement Award Winners

The Outstanding ICT Achievement award recognises hospitals that leverage technology to achieve substantial improvements in patient care and safety, and have addressed major challenges faced by their institutions. The winners of this year’s ICT Achievement Award are The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne, Australia, and Fudan University Huashan Hospital, China.

In April 2016, the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne became the first Australian hospital to migrate to a hospital-wide Electronic Medical Record (EMR) system within one day, along with the launch of a comprehensive patient and family portal. Through the EMR system, the hospital has reduced costs and eliminated unwarranted health screenings.

The other winner, Fudan University Huashan Hospital, has developed an information system for administering individualised dosages of specific drugs. The system was deployed on a hybrid cloud environment, and integrated with on-premises patient data.

Outstanding ICT Innovation Award Winners

The Outstanding ICT Innovation category recognises the most innovative and creative ICT solutions that improve patient care and safety. The two winners this year are MacKay Memorial Hospital, Taiwan, and Aravind Eye Hospital-Pondicherry in India.

MacKay Memorial Hospital in Taiwan clinched a winning spot for a healthcare programme aimed at empowering patients to better manage their medication and health information, while facilitating collaborative patient-physician interactions.

The other winner is India’s Aravind Eye Hospital-Pondicherry, whose project involved the use of Remidio portable cameras attached to smartphones to provide greater access to healthcare.

With the cameras, the eye hospital is looking to capture eye images of at least 10,000 diabetic patients per year, many of whom live in impoverished villages. One of the key benefits of the Remidio camera is its low cost of just US$0.03, compared to conventional cameras that often cost 10 times more.

September 20, 2017  8:23 PM

Asia-Pacific most hit by ransomware

Aaron Tan Aaron Tan Profile: Aaron Tan

Asia-Pacific led the world in ransomware threats during the first half of 2017, with 35.7% of all ransomware detected globally targeted at companies in the region.

Following the heels of APAC was EMEA (25.24%), Latin America (22.66%), and North America (15.71%).

These figures were revealed by Trend Micro, which detected 82 million ransomware from January to June 2017. The company also blocked more than 3,000 business e-mail compromise (BEC) attempts, and discovered and responsibly disclosed 382 new vulnerabilities.

The top three malware found in the region were DocDrop, DOWNAD and WannaCry. The worse hit countries in the region are Japan, Australia, and Taiwan.

APAC also led the globe in the number of detections for online banking malware in the first half of the year, with 118,193 malware discovered and blocked. This was four times more than EMEA (24,798) and five times more than North America (20,888). Japan, China, and Vietnam bore the brunt of the attacks.

Trend Micro also found that over 47 million malicious mobile apps were downloaded by users in APAC, much more than those from other regions. For instance, EMEA users downloaded 30 million such apps; the numbers are even lower in North America (eight million) and Latin America (six million).

Exploit kits are another prominent threat in the APAC region, with a total of 556,542 detected within the six months, more than quadrupling the second place – North America (120,470).

The most distributed exploit kits for the first six months in APAC are Rig, Magnitude, Sundown, and Nebula. Exploit kits normally target popular software such as AdobeFlash, Java, and Microsoft Silverlight. In 2017, connected industrial systems became a popular target for exploit kits too.

Against the backdrop of the growing ransomware threats, Trend Micro says the best defence against ransomware is to block them at the source level via web or e-mail gateway solutions like those it provides.

There is a danger in pitching any cyber security product as the “best defence” because not only does this create a false sense of security, it obfuscates the need for organisations to get the basics right, such as applying software patches religiously. After all, many that were hit by WannCry could have reversed their fates if they had a robust patch management programme in place.

August 30, 2017  9:30 PM

Singapore to develop common QR code system for e-payments

Aaron Tan Aaron Tan Profile: Aaron Tan

Cash is still king in Singapore, especially at mom-and-pop shops that have to pay credit card fees that do not make business sense for small transactions.

In a bid to encourage greater adoption of e-payments, the newly-formed Payments Council is setting up a taskforce to develop a common QR code-based payment system in Singapore.

The taskforce will be co-led by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and the Infocomm Media Development Authority, and involve banks, payment schemes, QR payment service providers, and relevant government agencies.

The Payments Council says a common QR code based payment system will facilitate payments among different payment schemes, e-wallets and banks. It would also help make payment transactions simple, swift, seamless and safe for everyone.

More importantly, the system will prevent the proliferation of proprietary QR code systems, leading to further fragmentation of Singapore’s e-payment ecosystem that currently supports a cacophony of payment services from telcos, banks, smartphone makers and the likes of EZ-Link and Nets.

By the end of this year, the QR code taskforce aims to put in place standardised specifications to accept domestic and international payments using QR codes. It will also consider the governance structure and implementation strategy for QR payments.

Ravi Menon, chairman of the Payments Council and managing director of the MAS, says the council’s goal is “to make the payments experience efficient for businesses and delightful for everyone, including the young and elderly”.

Exactly how the council plans to achieve that goal remains to be seen. Already, some merchants and front-line cashiers find it hard to keep up with the growing array of e-payment options. Further, less tech-savvy elderly food hawkers who are used to dealing with cash may not be adept at using smartphones.

Education and marketing are thus crucial to the success of Singapore’s common QR code system, a point that was made by Yeo Hiang Meng, president of the Federation of Merchants’ Association, Singapore. “We hope to see intensified marketing efforts to encourage businesses and consumers to adopt mobile payments at heartland shops and hawker centres.”

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