Eyes on APAC

February 12, 2019  8:27 AM

Live from Singapore – can two AI bots fall in love?

Aaron Tan Aaron Tan Profile: Aaron Tan

In the run-up to Valentine’s Day, toothpaste brand Closeup has teamed up with MullenLowe, a Singapore creative agency, to discover if love can overcome all boundaries (even firewalls), with a unique experiment to discover whether two AI bots can fall in love.

The two bots, Sol and Num, were developed based on Microsoft’s Bot framework and Amazon Lex respectively.

What will happen when we bring them together? Will they bicker? Will they fall in love?

Click on the image below to watch the live feed of their conversations at The Arts House @ Old Parliament, Singapore, and stay tuned for the final result of the experiment!


February 1, 2019  5:45 AM

Malaysia mulls over Huawei’s role in 5G networks

Aaron Tan Aaron Tan Profile: Aaron Tan

Malaysia has become the latest country to look into the security concerns surrounding Huawei, which has been accused by mostly western powers of conducting corporate espionage and potentially installing backdoors for the Chinese government.

Earlier this week, Malaysia’s communications and multimedia minister Gobind Singh Deo, said the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) is working on a report on the matter before the government decides if it will ban the use of Huawei’s equipment on 5G networks.

“When it comes to 5G, there are many views that have been put forward. The focus is for us to study the system and to make sure the system is secure because we anticipate this is a technology that is going to change things in the years to come,” he told local media.

Huawei has repeatedly denied the security allegations, noting that it has been adopting a “whiter than white” approach to alleviate security concerns, such as undergoing third-party certification of its hardware, software and solutions.

“If we look at the results of those certifications, we can clearly see over the past 30 years, Huawei and Huawei’s equipment has maintained a very solid and correct record in our industry when it comes to cyber security. We have never had a serious cyber security incident for our equipment,” Huawei rotating chairman Ken Hu said in December 2018.

Noting that Huawei is a private company owned by its employees, Hu said it has never taken any requests from any governments to damage the business or networks of customers or other countries.

“The fact is that over the last 30 years, there’s been no major cyber security incident; there’s been no cyber security threat; and there’s been no evidence showing that Huawei is damaging cyber security. And we’ll continue to take proactive communication engagement and also open collaboration so more and more people will be able to realise this.”

On the backdoor issue, Hu deferred to a spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China who has formally clarified that no law in China requires companies to install mandatory backdoors.

“Of course, just like the US and Australia, China also has certain legal requirements for counter terrorism or cyber security objectives,” Hu added. “China also specially emphasises that all government institutions or agencies must enforce the law according to the law. There are clear definitions.

“For Huawei, our approach is to address these issues in strict accordance to the law. In the past, we haven’t received any requests to provide improper information. In the future, we will also follow in strict accordance to the law in dealing with similar situations. When we talk about according to the law, the law has clear stipulations around the terms of reference for related agencies.”

In Malaysia, where Huawei has a growing presence through its consumer products and public sector partnerships in areas such as cyber security, the government’s 5G decision, following the release of the MCMC report, will have to take into consideration Malaysia’s 5G roadmap and how its ties with the Chinese company will be affected.

January 25, 2019  5:12 AM

Singapore’s growing cyber security influence in ASEAN

Aaron Tan Aaron Tan Profile: Aaron Tan

At a recent event marking the launch of Trend Micro’s regional headquarters in Singapore this week, the company’s executives cited Singapore’s vision and influence over ASEAN in cyber security matters as one of the reasons for choosing the city-state as its regional hub.

Yet, it was only in 2015 when the government set up the Cyber Security Agency (CSA), about two years after a series of high-profile defacements of Singapore websites – including that of the prime minister’s office – that cyber security was cast into the spotlight in Singapore.

How then, did Singapore go from not having a central agency to coordinate cyber security efforts that were taking place across various security agencies, to becoming a regional thought leader that has been attracting cyber security firms to invest more in the city-state?

Having the willpower and foresight to bring together planning and development functions related to cyber security across the government under a single agency in the prime minister’s office certainly helps, but the impetus lies in Singapore’s highly connected economy and pervasive use of technology in critical sectors like financial services.

Not acting fast enough to put cyber security among the top of the national agenda would have negative impact on investor confidence and the economy, given that Singapore is a regional business hub where many multinational companies have based their Asian headquarters.

That in turn drives greater demand for cyber security expertise at all levels, turning Singapore into a top magnet for such talent in both public and private sectors, and propelling Singapore into its cyber security leadership position in ASEAN.

A more cyber secure ASEAN is good for all member states, including Singapore. Besides supporting efforts by ASEAN countries, dialogue partners and various CERT (Computer Emergency Response Team) mechanisms to boost cyber security in the region, Singapore has also been running the annual ASEAN CERT Incident Drill for more than a decade.

In addition, Singapore plays a facilitating role as the Voluntary Lead Shepherd under the auspices of the ASEAN Senior Officials Meeting on Transnational Crime/ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Transnational Crime.

In 2016, it invested S$10m in the ASEAN Cyber Capacity programme to enhance the region’s cyber security capacity and capabilities, and currently hosts the Interpol Global Complex for Innovation, a key node in Asia to support international cyber crime-fighting operations and build regional capacity to counter cyber crime.

Singapore’s influence in cyber security will continue to grow over time, not only in ASEAN but also on the international stage. As a testament to that, CSA’s CEO David Koh was conferred the first Billington Cyber Security International Leadership Award in March 2018 for his leadership in cyber security and contributions in strengthening cyber security in Singapore.

Koh has also made significant contributions towards shaping international and regional cooperation on cyber norms of behaviour and cyber capacity building. Under his leadership, Singapore was ranked number one in the International Telecommunication Union’s Global Cybersecurity Index (GCI) for 2017.

January 18, 2019  6:20 AM

Australia’s CSIRO unveils AI platform to improve off-farm decision making

Aaron Tan Aaron Tan Profile: Aaron Tan

Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and rural technology start-up Digital Agriculture Services (DAS) have launched a new platform that uses artificial intelligence, machine learning and cloud-based geospatial technology to deliver farm data and analytics to farmers.

Called the Rural Intelligence Platform, it is the first of its kind that can assess and monitor rural land anywhere in Australia, drawing on information from trusted data sources on productivity, water access, yield, land use, crop type, rainfall, drought impact and more.

The platform uses satellite imagery to track paddocks and their performance over time. Information from Australia’s digital soil map is incorporated and climate information interpreted to show drought, frost, heat stress for livestock and other risks.

Michael Robertson, CSIRO’s agriculture and food deputy director, noted that the platform will help the agribusiness community calculate the risks associated with certain investments or management decisions.

According to DAS estimates, A$125bn worth of agricultural economic decisions are made in Australia each year based on unreliable or incomplete data.

“The platform provides accurate information that can help to identify vulnerability or the most promising options for investment that will build resilience,” Robertson said. “This is a whole new model for rural analytics which will make it easier to quantify risk and prepare for challenges like climate volatility and change.”

Since it was established in partnership with CSIRO in 2017, Melbourne-based DAS has secured a total of A$4.25m in funding from founding equity and R&D partner CSIRO, Australian ASX-listed agribusiness Ruralco and private investors.

DAS is already working closely with a number of companies to pilot the Rural Intelligence Platform, with some of the strongest uptake coming from the property, financial services and insurance sectors.

“Digital agriculture is far more than just on-farm technology, it’s also about improving off-farm decision making and this platform lays the foundation for Australia to become a leader in new generation agricultural analytics,” DAS CEO Anthony Willmott said.

The market for digital agriculture in the Asia-Pacific region is estimated to be worth A$10bn to A$25bn billion by 2028, fueled by pressure to meet challenges from population growth and climate change.

January 11, 2019  8:27 AM

COI report offers stark reminder on cyber hygiene

Aaron Tan Aaron Tan Profile: Aaron Tan

The Singapore government’s Committee of Inquiry (COI) that looked into the unprecedented cyber attack on SingHealth’s IT systems released a public report this week, detailing security lapses leading to the incident as well as recommendations to improve the public healthcare group’s cyber defences.

Although made in the aftermath of the attack and tailored to the operational environment of SingHealth, the recommendations included in the 425-page report equally apply to any organisation looking to shore up its cyber hygiene.

These include viewing cyber security as a risk management issue and not just a technical one, plugging security gaps in the network and end-point devices, enhancing employee awareness of cyber security, securing privileged accounts and boosting incident response processes.

Now, anyone in cyber security would appreciate the COI’s recommendations, but it is widely known that many organisations do not always adhere to them for various reasons, whether it is complacency on the part of management and cyber security teams, or the lack of resources.

In SingHealth’s case, it was a combination of factors – including the startling fact that a non-IT staff was tasked with managing the compromised server – that gave the perpetrators leeway to execute the typical cyber kill chain: infecting a PC with malware via spear phishing, establishing connections with C2 servers, and making lateral movements across a network before exfiltrating data.

While what happened to SingHealth was unfortunate, the incident – and the COI report – serves as stark reminder for organisations to take cyber security more seriously, and to avoid the fallacy that it could never happen to them. Remember, it takes just one loophole or an oversight for an attacker to breach a system.

December 19, 2018  7:33 AM

Will 2019 be the year of the blockchain?

Aaron Tan Aaron Tan Profile: Aaron Tan

The plummeting prices of bitcoin may have dampened the mood of cryptocurrency investors, but that has not stopped proponents of the underlying blockchain technology from deploying real-world blockchain applications.

In 2018, more businesses across the Asia-Pacific region such as SunMoon started rolling out blockchain-based platforms to track their produce and other goods, and more importantly, to capture real-time information on order fulfilments and product quality.

Earlier in the year, Singapore-based Global eTrade Services (Gets) had also launched an open trade blockchain (OTB) network to boost cross-border trade between China and the rest of Asia.

These developments are expected to continue in the new year. However, in the IT realm, there are other areas that will be affected as blockchain becomes more prominent in 2019.

Traditional backup, for one, will give way to hyper-converged solutions, according to Ravi Rajendran, managing director for Asia South at Veritas Technologies.

Convergence will occur between compliance, protection and security as businesses continue to address risks and exploit opportunity with the data they have access to. In the coming year, organisations that can effectively leverage blockchain will be the clear winners as technologies continue to converge.

“This makes blockchain ripe for the backup and recovery market because it can touch all pieces of data, stored in any location, Rajendran said.

“As long as data exists, the need to tap into that data will also exist – but who has access to this data will be the real determinant of blockchain’s power,” he added.

To that, Rajendran said individuals will need to be able to delete their data and access it when they like. Organisations will also want to use insights from the data to explore new opportunities. At the same time, both parties should be concerned with any threats from third parties, he said.

“Blockchain can provide a solution that enables all of the above. But before it can be widely adopted, factors such as people, legality, business, culture and more will need to be well aligned.

“In 2019, we will see more innovators experimenting with blockchain use cases that demonstrate many of the blockchain data protection benefits.”

Will 2019 be the year of the blockchain? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below!

November 28, 2018  12:00 PM

China is growth engine for mobile data traffic

Aaron Tan Aaron Tan Profile: Aaron Tan

Being the world’s largest mobile market, China has unsurprisingly topped the charts when it comes to the growth in mobile data traffic.

According to the latest figures from Ericsson, mobile data traffic in China during the third quarter of 2018 grew close to 79% year-on-year – the highest rate since 2013.

In fact, the increased data-traffic-per-smartphone in Northeast Asia – mainly in China – has pushed the global figure notably higher.

And with traffic growth per smartphone of around 140% between end 2017 and end 2018, Northeast Asia has the second highest data traffic per smartphone at 7.3GB per month. This is comparable to streaming HD video for around 10 hours per month.

The appetite for mobile data is likely to increase once the first 5G networks are ready.

In Northeast Asia, 5G subscriptions are forecast to account for over 43% percent of mobile subscriptions by the end of 2024.

Among enterprises, the uptake of NB-IoT and LTE Cat-M1 technologies will also drive the growth in the number of cellular IoT connections worldwide.

Of the 4.1 billion cellular IoT connections forecast for 2024, Northeast Asia is expected to account for 2.7 billion – a figure reflecting both the ambition and size of the cellular IoT market in this region.

Industry players have certainly taken note of the huge potential of 5G in China.

Ericsson, for example, had teamed up with Intel, China Mobile Research Institute and China Mobile Jiangsu Company to make the first multi-vendor standalone (SA) 5G New Radio (NR) call in June 2018, accelerating the commercial deployment of standard-based 5G networks.

More recently, rival Nokia announced that it has signed three separate agreements worth more than €2bn with China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom.

Under the agreements, Nokia will deploy technologies and services to improve performance in fixed and mobile broadband networks across China.

Mike Wang, president of Nokia Shanghai Bell, said: “We are excited to continue our close collaboration with these important customers in China, to drive new levels of network performance as they transition toward 5G.

“Leveraging the breadth of our end-to-end network and services capabilities, we will work closely with China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom to deploy technologies that meet their specific business needs.”

November 2, 2018  6:40 AM

The Asian tech century

Aaron Tan Aaron Tan Profile: Aaron Tan

At IDC’s annual FutureScapes event this week, the APAC group vice-president of the technology analyst firm, Sandra Ng, took a shot at predicting the technology trends that will shape the things to come in 2019.

Among her predictions were the growing data management and monetisation capabilities, efforts to a harness APIs to build a developer and partner ecosystem, and the use of key performance indicators to measure the success of digital transformation efforts, among others.

Each of these trends underscores what many of us already know is the crux of digital transformation – to drive change across an organisation’s people and processes, undergirded by technologies such as cloud and mobile computing, artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and data analytics.

While these trends should not surprise anyone in the technology industry, what made Sandra’s presentation different this year was the ‘digitally determined’ APAC companies that she had highlighted.

These companies include Taiwanese bank O-Bank, which has 20% lower customer acquisition costs than its peers, a Hong Kong nightspot operator that uses facial recognition to gather insights about patrons, as well as Indonesian conglomerate Lippo which formed a separate digital unit that created the OVO mobile payment app.

But what captivated the audience most was the slate of Chinese companies highlighted during the presentation. From the WeChat super app that even street beggars use to solicit digital donations to insurance giant Ping An that is morphing into a tech supplier, China’s companies are clearly at the bleeding edge of innovation.

Led by China, which is now on more-or-less equal footing with the US in developing frontier technologies like AI, Asian companies are no longer playing second fiddle to their Western counterparts.

In fact, the depth and diversity of talent and ideas has drawn more venture capitalists to Asia, which according to KPMG, accounted for the majority of global venture capital investments in the third-quarter this year.

The Asian tech century is now upon us, and things will get even more interesting over the next decade.

October 18, 2018  9:25 AM

Singapore CIOs weigh in on digital transformation

Aaron Tan Aaron Tan Profile: Aaron Tan

Earlier this week, all members of Computer Weekly’s APAC CIO advisory panel gathered for the first time to share their thoughts on digital transformation and what the overused term means to them.

Kicking off the lively discussion, which was held at SAP’s office in Singapore, was MyRepublic CIO Eugene Yeo who remarked that digital transformation isn’t just about adopting new technology.

Just as important is the need for employees to embrace a mindset of change and this is already being demonstrated in how MyRepublic develops new applications with a DevOps mentality where changes are expected and not frowned upon.

Manik Narayan Saha, the CIO of SAP Asia-Pacific, and Kwong Yuk Wah, CIO of NTUC, were of the same view that digital transformation isn’t a new undertaking. In fact, digital transformation started at the dawn of computerisation in the 1960s when enterprises started using computers to run some parts of their operations.

The CIOs then went on to share more about how they managed an inter-generational workforce amid their digital transformation efforts, how they have been measuring the success of digital initiatives, and perhaps more importantly, their change management strategy.

In particular, Nigel Lim, a Singapore-based senior IT manager at a Japanese company, called for the need for corporate functions such as HR and finance to be better aligned with digital transformation efforts, which isn’t always the case.

Amid the rapid pace of change, these functions would need to relook the way they assess the financial returns of digital projects, fund new digital initiatives and hire talent who are increasingly drawn to more attractive job prospects in high-growth, emerging markets such as China.

We will be filing some stories on some of these discussions – including what the CIOs thought about bi-modal IT – but one thing is clear in the meantime: digital transformation, which may seem like a buzzword at times to some of us, is real and will only accelerate in the years ahead.

October 10, 2018  9:38 AM

Taming the flow monster in real-time payments

Aaron Tan Aaron Tan Profile: Aaron Tan

This is a guest post by Bhupendra Warathe, chief information officer for corporate and institutional Banking, information technology and operations at Standard Chartered Bank

As the world adopts real-time payments, creating massive volumes of instantaneous transfers in seconds, the challenge for banks has evolved from managing liquidity to managing velocity.

Digitisation is driving the growth and future of real-time payments. In Singapore, funds transfers between two local accounts can be done almost instantly. Hong Kong, which launched its near-instant payment scheme this month, may see bank-to-bank transfers completed just as quickly.

Such payments have not only created the need for 24×7 funds flows but also at higher frequencies. As a result, payments and treasury departments can no longer adhere to batch and daily processes, and the need to move to real-time systems is urgent.

While most of the development in fast payments has focused on domestic transfers between individuals with a capped sum, in some jurisdictions participants have included non-bank businesses such as remittance providers and e-commerce players. With the current pace of implementation, it is a matter of time that cross-border instant payments is fast becoming a reality.

Just earlier this year, Swift held exploratory talks with banks from the Asia-Pacific region about the development of a regional cross-border real-time payments system based on the Swift global payment system.

How do banks respond to the challenge?

The demand for instant liquidity, dynamic FX exposure management as well as the ability to process real-time cash flow and transaction data mean that banks have begun to deploy the combined strength of distributed ledgers, artificial intelligence (AI) and application programming interfaces (APIs) to transform into a highly effective, high-performing and value-added banking for clients.

The speed of real-time payments also makes it vital for banks to perform instant fraud and identity checks before the payment is sent. At Standard Chartered, these systems are supported by as many as 12,000 coders and technologists, and they now account for about 15% of the workforce. The numbers also underline the extent to which banking has become a digital business.

As we move forward, speed and agility are two critical factors driving success. In the past, software upgrades took place once in a few months, but with the rapid changes in today’s environment, the development of software, upgrades and deployment need to happen at a much faster pace.

DevOps is one way to deploy software into the production environment quicker. With this approach, testing and deployment processes are fully automated. New code is dropped into production while the system with the previous codes will still function, allowing the end-user to continue using the services.

A rapidly changing environment has also caused banks turned to partnerships to help them adapt quickly. In recent years, the concept of open APIs has become increasingly prominent in our industry. In the next three to five years, we project a massive integration of service providers’ platforms with banks leading the charge.

Open API-led transformations will enable banks to accelerate collaborations with outside organisations and third-party developers. Increased co-created systems will allow a bank to redraw the boundaries of the products and services it offers.

Banks need to change the way they operate

With ever-changing consumer needs, Agile ways of working can help banks embrace changing requirements. Agile software development, an approach based on iterative development that brings together small, cross-functional teams to develop solutions within weeks rather than months, allows a product to go live sooner. At the same time, a project that is not on track could “fail fast,” allowing the team to recalibrate and take a different course quickly.

The prevalence of technology in every aspect of our lives also means that IT cannot be a department that sits on its own in a corporation. As banking becomes a seamless digital process, IT professionals are now integrated with every banking department.

At Standard Chartered, besides having IT professionals across our 60 markets, four Centres of Excellence – two in India, one in Malaysia and one in China – support and provide expertise for our global operations. IT teams are now closely integrated with respective product/client solution teams for agile delivery.

Talent and resources are critical for any strategy. Besides having the best talent, there is also a need to be faster and more scalable. There is a progressive shift to cloud-based infrastructures which can connect with multiple platforms such as those of industry-specific clearing houses, e-commerce platforms, large commercial and government institutions.

Without a doubt, real-time payments are redefining the banking landscape. In the next few years, there will be a multi-fold increase in volumes, with clients expecting 24×7 availability and scalability to handle peaks and troughs.

We foresee intense competition for talent and resources, not just in the banking industry, but also with tech firms and telcos. A survival of the fastest, the organisations which can react to the change the fastest will be the true winners.

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