Eyes on APAC

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.”

August 24, 2017  8:30 AM

Emerging Asia most vulnerable to malware

Aaron Tan Aaron Tan Profile: Aaron Tan

Bangladesh and Pakistan have the highest malware encounter rates around the world, followed by two other countries in the ASEAN region – Cambodia and Indonesia, according to Microsoft’s latest Security Intelligence Report.

That those countries were most susceptible to malware is hardly surprising, given their high software piracy rates. About one in four PCs running Microsoft security products in these emerging economies reported a malware encounter from January to March 2017.

Myanmar, Nepal, Thailand and Vietnam did not fare any better. Each of those countries had an average malware encounter rate of over 20% during the first quarter of 2017, more than double the global average of 9%.

Developed Asia-Pacific markets with more mature IT practices – like robust and effective patch management processes – such as Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand and Singapore did better than the worldwide average.

Among developed economies, Japan did the best, having been ranked the “safest country in the world” with just 2% of its PCs infected by malware, according to Microsoft

In spite of the high malware infection rates among developing APAC countries, the region curiously suffered the least damage in the recent WannaCry and Petya ransomware attacks.

Microsoft said the attacks were disproportionately concentrated in Europe while most in Asia were not too heavily impacted.

The software giant did not offer answers to why this was the case. Experts have suggested that in the WannaCry incident, Asia walked away relatively unscathed because the malware only started spreading on Friday in Europe, which was early Saturday morning in Asia when most businesses were offline.

According to Malwarebytes’ Jeff Hurmuses, the threat was further contained by the ransomware’s kill switch that was discovered by a 22-year-old in southwest England.

What can businesses do to combat the upward trend in malware in developing Asia? Short of sounding like a broken record, this includes keeping systems updated and patched, maintaining basic cyber hygiene like using strong passwords and two-factor authentication, as well as implementing user access controls.

With three in five pirated software CDs and DVDs sold on the streets in developing Asia plagued with malware, governments can also do their part to reduce software piracy in their countries by implementing and enforcing a strong intellectual property protection regime, which can also spur economic development and innovation, beyond combating malware.

August 18, 2017  3:16 AM

Australia’s national recycling scheme is role model for the region

Aaron Tan Aaron Tan Profile: Aaron Tan

Australia has always been ahead of the curve – at least in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region – when it comes to recycling of electronics goods. While most APAC countries are still coming to terms with green practices, Australia has had its National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme (NTCRS) since 2011.

The NTCRS, established under the Product Stewardship Act, has been a tremendous success. Under the scheme, manufacturers and importers are required to fund the collection and recycling of a proportion of TVs, printers, computers, computer parts and peripherals disposed of in Australia. Over 900 collection points have been set up across the country, with jobs being created and supported in the recycling and logistics industries.

So far, about 184,500 tonnes of e-waste have been recycled, with a compliance rate of 99% by manufacturers and importers. This volume already exceeds the recycling levels achieved by the European Union, even with the proportion of e-waste to be recycled set at about 30% during the initial years, through to 50% in 2015-2016. This figure was increased to 58% in 2016-2017.

Despite the success of the NTCRS, the Australia and New Zealand Recycling Platform (ANZRP), the company set up and funded by the industry to manage the recycling scheme, has raised concerns that the growing recycling targets would not be met.

In a whitepaper published this week, the ANZRP said the methodology used to calculate the amount of e-waste does not account for the fact that not all electronic goods will end up being recycled. Some may be exported for sale and reuse outside Australia, while a proportion may go to other parties that offer cheaper waste management options such as landfills, for which no levy is imposed in Australia.

ANZRP’s whitepaper is a fascinating read for policymakers across the region, where people are glued to their smartphones and other mobile devices that have become an indispensable part of their lives. Not only does it offer insights on the thinking behind Australia’s efforts to go green, it also highlights the importance of consumer education, which the ANZRP has singled out as one of the barriers to more widespread recycling.

Apart from Australia, New Zealand and a handful of East Asian countries such as Japan, most other APAC countries have not passed product stewardship laws that mandate the recycling of e-waste. ANZRP’s whitepaper and the policy discussions surrounding the NTCRS are timely reminders for these countries to do more to recycle the heaps of e-waste being churned out each day.


August 8, 2017  9:38 AM

Digital engagement critical as football clubs look to grow APAC fan base

Aaron Tan Aaron Tan Profile: Aaron Tan

With just days before the English Premier League (EPL) kicks off, legions of football fans in Singapore can once again cheer for their favourite teams in pubs and homes across the city-state.

The exact number of EPL fans in Southeast Asia is unknown, but going by regular visits by top clubs like Liverpool, Manchester United, and more recently Chelsea, during off-season months, the region is set to be an increasingly important market for the EPL.

But how can football clubs keep fans located over 6,000 miles away engaged? The answer, as you may guess, is to go digital.

At a recent event in Singapore, Stefan Mennerich, the director of IT at German super club FC Bayern München, said going digital was the only way for the club to reach out to its global fan base.

Stressing the importance of digital fan engagement in growing the club’s revenues, Mennerich said Bayern München has partnered German software giant SAP to deliver targeted content to a global supporter base in a bid to turn fans into loyal customers.

“The challenge is to get the attention of our fans,” he said. “And that means we should only give them the offers they expect.”

If Bayern München gets its way, fans at its home turf at Allianz Arena in Munich will also be able to order merchandise, such as jerseys, during a game and receive the goods on the way to their cars, Mennerich said.

Another way to engage fans is through quizzes. In September 2016, Bayern München and SAP launched an interactive quiz at a club exhibition where fans can test their knowledge of the club’s history. The data – which includes statistics on games, goals and trophies won over 116 years – for the quiz was analysed using SAP’s Hana in-memory database platform.

More clubs should take a leaf from Bayern München to engage their fans better. For now, not every EPL club has an app and even if it has one, the app isn’t always available globally. Liverpool, for example, has a mobile app but the app is curiously out of reach to fans in the Asia-Pacific region.

With more European clubs looking for revenues – and new owners in some cases – overseas, having a digital engagement strategy is the only way to connect with their fans and realise their global ambitions.

August 3, 2017  8:31 AM

China does not need VPNs to innovate

Aaron Tan Aaron Tan Profile: Aaron Tan

During the conference call on Apple’s third-quarter earnings, CEO Tim Cook touched on the company’s decision to pull out VPN (virtual private network) apps from its China app store.

The reason: Apple had to follow the rules in markets it operates in – and that includes China, a brutally competitive market that has proven to be something of a Pandora’s box for US-based companies.

Cook had said Apple would rather not remove the apps, and was hopeful that over time, the restrictions will be loosened “because innovation requires freedom to collaborate and communicate”.

No one better understands this than China does. In How China’s Leaders Think, Robert Kuhn, an investment banker who has advised the Chinese government, says China’s leaders know that free access to information is critical for technological advancement and competitive success.

“On the other hand, they worry about potentially disruptive consequences of such free access which can deliver malicious, salacious and seditious information,” Kuhn says.

“Hence the dilemma: restrict information and retard progress? Or remove restriction and risk instability?” he adds.

The Chinese government has clearly decided that the risk of instability is going to be higher in a rising superpower of over 1.3 billion people that’s still in the process of moving to a market-based economy. This transition could be tumultuous, if restrictions on access to information were not in place.

China has shown that it does not need the Googles of the world – and VPNs for that matter – to be in China to provide the means to collaborate and communicate, in order to foster the innovation it needs to succeed.

Chinese companies are already doing a great job, and in some cases, even delivering innovations that have eclipsed that of their Western counterparts.

Just look at Tencent with its ubiquitous WeChat platform used by almost 900 million Chinese for almost anything from ordering food at restaurants to hailing a ride, and Alibaba’s Hema stores that combine the best of online and offline shopping.

These Chinese companies make Facebook, WhatsApp and Amazon look outdated. And they have done so while staying behind the Great Firewall of China.

July 28, 2017  7:58 AM

How Singapore’s central bank turns big data into smart data

Aaron Tan Aaron Tan Profile: Aaron Tan

As a central bank, industry developer and regulator, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) relies on a broad set of transactional, behavioural and social media data to craft policies and drive the development of Singapore’s financial industry.

MAS’s challenge, however, is not about the availability of data, but how to collect data in a way that’s scalable and makes sense so it can be effective in fulfilling its mission.

David Hardoon, its chief data officer, says the answer lies in smart data.

But what is smart data? To Hardoon, who spoke at the Chief Data and Analytics Officer Singapore conference earlier this week, smart data has several attributes. First, it is data that has intrinsic value, and contributes to an organisation’s key performance indicators.

Second, smart data needs to have a certain quality so that it can be trusted by people, Hardoon says, emphasising the importance of data governance. “If you do not have trust in what’s happening with the data, you may think that things are not true or accurate.”

Hardoon says the MAS has put in place data governance processes through automation, which is all “about taking processes and routines to ensure that data is at a level that we can trust.”

Once that has been established, MAS then looks at suitable methodologies that can used to make sense of that data, whether it’s deep learning or machine learning in both supervised and unsupervised forms.

Hardoon also touched on the accuracy of data, which he says is “entirely irrelevant” and needs to be contextualised.

“If you don’t a baseline for data accuracy and you move to 65% accuracy which has helped to improve customer satisfaction and efficiency, do you really care about 65% accuracy?,” he quipped.

“Just because we have shifted to a data-driven, statistical world doesn’t mean we need to have 90-95% data accuracy.”

To Hardoon, smart data also means building data models that can be generalised and applicable not only to specific instances. “What we build can’t just be a one-hit wonder. It must have generalisability and robustness,” he says.

Finally, smart data should be interpretable, which means an organisation needs to know why and how a data model works. Hardoon says to many people, a data model may seem like a black box, but when something untoward happens, somebody needs to know why.

July 21, 2017  2:40 AM

Australians ready for IoT and AI in e-payments

Aaron Tan Aaron Tan Profile: Aaron Tan

Over a quarter of Aussies are now ready to use an internet-connected device, like a virtual assistant or connected fridge to make payments on their behalf, according to a new YouGov study commissioned by payment technology company Visa.

In September 2016, just 12% said they would do so, underscoring the growing adoption of digital payments in the largely tech-savvy nation.

Stephen Karpin, Visa’s group country manager in Australia, New Zealand and South Pacific, believes that internet of things (IoT) devices and biometric technology, combined with the use of artificial intelligence (AI), will also deliver more personalised experiences for consumers.

But this experience must be seamless for consumers. As futurist Anders Sorman-Nilsson notes, consumers will only use connected, AI-enabled devices to pay if the experience is easy, seamless and secure.

Many of the new payment methods are enabled by the use of biometrics as authentication – the most common example of this being the fingerprint scanner on a smartphone.

More than half of respondents surveyed by YouGov said they are comfortable using their thumbprint, voice or retina for payment.

According to the research, the appeal of biometrics is that it is more secure (45%), and that not having to remember a PIN/password (40%) is driving consumer adoption and readiness.

But while consumers are keen to embrace biometric authentication, less than half (39%) of respondents are willing to share their personal information in exchange for convenience in payments.

Karpin says this hesitance to share personal information in exchange for convenience is an important insight. “At Visa, we believe in responsible innovation – that is, ensuring that security is built in from the start and that no new technology or capability comprises the integrity of the payments ecosystem,” he says.

But it’s not just about making the entire payments ecosystem more secure. Concerns over the privacy of personal information can only be addressed if consumers know what their personal information is used for and how they are being protected.

Australia already has privacy laws that govern the collection and use of personal information and the regulations have been beefed up over the years to provide stronger enforcement powers.

Merchants will need to play their part, too, not only by playing by the rules, but to also understand that privacy protection can be a competitive advantage and a business opportunity – and not a cost centre as some might believe.

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