Parliament: Merger of IDA, MDA spurred by disruptions, says Yaacob Ibrahim

Few sectors have changed as much as the infocomm technology and media sectors, said Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim.
Few sectors have changed as much as the infocomm technology and media sectors, said Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim.ST FILE PHOTO

SINGAPORE - Few sectors have changed as much as the infocomm technology and media sectors, whose developments have in turn disrupted other sectors such as transport and property, said Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim in Parliament on Tuesday.

Such disruptions made it necessary to merge the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA), which looks after the regulatory and promotional aspects of telecommunications services, and the Media Development Authority (MDA), which oversees content on traditional media such as television, he added.

The new Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA), to be formed in the second half of this year, will be better positioned to address the resulting new economic opportunities.

Mr Henry Kwek (Nee Soon GRC), an entrepreneur, had also touched on the need for Singapore to stay relevant and competitive amid the disruptions to existing business models caused by new technologies.

Citing examples of these new technologies, Dr Yaacob noted that the biggest taxi company in the world today, Uber, does not own a single car. Likewise, the largest provider of accommodation in the world, Airbnb, owns no hotels or rooms.

He said these changes will only accelerate, which is why the Government has taken steps to restructure IDA and MDA "to help Singapore seize the opportunities presented by these technological changes".

One such opportunity lies in the converging infocomm technology and media spaces, he added.

Dominant players such as telcos and pay-TV operators StarHub and Singtel are facing increasing competition from overseas online video distributors like Netflix and iTunes, as well as local start-ups.

The latter include Viddsee - an online platform launched in 2013 that allows free streaming of short, made-in-Asia films.

Last year, the start-up reeled in US$2.3 million (S$3.3 million) in funding led by Japan-based investment firm CyberAgent Ventures.

The second opportunity lies in big data, said Dr Yaacob.

For instance, the public sector is looking at ways to use public data to build solutions that better meet citizens' needs.

"With declining cost of sensors and cloud storage, it is now possible to connect devices to the Internet and to each other. In Singapore, work has already started to build a Smart Nation Platform that enables public agencies to be plugged in so that essential sensor data can be shared and analysed in a secure manner," he said.

Dr Yaacob added that a new Government Technology Organisation (GTO) will be set up in the second half of this year to lead the Government's digitisation efforts.

The new organisation will fold in the heavy engineering functions of IDA's Government Chief Information Office.

Its engineers will also support the roll-out of smart nation projects including driverless vehicles and home-integrated sensors.

A crack team of Singapore government data scientists and software engineers at its Hive facility at the Sandcrawler building in Fusionopolis will also be part of GTO. This is a new breed of IT experts hired to address the needs of a smart nation, such as transport and healthcare.

itham@sph.com.sg