Merger of IDA, MDA spurred by changes in tech

The upheaval that the swift changes in the infocomm technology and media industries have caused in other sectors, such as transport and property, is the reason for the merger of two government agencies, Parliament was told yesterday.

The move will put Singapore in a stronger position to seize the resulting economic opportunities, said Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim, citing two possibilities.

He also said the new Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) - arising from the merger of the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) and the Media Development Authority (MDA) - will be formed in the second half of the year. The IDA regulates and promotes telecommunications services while the MDA oversees content in traditional media such as television.

Pointing to the disruptive nature of new technologies, Dr Yaacob noted that the world's biggest taxi company, Uber, does not own a single car. Likewise, the largest provider of accommodation in the world, Airbnb, owns no hotels or rooms.

These changes can only accelerate, he added as he pointed out the risks and rewards.

One such possibility lies in the converging of infocomm technology and media spaces.

Telcos and pay-TV operators StarHub and Singtel are facing increasing competition from overseas online video distributors such as Netflix and iTunes, as well as local start-ups. One such Singapore start-up is Viddsee, an online platform 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 that Dr Yaacob pinpointed is in big data. The public sector, for instance, is looking at ways to use public data to build solutions that better meet citizens' needs.

"With the declining cost of sensors and cloud storage, it is now possible to connect devices to the Internet and to each other," he said.

Singapore is already rolling out these smart sensors to capture and transmit securely all kinds of surveillance, traffic and weather data to relevant public agencies for analysis.

Dr Yaacob said IMDA will continue the work of its two predecessors, in teaming up with companies in Singapore and abroad to groom local talent. He added that a new Government Technology Organisation (GTO) will be set up in the second half of the year to lead national digitisation efforts.

It will absorb the heavy coding functions of IDA's Government Chief Information Office.

Its engineers will also support the rollout of smart nation projects, including the sensor network.

In addition, the GTO will take charge of a crack team of Singapore government data scientists and software engineers housed at its Hive facility in Fusionopolis.

This group is a new breed of IT experts hired to address the needs of a smart nation, such as in transport and healthcare.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 27, 2016, with the headline Merger of IDA, MDA spurred by changes in tech. Subscribe