Tech sector public-private partnerships are thriving in Singapore: Janil Puthucheary

Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information and Transport Janil Puthucheary speaking during a dialogue session moderated by Mr Amit Roy Choudhury (left) at ThoughtWorks' Singapore office on May 24, 2019. With them is ThoughtWorks chief executive officer Guo Xiao. ST PHOTO: SHINTARO TAY

SINGAPORE - Tech companies are continuing to invest in Singapore and public-private partnerships (PPPs) with the Government are thriving, Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information and Transport Janil Puthucheary said on Friday (May 24).

This is despite recent high-profile hiccups here for the PPP model, most notably with local water treatment firm Hyflux.

Dr Janil drew attention to various collaborative initiatives that demonstrate tech companies' willingness to work alongside the Government to develop products and train talent.

In one such Smart Nation collaboration, software engineers from GovTech and American technology consultancy firm ThoughtWorks worked on the Moments of Life (Families) mobile app.

The app, launched last June, provides services and information needed by parents and caregivers of young children on a single digital platform.

"The Government and tech companies are effectively building products together. In the past, this was different but today it's a true partnership between the public and private sectors," said Dr Janil during a dialogue session at ThoughtWorks' Singapore office in Cross Street.

"There are lots of opportunities being created because tech companies are coming here, investing here, developing talent here. They're partnering with local businesses and with us in government as well."

The PPP model has come in for scrutiny in Singapore in recent months. Earlier this month, the Public Utilities Board took over the Tuaspring desalination plant from embattled water treatment firm Hyflux after the latter's repeated failures in resolving various operational issues.

In February, Singapore Sports Hub chief executive officer Oon Jin Teik unexpectedly resigned after a disagreement over the Hub's direction, illustrating the delicate balancing act between the private consortium that runs the Hub and national sports agency Sport Singapore.

ThoughtWorks chief executive officer Guo Xiao said working together with government agencies in any country presents challenges in the form of red tape but he was surprised to find out how "forward thinking" GovTech was.

"The private sector is very open and risk-tolerant when it comes to choosing a software platform to develop a product. In the public sector, and we see this a lot in different countries, often you have to use certain (platforms) because of conflicting interests," said Mr Guo, who is based in Chicago.

Such constraints are gradually falling away in Singapore, he said, pointing to the Government's plans to move its IT systems to a commercial cloud system as an example.

Dr Janil was also asked what the impact of the ongoing US-China trade war and the Huawei ban might have on potential partnerships with Chinese tech firms.

He said: "We have always got to pay close attention to what is going on outside... But I think if we can provide a value proposition either to companies who are building here or purchasing here or getting involved in the tech industry then we will be okay."

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