S'pore poised to benefit from Internet of Things

The tracking method used in the Bourne movie series is finding its way into the real world, with industries adopting it to improve efficiency and productivity.

And Singapore is striving to get its developers to start up here.

In the reel world of Bourne, the Central Intelligence Agency tries to track down the elusive agent through a global network of cameras and operatives connected to a control centre that analyses all sorts of incoming real-time data for his pursuers.

The strategy is called the Internet of Things (IoT).

And companies, big and small, are pursuing IoT, with some using Singapore as a base to develop capabilities for the IoT strategy.

One such company is Singapore start-up De-Wired. It designs customised IoT packages for companies' needs.

For instance, it is developing an Internet-based system to remotely monitor thousands of water pressure pumps in high-rise buildings across multiple cities in China, in real time.

This will not only facilitate preventive maintenance, but also help improve pump design.

The major challenge of building such a system is in linking up different types of machines, different data formats and different ways to transmit data, said De-Wired's co-founder, 42-year-old Mike Loh.

The integration needs a good tech team and is costly because of the manpower and expertise needed to handle the wide variety of components, said Mr Loh.

The system to monitor water pressure pumps was undertaken as a pilot project, among others, in China.

But Singapore is home for its intellectual property (IP): "The core IP development... has always been in Singapore, in view of the higher-quality work and computer code security,'' said Mr Loh.

"Admittedly, the cost of hiring in Singapore is relatively high, so we keep a small core team of no more than six tech guys for the most valuable work."

Though this new IT area is in its infancy here, multinational giant General Electric (GE) sees a promising future for the Republic.

Singapore's good governance, highly-educated tech-savvy population and thriving manufacturing and software development sectors give it an edge, said GE Digital chief financial officer Khozema Shipchandler.

He was speaking to The Straits Times at GE's Minds + Machines conference in San Francisco last week.

The company has developed, over the last two years, an industrial IoT platform called Predix.

It is a universal cloud-based industrial operating system that cuts across sectors, from aviation to manufacturing and power generation to healthcare.

And it is hooked up to all sorts of things, from temperature sensors in power generators to machines in factory lines.

The system then mines the large amount of incoming data to figure out ways to improve efficiency as well as predict and prevent equipment failures.

This is done with the collaboration of 270 companies worldwide, involving more than 19,000 software developers.

Mr Alvin Ng, general manager of GE Digital in ASEAN, said: "Our expertise in machines and industry uniquely positions us at the intersection of machines and software."

Mr Ng added that this will support Singapore's Smart Nation initiative through the use of data networks to improve business productivity.

GE vice-chairman Beth Comstock said at the conference that 50 billion devices - many times the world's human population of seven billion - will be connected to one another by 2020, and they will bring the same kind of disruption that digital technology brought to music, shopping and the media.

"Pay close attention to what's emerging before it becomes an emergency," she added.

This article was first published on Nov 25, 2016.
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