EDB’s Jacqueline Poh: “Our top priority is to be AI-forward as a nation”

By Yogesh Hirdaramani

At the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Public Sector Day conference in Singapore, public sector leaders spoke on the country’s ambitious AI plans, how agencies can adopt a modern data strategy with the cloud, and upcoming generative AI applications.

Jacqueline Poh, Managing Director of Singapore’s Economic Development Board, spoke on Singapore’s plans to embrace AI. Image: Public Sector Day Singapore 2023

“Our top priority is to be quite AI-forward as a nation, to establish Singapore as a thriving hub for AI innovation. To achieve this, we will continue to invest in the key enablers that support this vision,” said Jacqueline Poh, Managing Director of the Economic Development Board, at the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Public Sector Day conference in October.


The conference brought together over 2,000 attendees from the public sector to hear from AWS on how public sector customers are reimagining service delivery and innovating the cloud, and was organised by AWS and GovInsider.

Ambitious AI plans


During her opening keynote address, Poh touched on the ways in which Singapore has been harnessing emerging AI technologies, how the country plans to foster a robust environment for AI innovation in the coming years, and the role AWS has played in Singapore’s digitalisation journey.


First, Poh shared that the nation is prioritising the development of new AI applications through finetuning existing foundation models on the market, open source and otherwise. The country is supporting companies in finance, e-commerce, healthcare, and professional services to develop technical prototypes for such applications through generative AI models.


She highlighted that the National University Hospital of Singapore and the Ministry of Education have begun developing AI applications that can generate patient discharge summaries and function as a learning aid respectively. 


These organisations have begun their generative AI journey with Amazon Bedrock, an AWS service that enables access to leading foundation models through a single application programming interface, or API. The National Library Board has also started experimenting with generative AI services offered by AWS to design new library experiences. 


Soon, AWS will launch startup initiatives in the public sector to address use cases in education and healthcare, she said.


Next, the country will continue to invest in AI research and development efforts in the country, having already invested over S$500 million. There are currently more than 150 such teams in both local and international companies based in Singapore. 


Finally, Singapore will groom AI talent through incentivising company-led training and schools programmes. She highlighted that AWS is collaborating with polytechnics to train more than 3,800 students and professionals in generative AI skills over the next three years, through internships and work-study programmes.


AWS also announced the launch of Tech Alliance Singapore, through which the cloud computing provider will collaborate with upskilling institutions to support learners in acquiring cloud skills, shared Eric Conrad, Regional Managing Director of ASEAN, Public Sector.

Building a modern data strategy


At the conference, public sector customers also shared their approach to building a modern data strategy within the public sector through AWS tools.

Chok Kang Loke, PhD, Head, Data Office, Civil Service College (CSC) shared how the statutory board embraced a modern data strategy. Image: Public Sector Day Singapore 2023

During the conference’s opening session, Chok Kang Loke, PhD, Head, Data Office, Civil Service College (CSC) shared on the agency’s approach to becoming a data-driven organisation. The goal was to build a data infrastructure that could provide actionable insights to drive real-world impact, he explained.

With AWS, they were able to build a central data repository across the college and enable smooth data exchange across systems to reduce time spent searching for data. Then, they added a cloud-based analytical layer that supported officers in visualising and analysing data rapidly, with tools such as Tableau and Posit.


After careful consideration, they decided to work with AWS, rather than build an in-house data platform, so that they could tap on the benefits of the commercial cloud. By procuring and customising AWS platforms, they could implement such infrastructure quicker, tap on the AWS user community and partners, and use cloud-native configurations that can scale more quickly.


He also shared that CSC had to “build a data culture” across the agency through activities like a “Data N Analytics (DNA) Week” and gamification to get users comfortable with data analytics.


This was echoed by David Lim, Assistant Director, Enterprise Architecture (Chief Architect's Office), Synapxe, in a session on how Synapxe, Singapore’s HealthTech agency, transitioned to from the healthcare private cloud to a hybrid, multi-cloud model. 


In addition to redesigning systems and developing stringent cloud governance measures, the team prioritised active change leadership, running roadshows, webinars, and enablement programs to educate teams on the capabilities offered through the Healthcare Commercial Cloud, shared Lim.

Generative AI steals the show


Throughout the day’s events, the advances of generative AI in the public sector commanded attention across the board. Of the five tracks at the event, one was dedicated to generative AI, featuring case studies on generative AI in government.


In one such session, speakers shared how the Ministry of Education partnered with the AWS Generative AI Innovation Centre (GAIIC) to develop a tool that can automatically assess sentence construction tasks and provide holistic feedback about word choice and grammar to students.


Sessions in other tracks also included references to how the government is adapting to generative AI. For instance, speakers at a session on GovTech’s central privacy toolkit, Cloak, explained how the toolkit is now being used to help agencies harness generative AI in a secure and privacy-preserving way.


During the conference’s opening session, Elsie Tan, Country Manager of Singapore at AWS shared that Amazon Bedrock is now available through GovTech’s Launchpad, through which agencies can innovate and experiment with foundation models.


Ritesh Vajariya, Principal Business Development Manager – Generative AI, AWS, shared that developers can tap on a range of foundation models, such as image generation through Stable Diffusion, multilingual text generation with AI21 models, and Meta’s LLAMA-2, an open source large language model that can be finetuned through an API. 


Leslie Teo, Senior Director, AI Products, AI Singapore, also highlighted that the national AI innovation programme will soon announce ambitious projects with AWS. 


Generative AI commanded similar attention at the AWS Public Sector Summit held in Washington D.C. earlier this year.