Singapore’s Home Team Science and Technology Agency embraces collaboration with new innovation centre

By Yogesh Hirdaramani

Singapore’s Home Team Science and Technology Agency has launched an innovation centre to foster tech collaborations with startups and co-develop technologies for public security. At a recent GovInsider panel, Mok Shao Hong, Centre Director for Hatch, joined other experts to speak on how such efforts will boost Singapore’s innovation capacity.

At GovInsider Live ASEAN, Mok Shao Hong, Centre Director of Hatch and Deputy Director of Innovation and Partnerships at HTX, joined other experts to share on how innovative approaches to partnerships, technology and procurement can address today’s security challenges. Image: GovInsider

Last week, Singapore’s Home Team Science and Technology Agency (HTX) announced the opening of Hatch, an innovation centre that aims to nurture tech innovation that will address public safety and security needs. The centre will be run by HTX and an Israeli innovation firm, SOSA. 

“We have to work faster. We have to innovate with our processes… How about if we open up MHA to the world and to startups to collaborate and build solutions with us? This is exactly what we're trying to do at Hatch,” shared Mok Shao Hong, Centre Director of Hatch and Deputy Director of Innovation and Partnerships at HTX at a recent GovInsider panel, Accelerating Innovation and Transformation for a Safe and Secure Singapore.


At the panel, Mok and other experts shared insights on the key safety and security challenges that Singapore is currently facing in an age of rapid technological advancement and how initiatives such as Hatch plan to address them.

Partnerships key to keeping pace with the private sector


A key challenge highlighted by the panellists was the rapid rate of technological development occurring in the private sector. To remain ahead of the curve, they shared that security and defence agencies need to actively collaborate with companies and startups.


Mok highlighted that commonplace technologies such as the Internet or infrared cameras were a result of research and development efforts led by homeland security and defence agencies. But today, the private sector is outstripping research and development efforts by security teams – presenting both a challenge and an opportunity for public safety.


For example, rapid advancements in artificial intelligence within the private sector will rapidly transform the risk environment, shared Zaid Hamzah, Adjunct Senior Fellow, S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University and Executive Education Fellow at the National University of Singapore, School of Computing.

Zaid Hamzah, Adjunct Senior Fellow, S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University and Executive Education Fellow at the National University of Singapore, School of Computing, spoke on how artificial intelligence will present unforeseen security challenges. Image: Zaid Hamzah

In March this year, HTX worked with SOSA to launch Hatch’s first Open Innovation Challenge, which invited startups around the world to respond to ten public safety and security challenge statements. 


Out of the 60 respondents, five were shortlisted and two were showcased at Hatch’s launch event last week. One of them is Vayyar, an Israeli 4D imaging startup that will work with ICA on a radar-based scanning technology that can see through materials, reported CNA. Such technology can help authorities scan baggage as people move through customs, speeding up the entire process of customs clearance.


The biannual accelerator programme will crowdsource and validate technologies emerging from global startups. End users from the Home Team will work directly with shortlisted startups to co-develop and trial these solutions. 


The Open Innovation Challenge will run again in the second half of the year with new challenge statements.

Technology as a force multiplier for innovation


In light of Singapore’s tech talent crunch, it will be critical to embrace technology as a force multiplier to accelerate the country’s innovation capacity, highlighted speakers. 


Zaid Hamzah explained that Singapore’s small population vis-a-vis other global players means that its capacity to innovate rapidly will be constrained. It will be critical to adopt niche strategies for the country to move up the value chain and remain competitive, particularly in the artificial intelligence space.


For example, he highlighted Singapore’s efforts to develop the next generation of artificial intelligence engineers and the country’s role in leading global conversations around ethical AI governance.


​Edmond Looi, Homeland Cluster Lead, Xtremax​, a leading cloud service provider in Singapore, shared that the company used co-development processes to speed up tech innovation and allow multiple developers to code at the same time. This novel approach to development has supported the company in managing the tech talent crunch, and could be adopted by the government.

​Edmond Looi, Homeland Cluster Lead, Xtremax​, shared on innovative ways to co-develop technologies. Image: Edmond Looi

Within the public safety and security space, Mok noted that innovation is about producing effective and unusual solutions that open up new opportunities for operations. For instance, Singapore’s Immigration and Checkpoints Authority’s Automated Border Control System will soon allow Singapore residents to clear immigration without their passports next year – a novel way of approaching immigration that can free up time for travellers.


Hatch aims to support home team agencies in identifying the key technologies that will be critical in realising such novel operations with its Technology Scouting Programme. The programme will actively scout and curate potential technologies emerging from a range of industries that can be used to address security challenges.


“We have intentionally built an international team of analysts to clear the noise. We’re looking forward to expanding it further to include some of our more progressive and forward thinking experts from the universities and academia to partner with us,” said Mok.

A mindset shift


Finally, it will be critical for public agencies to become more risk-taking and actively venture into emerging technologies for public safety, highlighted the speakers.


Hatch aims to look at emerging technologies that can play novel roles in safety and security – “dual use technologies”. It will be looking at technologies emerging from industries such as fintech, medtech, eCommerce, and even eSports, said Mok. 


Hatch is also inviting startups from beyond Singapore to work with them, including those based in innovation hubs in Israel, the United States, France, and Germany. Within Singapore, Hatch will be located at JTC Launchpad, which plays home to Singapore’s startup ecosystem.


"We should take an open growth mindset… and embrace these emerging technologies, as fluffy, foreign, or difficult as they may seem,” said Mok. The government can play an active role in bringing the technology ecosystem together, he noted.


It is also important for organisations to move away from a traditional procurement model and consider alternative collaboration methods, the speakers said.


Private sector organisations tend to lack a deep knowledge of the operational challenges that home teams face, shared Mok. As such, agencies can consider moving away from “being merely project managers and contract managers to adopt a design partner mindset… and be more involved in the development process,” Mok said.