- Regulatory and promotion roles to be merged, GCIO duties spun off
- Timely move with convergence blurring lines between ICT and media
SINGAPORE is creating two new statutory bodies that will oversee information technology (IT) and related issues in the country.
The two bodies would be formed by merging parts of the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) and the Media Development Authority (MDA) into the Info-communications and Media Development Authority (IMDA) and the Government Technology Organisation (GTO).
This move will put regulatory and promotional activities for the media and infocomm sector together into one agency, the IMDA, while concentrating technical expertise in another, according to Minister of Information and Communications Dr Yaacob Ibrahim (pic above).
Both the IDA and MDA currently operate under his ministry, so there will be no changes there.
The agencies will come into effect on April 1, the start of Singapore’s fiscal year, according to the Government.
“It will take some time to bring the agencies together – the work will continue on the ground,” Yaacob said this morning (Jan 18) at the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Standardisation Sector, Study Group 20 meeting.
“Whether you like it or not, convergence will take place … the environment is changing and we need to do something about it,” he told the media after his opening speech announcing the new agencies.
The IDA and MDA had also jointly launched an integrated industry development plan last year, called Infocomm Media 2025.
Operationally, the agencies are slated to be fully operational within the second half of 2016, with administrative restructuring of the two agencies to commence from April 1.
For the IMDA to begin operations, legislative amendments are being made to the Broadcasting Act to confer it with new legislative powers, according to government officials.
New legislation is also being considered because of the entry of converged players, like US video streaming giant Netflix Inc, but this will probably come out only next year after a public consultation process, they added.
The two agencies
According to Yaacob, the IMDA will be the converged promoter and regulator of the infocomm media sector. It will also be tasked with implementing the Infocomm Media 2025 plan.
“The new IMDA will also deepen regulatory capabilities for a converged infocomm media sector – safeguarding the interests of consumers and fostering pro-enterprise regulations,” he said.
The Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) will also fall under the purview of the IMDA.
“With more pervasive use of data, the Government will continue to promote and regulate data protection in Singapore through the Personal Data Protection Commission, which will be part of the new IMDA,” Yaacob said.
The GTO will take over the IDA’s tasks in the digital transformation of the public sector, fulfilling the role of the government chief information officer (GCIO), he said.
“It [the GTO] will focus on providing a citizen-centric user experience and encouraging the participation of citizens in the co-creation of public digital services.
“It will ensure the security and resilience of the government’s IT infrastructure, thus helping to strengthen the nation’s cyberdefence,” he added.
Long time coming
The merging of the IDA and MDA has been in discussions for some time, according to industry sources Digital News Asia (DNA) had spoken to previously, especially in the wake of the blurring lines between media and IT.
“We have to take a step back and see how the landscape has changed – we have been monitoring the landscape in terms of the convergence of infocomm and media for many, many years,” Yaacob also stressed.
“I think it’s time for us to really take a bold step to bring together the IDA and MDA as a converged regulator and promoter.
“We recognised the challenges a converged environment has created, in terms of regulation as well as the opportunities being created,” he added.
Merging the two regulatory agencies does have the added benefit of deciding the ownership of industries that straddle both agencies, such as the videogames sector.
“We see now for example businesses offering a bundle of telecom and media [services], so businesses now have to go to the IDA for a telecom licence and the MDA to get a broadcast licence,” Yaacob said.
Another benefit would be the streamlining of grants. According to DNA sources, some companies have been drawing grants from both the IDA and MDA due to the blurred lines of their sector ownership.
Concentrating technical expertise from IDA’s GCIO role into a single agency would also allow the Government to make salaries more competitive.
According to DNA sources, the IDA has been trying to recruit technical talents, but has not been able to match the attractive salaries of the private sector because of the agency’s budget cap.
While the revamped and newly-launched IT bodies make sense, there will be some drawbacks, these sources told DNA – for one, scholarships will likely be reduced.
There is also the possibility of a reduced budget for the combined agencies. When asked about this at the media briefing, Yaacob said that it was “too premature to comment on that.”
Who goes where?
The IMDA will take on the investment and promotional initiatives that the IDA previously led, which would also involve the transfer of subsidiaries like the Infocomm Investment Pte Ltd (IIPL) to the new agency. [Clarified]
Current MDA chief executive officer (CEO) Gabriel Lim was appointed to his role in November 2014, while IDA managing director Jacqueline Poh (pic above) and executive deputy chairman Steve Leonard were appointed in May 2013.
Lim will take on the role of IMDA CEO of IMDA. He is a career civil servant, and was previously the Principal Private Secretary to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
He has also served at the ministries of Defence and Health, as well as the Public Service Division and Civil Service College.
IDA’s Poh will be appointed the GTO managing director. She is also a career civil servant, having held positions in the ministries of Manpower, Finance and Defence, as well as the Prime Minister’s Office.
Meanwhile, Leonard will assume a new role as the non-executive deputy chairman at the IMDA. No word was given as to whether his current two-year contract, which ends in May, would be renewed.
Leonard started in the private sector, coming in from IT giant EMC Corp prior to joining the IDA. He was previously president of Asia Pacific and Japan for EMC, and prior to that, worked at Symantec and Veritas.
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