IT & Systems Management

Steve Nunez (Singapore) - Optimisation and Efficiency in Singapore

With nothing to offer in the way of natural resources, much of Singapore's competitive edge is built around efficiency in areas such as business administration, government and supply chain logistics.

Here, efficiency can truly be described as a strategy. Since 1981, when the government began the Civil Service Computerisation Programme, Singapore has really made the most of its limited resources. This includes engaging some of the top global IT companies in the world to participate in partnerships for more efficient government and trialling technology two or three years before its public release.

All this has a beneficial civic impact. With a population of nearly five million people living in a space smaller than New York City, car usage is kept at a minimum though heavy government taxes, and a highly efficient public transportation system. This system is so successful that even most expatriates living in the city don't want to own a car. But how do you manage 83 kilometres of track, 48 stations and 77 trains, plus a city wide bus system to move all those people to and from work each day?

The answer is using IT to minimise the effects of high population density. One such project, by the Land Transport Authority is a unified fare processing system that creates a detailed overview of rider behaviour across all modes of transportation. This data is used by LTA to build optimal transportation routes, smoothing the daily journeys. The rail and bus operator, SMRT uses CPLEX software that IBM acquired from ILOG to automatically roster drivers of trains and busses to service these optimised routes.

Singapore's reputation for efficiency extends to container shipping. As a centre for shipping and trade since the days of the British Empire it has the world's number one container port, winning the "Best Container Terminal (Asia)" 18 times and shipping 29 million containers in 2008. The secret to this success is providing shippers access to a highly efficient network of 200 shipping lanes to 123 countries.

In order to control all these containers, shipping lines and ports each container must be individually managed to achieve optimal speed and efficiency. This is accomplished through the use of an innovative technology from the Operational Research realm called Constraint Programming; a formerly obscure mathematical technique now coming into widespread use in areas as diverse as finance, supply chain management and utilities.

Finally, as any traveler in Asia can tell you, Changi and Hong Kong airports rate as some of the best in the world in terms of speed in clearing immigration and retrieving luggage. The IT behind this clearance magic is a Business Rules Management System, quietly and efficiently processing the myriad rules for determining ‘persons of interest' (or cargo), and allowing the good guys to proceed through unimpeded.

Steve Núñez is a contributing editor to InfoWorld and principal consultant at Illation Pty Ltd in Singapore.


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