Interview with Ambassador Chuan Leong Lam, Singapore


Traditional approaches to strategic planning and intelligence work are not sufficient to deal with the new 'threatscapes'

Ambassador Lam Global acts of terrorism, financial instability and fast spreading epidemics like SARS pose the threats of the future. New ways to deal with their assessment have to be found. Lam Chuan Leong, Ambassador at large of Singapore and chairman of the advisory board of the Risk Assement and Horizon Scanning (RAHS) Programme of Singapore, sees the most promissing solution in RAHS.


How would you describe Risk Assessment and Horizon Scanning to a layman?
Ambassador Lam Chuan Leong: On a fundamental level, RAHS consists of a suite of software tools, designed to augment the analyst’s ability to detect emerging strategic issues and threats, typically on a 2 to 5 year time horizon. RAHS is not a tool for predicting discrete events. Neither is it an automated early warning system. RAHS is instead designed as a tool for anticipatory analysis, a tool which can help pick up weak signals or outliers pointing to worrying trends, crises, and major turning points. The present architecture of RAHS is also designed to easily adapt to changing technology and changing environments.


Why did Singapore in 2004 choose to implement Risk Assessment and Horizon Scanning? What are the advantages of RAHS compared to other risk assessment scenarios?
Based on a strategic review that Singapore completed in mid-2004, RAHS emerged out of the recognition that, in this new global and interconnected context, we need to be able to better anticipate and be prepared for strategic surprises and asymmetric threats looming on the horizon.
As the RAHS system gains traction and wider acceptance, it will also help to develop a capacity for non-linear thinking among our policy-makers, planners, and decision-makers.  If it can do that, it will give Singapore an immense strategic advantage, and pursue the overall aim of developing Singapore’s resiliency to strategic shocks over a wide spectrum of threats ranging from acts of terrorism, financial instability, worrying social trends, climate change, and energy and supply chain disruptions.


Certain trends and directions can be extrapolated, but how does one predict events like the SARS epidemic or 9/11?
In the case of the SARS outbreak for example, Singapore started to receive reports of patients with viral pneumonia in March 2003. In particular, a patient who had travelled to Hong Kong was hospitalised but was subsequently discharged after being diagnosed with the symptoms. But, as early as February 2003, there were already open source reports which were pointing to a mysterious lung virus in southern China that had affected 305 people and killed five.


Some say the primary danger lies in the increasing complexity and interconnectedness of the world. Do you agree?
The RAHS system has the ability to draw together these disparate pieces of information – weak signals – or monitor new ones through the use of scenario planning and complexity management tools to generate models. RAHS can tap on the network of domain expertise that resides in different Singapore Government agencies for example, to study the data and analytics generated more closely.


You will be a keynote speaker at the 3rd European Futurists Conference Lucerne. What can we look forward to hearing in your speech?
In my keynote speech at the 3rd European Futurists Conference Lucerne, I will be focusing on Singapore’s RAHS programme as a network enabler, where it can help operationalise the networked government approach by fostering multi-agency collaboration to enable ‘Whole-of-Nation’ security.

After 35 years of service Ambassador Chuan Leong Lam retired on April 1 2006 from Singapore's Ministry of Finance. But even after his retirement Lam will continued to contribute to the public service as Ambassador at large for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as the chairman of the Advisory Board of the Risk Assessment and Horizon Scanning Programme in Singapore. He is also Chairman of the Competition Commission of Singapore and Chairman of the InfoComm Development Authority of Singapore.
Chuan Leong Lam has served as Chairman of the National Science and Technology Board, [now re-named as A*Star] and Chairman of the Singapore Science Park Pte Ltd, Singapore Computer Services Ltd and Singapore Aerospace Ltd. He was also a Board member of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, which plays the role of the central bank in Singapore and the Port of Singapore Authority. His company directorships included the Development Bank of Singapore, Health Corporation of Singapore and Pacific Internet Ltd. Lam’s key areas of interest and expertise are in the application of general management theories, particularly in the context of complex systems. Lam graduated from the University of Singapore, with First Class Honours in Physics. He completed his MBA in Harvard Business School. In 1991, Chuan Leong Lam was an Eisenhower Fellow under the USA Eisenhower Fellowship Programme. He was a Singapore President Scholar.

Links about RAHS:

Ambassador Chuan Leong Lam, Singapore
Keynote Speaker «A Networked Government for 'Whole-of-Nation' Security: Singapore's Risk Assessment and Horizon Scanning Programme»
Culture and Convention Centre KKL Lucerne, Switzerland
November 20 2007, at 15.05h


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