National Computer Board

The National Computer Board (NCB) was established on 1 September 1981 as a new public body under the National Computer Board Act No. 14 of 1981.1 The board was formed as a result of a study conducted in 1980 by the Committee on National Computerisation, headed by then Minister of Education, Dr Tony Tan.2 Its major functions were to implement the computerisation of the Civil Service, coordinate computer education and training, and develop and promote the computer services industry.3 The NCB merged with the Telecommunications Authority of Singapore to form the Info-communications Development Authority of Singapore in 1999.4

Background
In the 1960s and 1970s, computers were seldom used in the public sector. During the mid-1960s, apart from the Ministry of Finance, no other ministry could set up its own computer department. The civil service lagged behind the private sector in harnessing the power of computing, often using outdated processes and computer systems.5

By 1979, the Singapore government had recognised the importance of computerisation in improving Singapore’s economic competitiveness. As such, Goh Chok Tong, the then Minister for Trade and Industry, convened the Committee for National Computerisation. Dr Tony Tan was appointed the committee chairman in 1980. The committee called for the creation of an organisation to carry out a three-pronged approach to boost computerisation in Singapore: computerising the civil service, encouraging similar actions in the private sector, and cultivating Singapore’s computing talent pool.6 The committee found that a lack of trained personnel was one of the factors impeding the development of the software industry.7

Formation
Formed on 1 September 1981, the NCB was housed under the Ministry of Finance (MOF). Singapore became one of the first countries in the world to establish a government agency promoting computerisation and development of the information technology (IT) industry.8 The NCB’s first general manager was Dr Tan Chin Nam, and its first chairman was Philip Yeo.9 Computer management personnel in the private sector welcomed the formation of the NCB and felt that it should pay attention to the practical use of computer applications and systems.10

In addition to fulfilling the recommendations outlined by the Committee for National Computerisation, the NCB would set up a professional examinations syndicate to maintain high standards in local computer education and training.11

The NCB was first located at Finger Pier Building at Prince Edward Road. Three months later, it moved to the Singapore Automotive Engineering Building at Portsdown Road, where it remained for the next five years. It then moved to a site at the Singapore Science Park when construction was completed.12

Developments
1980s
In 1981, the Civil Service Computerisation Programme (CSCP) was set up to improve efficiency of government operations and its range of services to the public, and promote the use of IT in other sectors.13 The CSCP set up a civil-service-wide computer network known as the Inter-Departmental Network, IDEmail to facilitate intragovernment communication, and the Government Resource and Information Network to capitalise on the internet to disseminate information and reach out to the public.14

The NCB spent large sums of money to train the requisite workforce for Singapore’s computerisation journey. In 1982, it launched the NCB Undergraduate Scholarship Award Scheme and Postgraduate Scholarship Scheme.15 It also recruited IT professionals from overseas and engaged foreign consultants to assist in projects on specialised fields.16

By 1983, the NCB wanted to develop a “One Stop Non-Stop” civil service, enabling Singaporeans to receive 24-hour access to its services.17

In 1986, the National Information Technology Plan was rolled out to support Singapore’s economy, expanding the government’s role in IT policy and promotion. Computerised application networks were put in place for key economic sectors, allowing easier transmission of business information between public sector and private organisations. This enabled greater economic efficiency and competitiveness.18

On 1 September 1989, the NCB Amendment Bill was passed in parliament. This allowed the Board to go beyond promoting computerisation to overseeing computer-based information services and information technology.19

In the 1980s, the NCB had focused its efforts on using IT in government and business. In the following decade, it turned its focus to using IT to improve the public’s quality of life.20

1990s
In 1992, the NCB launched the IT2000 Masterplan to transform Singapore into an “Intelligent Island” and leverage on IT for higher economic growth and standard of living. Under the masterplan, the NCB’s strategic thrusts were to leverage on IT in the government, develop an information infrastructure, nurture the IT industry, and create an IT culture, and deploy IT2000 flagship projects.21 These flagship projects were to develop IT in seven sectors: education, libraries and information services, law and justice, healthcare, construction, manufacturing and distribution, and tourism and leisure.

In the later part of the 1990s, substantial efforts were made to bring IT capabilities to the public. For example, computer playgrounds or edutainment centres were set up to introduce the young to IT. There was also greater use of IT in public places like libraries and shopping malls.22

Organisational changes
In 1996, the NCB outsourced its system building and maintenance functions under the CSCP to the industry. The CSCP was corporatised and transferred to the National Computer Systems Pte Ltd, a subsidiary company of the NCB.23 

The NCB was moved from the Ministry of Finance to the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) in June 1997, to encourage greater collaboration with other economic promotion organisations. The government later recognised the growing convergence between IT and telecommunications. Hence in 1999, the NCB was shifted from the MTI to be under the Ministry of Communications, Information and Technology.24 In that same year, the NCB merged with the Telecommunications Authority of Singapore to form the Info-communications Development Authority of Singapore.25

NCB leadership
1981–86: Tan Chin Nam (General Manager)
1986–90: Lim Swee Say (General Manager)
1990–91: Ko Kheng Hwa (General Manager)
1991–95: Ko Kheng Hwa (Chief Executive)
1995–99: Stephen Yeo (Chief Executive)
1999: Michael Yap (Chief Executive)26

Timeline
1980: The Committee on National Computerisation is formed.27
1 Sep 1981: The NCB is formed as a statutory board under the Ministry of Finance.28
1986: The National Information Technology Plan is launched.29
1 Sep 1989: The NCB (Amendment) Bill is passed.30
1989: The National IT Awards are launched to recognise organisations that excel in harnessing IT as a strategic tool.31
31 Dec 1991: A group of NCB staff members meet and bury a time capsule containing over 100 items to commemorate the organisation’s 10th anniversary.32
1992: The IT2000 Masterplan is launched to make Singapore an “Intelligent Island”.33
19 Apr 1995: The Lin Hsin Hsin Art Museum, developed by the NCB, is launched on the World Wide Web, enabling 30 million users to explore Southeast Asia’s first cyberspace art museum.
7 Sep 1995: The inaugural National IT Forum is held.34
6 Oct 1995: Internet at the Library is launched, giving the public easy internet access at any of the 10 public libraries. This is in line with the Library 2000 vision to help Singapore become a learning society.35
1 Apr 1996: The CSCP is corporatised. The CSCP’s activities are transferred into its restructured subsidiary, National Computer Systems (NCS) Pte Ltd.36
Jun 1996: The Government Intranet is launched, allowing information to be shared across different ministries and statutory boards.37
1997: The Masterplan for IT in Education is announced.38
Apr 1998: The Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS) launches Internet e-filing, believed to be the world’s first electronic filing system for individual taxpayers.39
1999: The NCB and Telecommunications Authority of Singapore are merged to form the Info-communications Development Authority of Singapore.40



Author
Rebecca Tan



References
1. National Computer Board, National Computer Board Annual Report (Singapore: National Computer Board, 1983), 1. (Call no. RCLOS 001.640605957 NCBSAR-[AR])
2. Soh Tiang Keng, “Manpower for Computers,” Straits Times, 18 January 1981, 1; Leslie Goh, “Taking the Govt Down the Tech Road,” Straits Times, 3 October 2006, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
3. National Computer Board, National Computer Board Annual Report, 1.
4. Goh, “Taking the Govt Down the Tech Road.”
5. Centre for Liveable Cities, Technology and the City: Foundation for a Smart Nation (Singapore: Centre for Liveable Cities, 2011), 6. (Call no. RSING 303.4833095957 TAN)
6. Centre for Liveable Cities, Technology and the City, 7.
7. “Manpower for Computers,” Straits Times, 18 January 1981, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
8. Centre for Liveable Cities, Technology and the City, 8.
9. Centre for Liveable Cities, Technology and the City, 9.
10. “Computer Board And Training Plans ‘Are Timely’,” Straits Times, 19 January 1981, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
11. “Manpower for Computers.”
12. National Computer Board, WWW: The Wonder Years of the NCB, 1981–1999. Singapore: National Computer Board, 1999), 6. (Call no. RSING 004.0605957 SIN)
13. Lee Kwok Cheong, “Civil Service Computerisation – The Singapore Experience,” Digital Repository of NTU, 1988, 6.
14. National Computer Board, WWW: The Wonder Years of the NCB, 8.
15. National Computer Board, WWW: The Wonder Years of the NCB, 6.
16. National Computer Board, Towards an Intelligent Island: NCB 10th Anniversary 1981–1991 (Singapore: National Computer Board, 1991), 20. (Call no. RSING 004.0605957 SIN)
17. National Computer Board, Towards an Intelligent Island, 34.
18. National Computer Board, Towards an Intelligent Island, 2.
19. “Computer Board to Play Bigger Role,” Straits Times, 1 September 1989, 28. (From NewspaperSG)
20. National Computer Board, Towards an Intelligent Island, 41.
21. National Computer Board, NCB Year Book 1995–1996 (Singapore: National Computer Board, 1996), 3. (Call no. RSING 004.0605957 SNCBNC)
22. National Computer Board, NCB Year Book 1995–1996, 31, 39.
23. National Computer Board, NCB Year Book 1995–1996, 10.
24. Centre for Liveable Cities, Technology and the City, 32.
25. Goh, “Taking the Govt Down the Tech Road.”
26. National Computer Board, WWW: The Wonder Years of the NCB, 34.
27. National Computer Board, Towards an Intelligent Island, 2.
28. National Computer Board, Towards an Intelligent Island, 2.
29. National Computer Board, Towards an Intelligent Island, 2.
30. “Computer Board to Play Bigger Role.”
31. National Computer Board, WWW: The Wonder Years of the NCB, 47.
32. National Computer Board, WWW: The Wonder Years of the NCB, 45.
33. National Computer Board, WWW: The Wonder Years of the NCB, 24.
34. National Computer Board, NCB Year Book 1995–1996, 10.
35. National Computer Board, NCB Year Book 1995–1996, 10.
36. National Computer Board, NCB Year Book 1995–1996, 10.
37. National Computer Board, WWW: The Wonder Years of the NCB, 8.
38. National Computer Board, WWW: The Wonder Years of the NCB, 14.
39. National Computer Board, WWW: The Wonder Years of the NCB, 9.
40. National Computer Board, WWW: The Wonder Years of the NCB, 65.



The information in this article is valid as at 5 May 2021 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Organisations

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