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  • SMU team comprised students from an unprecedented mix of postgraduate programmes
  • Inaugural Singapore competition sought innovative digital health ideas
  • "SMART Care Centre" proposed to integrate and create a social, physical and digital world of the elderly, for the elderly

A team of cross-disciplinary postgraduate students from the Singapore Management University (SMU) has clinched third prize in the inaugural Singapore Grand Challenge held by Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD) Global Innovation Hub on 14-16 April 2016 in Singapore. Out of seven competing university teams in the finals, the SMU team beat two NTU teams, an NUS team and the SP Jain School of Global Management team, placing SMU after NUS and SUTD.

Walking away with S$5,000 and becoming MSD's Digital Health Consultant for a month, the SMU team was represented by the following 2015-2016 cohort students from three postgraduate programmes:

  • Abhinov Balagoni – Master of IT in Business (MITB) Analytics
  • Gabriel Choo Zhong Zhi – Master of Science in Management (MM)
  • Rohit Dewan – Master of Business Administration (MBA)
  • Vinod Subramanian – MITB Analytics

Their winning idea, a "SMART Care Centre", envisions transforming community centres into a one-stop integrated community and wellness eco-system that better meets seniors' social and healthcare needs through digitisation.

Over three days of intense final competition, the SMU team gathered at the MSD Global Innovation Hub along with 24 other postgraduate and undergraduate students from the other four institutions. They brainstormed on various digital health topics given each day and presented a business plan the following day to judges from a group of experienced MSD mentors as well as external consultants in various specialisations.

On the third day, along with the other finalist teams, Team SMU tackled the grand challenge of recommending a digital health experiment that could be conducted in Singapore and would exploit the evolution of digital technologies to deliver next-generation healthcare offerings for the elderly. There were three inter-related sub-areas that the challenge was interested in: fall prevention, medical adherence, and the design of next-generation healthcare experience in hospitals.

"The digital health challenge provided by MSD was an opportunity to ideate and solution an intersect of the physical and the digital world to provide for better healthcare outcomes for the elderly. Today, healthcare captures clinical and visit data, but lacks the infrastructure to capture the "out-of-Care setting" data such as daily activities, medication adherence, sleep pattern, fall habits and other behavioral data. The intersection of clinical and behavioral data is crucial to provide for proactive care rather than the reactive as it stands today. The insights gleaned will assist governments, hospitals and other care providers to be proactive in tackling the growing elderly care requirements in the country. The MITB Analytics curriculum rigor and the application in business grounding at SMU has shaped me to always "Think. Visualize. Do. Apply" data in every activity. This perspective helped in working with the interdisciplinary team to architect a winning solution at the competition."


The competing teams were evaluated based on the feasibility of their solutions, compelling proposition of core ideas, and thoroughness of analyses. The panel of judges was from Boston University Questrom School of Business, MSD's commercial division, the MSD Translational Research Laboratory, and the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB).

The SMU team's proposed solution involves designing a SMART Care Centre for Singapore by digitally integrating existing and upcoming Community Centres, wellness centres and future active ageing hubs, with available technologies today such as smart toilets and chairs, and health devices and wearables such as fitness trackers, digital watches and smart cards. It integrates and creates a social, physical and digital world of the elderly, for the elderly.

Coupled with the use of data analytics on captured data of the elderly's behaviour and activities outside hospital care settings, the valuable information adds to patients' clinical data to provide holistic views into individuals' health and care journeys. The insights can be leveraged to better understand care needs of the elderly and to improve care outcomes such as achieving reduced falls, better mental health, better adherence to medication and care interventions. It will also enable effective integration of all healthcare stakeholders.

The business plan purports that there are other key benefits such as influencing the behaviour of the elderly towards self-care and technology adoption, reducing hospital footfalls, and leveraging this as a test bed for new technologies and products.

SMU Deputy Dean of Postgraduate Professional Programmes Associate Professor Themin Suwardy said, "SMU has a strong emphasis on broadening our students' strategic vision and going beyond specific disciplines because real-world problems are interdisciplinary and complex in nature. Providing a transformative experience is also an important differentiator for SMU and our master's programmes.

"Our winning students demonstrated a strong spirit of collaboration and innovation, embracing the multi-disciplinary challenges quickly with mature critical thinking and analytical skills for problem-solving. The exposure to industry partners and the practical approach are useful in sharpening students' abilities to deal with more complex problems in future. Credit goes to the students and supporting faculty and staff for the tenacity and hard work to not only tackle the challenges but win laurels in the national competition," he added.

"Singapore Grand Challenge was to identify how information technology can transform global healthcare. This essentially required us to think through multi-disciplinary fields such as data storage in cloud amid privacy concerns, designing the data driven business process and performing appropriate data analysis for personalized care. I believe MITB course has been extremely resourceful in imparting me with the required skill set to deal with such complicated real world problems"

- Abhinov BALAGONI

MM postgraduate student Gabriel Choo said on behalf of the SMU participating team, "The inaugural Singapore Grand Challenge by MSD not only brought together talents across Singapore universities to generate practical digital health ideas for a worthy cause, but also empowered us to think about humanising technologies. These ideas would enable the next generation of health technologies to have augmented human focus, which would make healthcare more personalised and precise. The healthcare industry is being constantly disrupted with innovations. These innovations must begin with a mindset shift – to produce new ideas that not just deliver efficiencies and improved processes, but address the needs of society with empathy, and also can be seamlessly integrated into our lives."

"SMU's cross-disciplinary team, consisting of postgraduate students from the diverse programmes with vast work experiences, allowed a vibrant mix of ideas from management, business and IT specialisations to be pitched in. It was an enriching experience learning and contributing. The dynamism created from the combined expertise was critical in bringing the best out of us in the competition," he added.

The team was also grateful for opportunities to meet with leaders from a mix of sectors including the healthcare, academic, business and technology fields; as well as interactions with and advice from innovators, pharmaceutical scientists, data scientists, and business and technology experts.

The Grand Challenge focused on digital health, taking a holistic approach to the multi-disciplinary topic. It gathered students from academic institutions in Singapore to showcase ideas that can influence and transform global healthcare to create value for the world.

MSD is a global healthcare company and has sponsored the competition in the United States since 2013. This is the first one hosted in Singapore. The other institutions that participated included INSEAD, La Salle and NAFA. Please visit here for more information on the Singapore Grand Challenge.

[Featured Photo: The winning SMU team (centre four) with judges and officials of the competition at the prize-giving. The participating postgraduate students were (left to right) Vinod Subramanian (MITB Analytics), Gabriel Choo Zhong Zhi (MM), Abhinov Balagoni (MITB Analytics) and Rohit Dewan (MBA). (Photo by MSD)]

Last updated on 17 Oct 2018 .