Bidding farewell to Singapore's open source advocate

He wasn't one who went with the flow, and was widely regarded as an outspoken advocate of the open source movement in Singapore. Cheok Beng Teck, CIO of the country's Ministry of Defense (Mindef), chartered the way that saw the government body embrace--almost unabashedly--an open source strategy that few in the public sector would have been as comfortable adopting.

He wasn't one who went with the flow, and was widely regarded as an outspoken advocate of the open source movement in Singapore. Cheok Beng Teck, CIO of the country's Ministry of Defense (Mindef), chartered the way that saw the government body embrace--almost unabashedly--an open source strategy that few in the public sector would have been as comfortable adopting.


Cheok Beng Teck
Sadly, Cheok passed away last Sunday, apparently after suffering a heart attack whilst trekking on a mountain in China. He had only recently retired, making his sudden demise all the more poignant. He was 52. Under Cheok's guidance, Mindef became synonymous with open source, whether it had intended to be or not, and an agency that was at the forefront of testing and adopting new technology. It was highly uncharacteristic for a government entity in Singapore to adopt a technology that--at the time--went against the grain and deemed to be somewhat controversial. More so, it was unusual for a civil servant to be so candid and unafraid to discuss his reasons for choosing one platform over another, much less one that was attracting much attention from the global and local IT community. Cheok's involvement in open source went as far back as 2001, when he was then the director for planning and strategic development at Singapore's Institute of High Performance Computing (IHPC). In June that year, he helped the R&D institute--alongside partner Singapore/MIT Alliance--establish a Linux competency center in a bid to help companies set up clusters for engineering and product design work on the open source platform. Cheok joined Mindef the following year as director of the ministry's CIO office, where he headed the team in supporting and introducing changes regarding IT matters. At Mindef, Cheok was often quoted by various major media houses including ZDNet Asia, for his contribution to the open source movement, including the ministry's decision to install OpenOffice and support for the Open Document Format. But Cheok was never overly religious about his support for open source. Instead, he took the time to explain the rationale behind Mindef's decision to embrace the platform, noting that it was still about saving millions of dollars and a desire not to be tied down by proprietary standards and to obtain "true" ownership of one's intellectual property. Cheok's strong voice of authority will be sorely missed not just amongst the open source community, but also in the general IT industry. In him, we had a visionary, a man who was willing to dive into unchartered waters and then stand up to support his beliefs. He leaves behind a legacy that I hope will be preserved in Mindef. Did you know Cheok? If you would like to share your condolences and thoughts on Cheok's role and contributions to the IT industry, do leave a Talkback or e-mail me.

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