In developing markets, it’s about quality and track record; in developed world, it’s about choice and transparency
E-govt services should be built around the government-to-citizen (G2C) domain; heading towards global standardisation
THE number of citizens subscribing to e-government services worldwide is expected to triple by 2016, with the amount of investment in the sector set to show significant growth.
According to the 2012 United Nations E-government Survey, Asia Pacific is one of the global hotbeds in e-government delivery. South Korea leads the world in terms of online service delivery, while Singapore is the only other Asian country in the top 10 global rankings. Within Asia, the two nations claim first and second place respectively, while Malaysia ranks eight (see chart).
One Singaporean company is leveraging on its homegrown expertise in delivering solutions for the Singapore Government to garner business in other countries.
In 1999, CrimsonLogic developed the eFiling System -- the world's first paperless civil litigation system -- for Singapore. The company was also behind the Integrated Electronic Licensing System (iELS), which replaced the eFiling System.
Since then it has grown to become a 1,000-strong company, which claims expertise in pioneering and enabling a future of seamless global e-governance across emerging and developed markets.
This year, CrimsonLogic celebrates its 25th anniversary and seeks to move ahead with the next phase of growth in its three core businesses: Trade Facilitation, eJudiciary, and eGovernment and eCitizen.
CrimsonLogic also recently appointed Saw Ken Wye, an industry veteran with 30 years of experience, to the post of chief executive officer, in line with its efforts to grow customer relationships, expand its global footprint and work towards enhancing sales in key growth markets.
In an email interview with Digital News Asia (DNA), CrimsonLogic chairman Eugene Wong shares the challenges of servicing a government customer base, and the key trends in the e-government sector in the coming years.
DNA: Against the backdrop of public acknowledgement of clandestine surveillance activities by nation states, how does CrimsonLogic overcome the heightened scrutiny of foreign vendors when it comes to bidding for government projects?
Wong: The most critical step in delivering a competitive pitch for overseas projects is ensuring that the respective governments trust us to implement the most efficient, reliable and secure solutions. Our track record in various markets plays a big part in establishing this trust.
Furthermore, when engaging new governments or pitching for new projects with governments we’ve previously worked with, we typically start with a consultancy project that allows us to give them a comprehensive situation analysis including risks, benefits and our expertise in the field.
This helps build a strong case for a long-term e-government vision that benefits citizens. Governments will only engage us once they gain confidence in our strategy, solutions and services.
DNA: What are the key concerns that you typically have to address with government customers?
Wong: The biggest IT implementation challenge for governments is the choice of local versus foreign IT partners. The region has strong local players in each market and using local partners ensures they are helping local businesses and creating jobs.
Using a foreign vendor raises questions about the quality of solutions and services available locally. What we’ve seen in countries like Mauritius and Oman is that they’ve simply chosen to adopt best of breed solutions. At CrimsonLogic, we also make sure to work with local partners for overseas implementations.
On the other hand, the mind-set of governments in developed markets is that of choice and transparency. Our goal there is to become a viable and reliable alternative option where there is room for more than one system. Our track record of reliability plays a critical role in finding success with such projects.
We are able to provide innovative business models, such as 'Public Private Partnerships', 'Build, Operate and Transfer' or other hybrid arrangements which help off-set the cost of implementations of various e-government solutions.
What is important is to set the right expectations when negotiating large-scale government projects and also understand the risks, whether shared or not, to minimise setbacks and hiccups.
DNA: CrimsonLogic is a Singapore-based company, with your first client essentially being the Singapore Government. Can you share how the experience has aided in garnering the business of other countries since?
Wong (pic): As a Singapore company, our experience in rolling out innovative solutions with the Singapore Government has helped us develop the right experience and domain knowledge in the areas of e-government solutions.
Given the high standards and requirements of the Singapore Government, we were able to hone our skills in project implementations and bring best-of-breed practices to our overseas projects, where the Singapore quality is well recognised.
It also helps that Singapore is ranked highly in the World Bank Ease of Doing Business report as well as other efficiency-related world rankings.
We also leverage and partner with government-affiliated agencies such as the Singapore Cooperation Enterprise (SCE), IDA International and IE Singapore where we can tap on governement-to-government (G2G) engagements.
This helps us share the Singapore success stories and experiences with various government bodies, especially developing countries looking to roll out e-government solutions.
DNA: What is usually the biggest challenge when you approach a new market?
Wong: There are two main challenges when approaching overseas markets, the first being cultural. We need to understand how these governments think and what their fears are.
It’s critical to understand their way of governance and the overall functioning of these economies. This allows us to be sensitive to their needs, expectations and customs while suggesting a suitable implementation approach.
The second is resource planning, as assembling the right team to implement these projects is a major challenge.
A typical implementation team includes experts from Singapore, local hires and software developers from our centre in Bangalore. It’s critical for us to find the right talent and have a balanced mix of foreign and local experts.
DNA: Do share with us some of the more interesting projects the company is currently working on and how it exemplifies the varied and nuanced demands of the market segment you cater to.
Wong: We recently won a key project in Oman, a first for us in this market. The project has two deliverables – to plan, develop and launch Oman’s first National Single Electronic Window (SEW) for the Royal Oman Police and Directorate General of Customs; and another deliverable to roll out an enhanced Integrated Customs Management System (ICMS) to replace the existing one.
SEW is a platform that allows trading communities to lodge standardised information and documents with a single entry point to fulfil import, export and transit-related regulatory requirements. The ICMS will allow the Directorate General of Customs to enhance customs administration in meeting current economic and globalisation trends and standards. Both systems will be rolled out simultaneously at 28 Customs locations in Oman in this multi-year project.
When launched, the SEW/ ICMS is expected to provide an electronic platform for the Sultanate of Oman and trade communities to manage administrative and logistical operations more efficiently, such as elimination of duplicated processes, standardisation of operations and reducing paper work.
The solution will also provide a single online channel by electronically linking different agencies involved in the import/ export process to facilitate data exchange for the application of licences and permits, enabling comprehensive self-service online customs services to be provided conveniently to local business communities.
In this way, the Sultanate of Oman can consolidate access channels and all Customs’ core support applications through the same solution, where trade data can be accurately analysed to better facilitate growth measurement and forecast.
The second big overseas project is the Mauritius National Identity Card System. The Mauritius National Identity Scheme (MNIS) is set to provide new national ID cards to all citizens of the Republic of Mauritius of 18 years and above, and involves the setting up of new digital infrastructure for reliably storing citizen records and implementing the use of the new electronic ID card in e-government services.
The MNIS is a project spearheaded by the Prime Minister’s Office, with the collaboration of the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology and a Consortium of experts from Singapore, including CrimsonLogic, led by the Singapore Cooperation Enterprise (SCE), an entity of the Government of Singapore.
DNA: In your opinion, what will be the key trends and issues for the e-government services industry in the next 2-3 years? Where do you see the industry moving toward and what challenges need to be overcome in order for e-government solutions to truly take off?
Wong: We see e-government solutions growing rapidly. This is mainly due to savvy citizens who are more connected than ever. Government strategy going forward should be built around the government-to-citizen (G2C) domain. With citizens having the platforms to share instant feedback, engaging them in a positive and productive manner should be the cornerstone of e-government planning.
In the longer-term, e-governance is moving towards global standardisation. Our vision is to link the various systems across the world to provide a seamless global e-governance experience and establish a closer citizen community.
We are looking to grow our revenue and business aggressively in the next 3-5 years’ time. What will be critical is our ability to continue to innovate and enhance our solutions and service offerings, and I have high expectations that we have the right mix of experience and know-how to do so.
To read the 2012 United Nations E-government Survey in full, click here.
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