New agency aims to be a ‘govt startup’ for Singapore’s Smart Nation

  • GovTech will continue IDA’s work as Government’s chief information office
  • Key to leading digital transformation is collaboration and ‘reducing friction’
New agency aims to be a ‘govt startup’ for Singapore’s Smart Nation

IN January, the Singapore Government took the milestone decision to merge the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) and the Media Development Authority (MDA), placing all ICT and media activities within a single agency.
At the same time, it will spun off a separate Government Technology Agency (GovTech) to act as the government’s chief information office.
GovTech will lead the digital transformation of Singapore’s public sector services, according to its chief executive-designate Jacqueline Poh (pic above), currently also the managing director of the IDA.
“[GovTech] … will implement the technology, data and engineering initiatives and infrastructure to enable Singapore’s Smart Nation vision,” she told Digital News Asia (DNA) via email.
This will include building ICT and engineering capabilities, as well as playing a governance and policy-making role on technical standards, cybersecurity and infrastructure “across the whole of government,” she added.
These activities continue from IDA’s role as the previous chief information office of the Singapore Government, which was to oversee government infrastructure.
GovTech will continue to work closely with ministries and statutory boards to adopt and develop new technologies and strengthen existing ICT systems in government.
“We will also be building Smart Nation systems and solutions to help public agencies better harness and analyse data to enable initiatives in domains such as mobility, energy, security and urban habitat,” said Poh.
Startup mentality
But Poh also wants to go one step further. “Essentially, I see GovTech as a ‘government startup’ that will provide leadership in applied technology,” she said.
“This means GovTech will move beyond enterprise IT to looking into other ICT and related engineering that can be deployed to make government services even more citizen-centric,” she added.
Poh scoffed at the idea that a government agency cannot be innovative, and that the civil service is always identified with bureaucracy and legacy – especially not when it comes to Singapore.
“I think it is simplistic to label the civil service as bureaucratic and therefore imply that innovation cannot thrive in the civil service,” she said.
“Singapore is internationally recognised as a leader in Digital Government initiatives, topping the World Economic Forum’s Global Information Technology Report index twice in a row,” she added.
The Global Information Technology report (PDF) has been published since 2001 to examine the increasing proliferation of technology and its effects on advancing global prosperity. It measures the drivers of the ICT revolution globally using the Networked Readiness Index (NRI), which covers 53 individual indicators.
In the report, Singapore joins six other countries which stand out in terms of economic and digital innovation impact, with the others being Finland, Switzerland, Sweden, Israel, the Netherlands, and the United States.
Singapore was also ranked No 1 in a number of sub-indices, including government use of ICT.
But beyond such reports and indices, Poh pointed to real-life examples of innovation at work.
“We are one of the few, if not the first, governments in the world to implement the use of a virtual assistant, Ask Jamie, in the public sector to address public queries,” she said.
“Six in 10 public users surveyed said that Ask Jamie helped them save time from making a call to a call centre.
“Another example is the MyInfo platform which pulls personal data with the citizen’s consent, across participating government agencies to populate e-forms, effectively saving time for citizens.
“Currently, 10 government agencies are using MyInfo, with more to come on board over the year,” she added.
The MyInfo platform has even seen interest from the private sector, according to Poh.
“The financial and banking services sector is also keen to work with GovTech on having MyInfo extended to banking transactions,” she said.
“Ask Jamie and MyInfo are two examples of how we have applied innovation, in a cost-effective way, to digital government services, making them more citizen-centric and friendly,” she added.
Friction-free governance

New agency aims to be a ‘govt startup’ for Singapore’s Smart Nation

As the lead agency for the Singapore Government’s digital transformation, GovTech’s role is also to “reduce friction,” Poh suggested, especially when citizens and businesses use government services.
“Whether you are an individual, a business or a social service organisation, the Government has many touch points you will interact with,” she said.
“We want to digitally transform government services. What do I mean by this? It is about reducing the friction between a citizen and the government; in essence, minimising the pain points in any part of a citizen’s interaction with government.
“These interactions can come in the form of paying a fine, registering for a business licence, and others,” she added.
And this is where data, analytics, and user experience (UX) design come in, Poh declared, echoing what many startups see as priorities too.
“Data, analytics and UX design can help us better anticipate the needs of our citizens, for us to push out the relevant services or products to them in their key moments of life,” she said.
“Take for example Beeline and MyResponder, two products that the IDA developed with the Land Transport Authority and the Singapore Civil Defence Force, respectively.
“These two applications have been well-received by the public, and attest to how crowdsourcing data and the use of geospatial technology, allied to good UX interfaces, can better help citizens with their mobility needs – and in the case of MyResponder, even save lives,” she added.
Beeline, rolled out in August 2015, is a mobile app that allows commuters to pre-book rides on express private bus routes; while MyResponder is an app that alerts volunteers to people suffering from cardiac arrests.
‘Reducing friction’ has another aspect to it too: The digital transformation of the public sector cannot be a one-agency job, so collaboration with other agencies is going to be key.
“Together with our central agencies the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Communications and Information, we will partner with our 99 public agencies, work with the industry and institutions of higher learning, to exploit new technologies to develop citizen-centric services and products,” said Poh.
“This spirit of collaboration is embodied as one of the core values at GovTech,” she added.
GovTech is building platforms that would not only foster innovation, but also enable greater collaboration, according to Poh.
This includes developing APIs (application programming interfaces) and data sharing platforms that would allow the partners above – other agencies, the private sector and institutions of higher learning – to co-create digital products, apps and services for Singapore’s Smart Nation, she said.
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