This is an Expert Opinion by Kok Ping Soon, Chief Executive of the Government Technology Agency of Singapore (GovTech Singapore)
As our healthcare frontline workers mounted a medical response when COVID-19 hit our shores in January, the Singapore Government was concurrently launching a technological response – far broader and deeper that what we did for SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in 2003.
Compared to SARS in 2003, when communication channels were largely driven by broadcast news and radio, we now have digital platforms to push out information quickly; channels such as the Gov.Sg Whatsapp channel and the COVID-19 Chatbot have provided the public with timely daily updates on the pandemic.
We also launched digital platforms for citizens to get personalised and granular information – ranging from where they can collect their masks (MaskGoWhere website), to what financial support they can get (SupportGoWhere website) to the crowd level at places of interest (SpaceOut portal).
Safe distancing enforcement at public parks is now supplemented with robotics and drones for greater effectiveness and safety. The largely manual contact tracing regime used during SARS is now augmented with digital tools such as TraceTogether and SafeEntry to improve the accuracy and speed of identifying close contacts.
COVID-19 has demonstrated the importance of investing in digital capabilities. Over the past few years since the launch of the Smart Nation initiative in 2014, we have established a nationwide fibre infrastructure, nurtured a vibrant tech ecosystem, and also invested in building technology expertise and tools within Government agencies. These investments have started to bear fruit, and have allowed Government agencies to react to and manage the pandemic more effectively.
The new possible: Singapore’s digital landscape
During this COVID-19 period, our businesses and citizens are taking to digital tools at an unprecedented pace. Companies – that did not imagine remote work was possible – are now operating with majority of their workers tele-commuting. Our workforce, and even our seniors, are now experts at conducting meetings via Zoom, WebEx and Skype. Use of SafeEntry is a now a staple for everyone, with over two million users checking in/out on a daily basis; more than 1.1 million people are now receiving their latest COVID-19 updates via the Gov.Sg Whatsapp channel. A McKinsey study found that consumer and business digital adoption has vaulted five years forward in a matter of eight weeks.
With the gradual re-opening of Singapore’s economy into a post-COVID-19 world, we will accelerate investments to empower citizens and businesses with more digitally-enabled possibilities.
As the implementing agency for the Digital Government Blueprint, the Government Technology Agency of Singapore (GovTech Singapore) will increase the pace of digitalisation in government by Humanising our frontend services, Engaging our community, and Modernising Government infrastructure to “H.E.M.” in the digitalisation gains from COVID- 19 to create a more digitally empowered nation.
“HEM-ming” in the new possibilities
Firstly, we aim to humanise our frontend services to create a more unified and pleasant experience when citizens transact with the Government.
We have made good progress in making our government digital services more user-centric. Citizens and Businesses’ satisfaction with government digital services has improved by eight percentage points in 2019 to reach 86 per cent and 77 per cent respectively – an all-time high since 2012.
This year, we will be making an even bigger push in humanising our services as more service-journey projects transit from design and development to minimum viable products (MVPs).
Over $118 million of projected ICT contracts in this FY is earmarked to develop better citizen and business facing applications. The current “Moments of Life” app will undergo a product refresh to evolve into a go-to app for all things related to the government in a citizen’s life in Singapore, such as birth, graduation, and marriage.
For businesses, the GoBusiness portal will evolve into a key platform for business-related transactions with the Government – to help companies start a business, grow a business, and to apply for a licence. With information conveniently available from your phones and laptops, we aspire to let citizens continue to transact and run errands as per usual, while reducing the frequency of in-person appointments.
Citizen-centric digital services will also become more pervasive. Beyond using SingPass to log in to government services and now for SafeEntry check-in, users can look forward to more value-added services such as using SingPass Mobile for digital signing of documents, and biometric login.
Second, we will engage the community in partnership to co-create and drive adoption in the usage of digital solutions. COVID-19 has shown us that no one has the monopoly on wisdom to deal with a national crisis; we are only as strong as our ability to work together.
In May, we conducted a COVID-19 Idea Sprint, which attracted over 300 participants who suggested more than 70 proposals – with ideas ranging from designing wearables for contact tracing to developing personal risk scores based on proximity data.
To fortify our engagement with the tech community, we have soft-launched a new Singapore Government Developer Portal. This is a centralised resource to help industry and developers learn more about our tech products. Developers, suppliers and industry partners will be able to find key information on product features, use cases and technical specifications to co-create solutions with us.
Finally, we will continue to modernise Government infrastructure. We will speed up the migration of government ICT systems onto the Government Commercial Cloud. More applications will be re-platformed and re-factored to leverage cloud native services to increase their agility and scalability. We will also invest aggressively in data analytics, artificial intelligence and sensor projects to enable data-driven decision making in improving services and operational effectiveness.
We will also spend $300 million to design, implement and operate a new software-defined Government Wide Area Network to support increased computing needs, and another $300 million to strengthen the Government’s cybersecurity posture with automated system reviews, cybersecurity monitoring and digital forensics capabilities.
Engineering Digital Government, Making Lives Better
To support these plans, we will deepen our engineering capabilities within GovTech. We are hiring over 400 engineers in software development, cybersecurity, data analytics and infrastructure to augment our current engineering workforce of 2,200.
As I often share with my colleagues, GovTech’s purpose in “Engineering Digital Government” so as to “Make Lives Better” has never been stronger. We will strive to push Singapore to be at the forefront of digital technology, and as one people, weather this storm together.