EXCLUSIVE – Enabling Digital Transformation within the Singapore Government: Report on the Singapore OpenGov Leadership Forum 2018

On 17 May 2018, the Singapore OpenGov Leadership Forum 2018 gathered around 400 government officials and senior technology executives from across the Singapore Government to discuss the opportunities and challenges of digital transformation. The full-day Forum took place at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore.

This year marks the 4th run of the OpenGov Leadership Forum in Singapore. OpenGov Leadership Forum seeks to provide an opportunity for government officials, industry experts and distinguished international speakers to come together to exchange ideas and learn about the latest developments in the public sector technology landscape.

‍Mr Mohit Sagar, Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief of OpenGov

To kick off the Forum, Mr Mohit Sagar, Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief of OpenGov gave his opening remarks. Mr Sagar highlighted the imperative of digital transformation in the public sector. He remarked that digital transformation is more than just the technology – it is about understanding citizens’ needs and driving desirable outcomes. He said that in this age of disruptive technologies, in order to use technology to improve public services delivery, government officials need to understand citizens’ needs, how they use technology and, more importantly, what their agencies are trying to achieve.

‍Dr Janil Puthucheary, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Transport and Ministry of Communications and Information, and Minister-in-charge of GovTech

Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Transport and Ministry of Communications and Information, Dr Janil Puthucheary, gave the opening ministerial keynote at the Singapore OpenGov Leadership Forum on 17 May. Dr Puthucheary is also the Minister-in-charge of GovTech.

Dr Puthucheary pointed out that despite rapid changes in the technology landscape, citizens’ needs for jobs, secure homes, opportunities for their children, a fulfilling education, and meaningful social networks remain unchanged.

“We want to transform. We want to transform our government, we want to transform our economy, we want to transform our society. And ultimately, we want to transform opportunities for businesses in Singapore. For Singapore, this type of transformation is existential,” said Dr Puthucheary.

“The role that we might play in the world stage will be defined by our response to this transformative wave and disruption,” he said.

In leading the country to ride this transformative wave of technological disruption, the Singapore Government has been taking the lead by accelerating the delivery of key Strategic National Projects, including the National Digital Identity portal SingPass, the adoption of PayNow which makes e-payments more integrated and interoperable, and the Moments of Life application which aims to address citizens’ pain points when transacting with the Government.

Dr Puthucheary named security, data, and talent as the foundation for Singapore’s Smart Nation.

“Cybersecurity is a key foundation of our Smart Nation efforts,” Dr Puthucheary stated.

Over the last few years, Singapore has set up a national cybersecurity agency and passed the Cybersecurity Act that came into effect in March 2018. In this area, the Government is also working with private sector partners to extend opportunities to the private sector to build a space for innovation.

The Government is also cautious in how it handles data and shares data. According to Dr Puthucheary, it is crucial for government agencies to have absolute clarity on how they should be sharing data and where their responsibilities lie, so that it provides confidence to the public, as well as to the civil service on how data can be maximally utilised to fulfil the mission to serve public good. Beyond giving clarity, the Government also has to look at the design, integration, and delivery of public services around data. This includes reviewing structures within the Government around data sharing and data management.

Talent and skill are also key aspects that form the foundation of Singapore’s Smart Nation efforts. Dr Puthucheary emphasised the importance of strengthening the Government’s digital capabilities to make it an “informed power user” of technology. He highlighted that the Government needed to have significant engineering and digital capabilities so that it could be the “best informed client and consumer”, and where appropriate, co-design, co-architect, co-operate, maintain and execute projects.

To attract the best talent into the public service, Singapore has launched the Smart Nation Scholarship and set up a Centre of Excellence in ICT & Smart Systems. Other than attracting engineers, data scientists, and developers, Dr Puthucheary stressed the importance of having multi-disciplinary teams to solve today’s complex challenges.

Other than diversity within teams, inclusiveness is also a key priority in the Government’s delivery of quality public services in the increasingly digital age.

“Digital inclusion means making sure our products, our services, our platforms are accessible to 100% of the population - not just the sub segment that is ICT-familiar, digital natives, not just the subsect that is very familiar with English, not just the early adopters or the first movers. We’ve got to make sure that by design, our platforms, our products and our services will reach the entire population,” he iterated.

Dr Puthucheary pointed out that Singapore is moving towards a digital readiness strategy to look at issues of access, digital literacy, and participation. He shared that in mid-2018, the Government would also release the Digital Government Blueprint to lay out the strategy for a digital and data driven Government.

After Minister Puthucheary’s keynote address, the Forum started its first gamification session to facilitate discussion and exchange among the delegates and industry experts.

In the morning, the Forum had four interactive gamification sessions. Throughout the Forum sessions, participants candidly shared their experience and concerns as part of the interactive peer learning experience.

In between the gamification sessions, there were three presentations that aim to share knowledge and inspire participants in their digital transformation journeys. The three presentations were as follow:

‍Mr Tan Eng Pheng, Assistant Chief Executive (Services), GovTech

Mr Tan Eng Pheng, Assistant Chief Executive (Services) of GovTech shared Singapore Government’s experience in digitalisation. He started his presentation by drawing a line between digitisation and digitalisation. According to Mr Tan, government agencies should seek to pursue digitalisation, which is the use of technology to integrate with processes to drive change and create much wider impact.

He gave a few examples of Singapore’s efforts in digitalisation, including the creation of national digital identity through the SingPass and CorpPass, the Parking.SG app, HDB Resale Portal, OneService mobile app, etc. All of these examples highlighted how technology can assist the government in delivering citizen centric services.

“Digitalisation is part of the Singapore public service transformation,” he said.

In this transformation, the Singapore Government leverage technology to improve public services to meet rising expectation of citizens as well as to empower citizens to capture opportunities in digital transformation through reskilling workforce and redesigning job roles. To conclude, Mr Tan distilled key learning principles which he summarised as a mindset shift towards ABC – Agile, Bold, and Collaborative.

‍Dr Omar Hatamleh, Chief Innovation Officer, Engineering at National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA) Johnson Space Center (JSC)

Dr Omar Hatamleh, Chief Innovation Officer, Engineering at National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA) Johnson Space Center (JSC) and Executive Director of the Space Studies Program at International Space University gave an international perspective.

In his thought-provoking presentation, Dr Hatamleh spoke about a future with innovation – how technology will be disrupting the future economy. He also highlighted the role of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics, and the effect of technology on future job markets. According to Dr Hatamleh, technology will transform the social fabric of our society from how humans interact with each other to eventually humans interacting with their AI companions. He emphasised the importance of bridging the gap between academic institutions and industry, in terms of investing in education needed to fill the future jobs, and producing technology that is aligned industry needs.

‍Mr Martin Yates, Chief Technology Officer and Homeland Security Director at DELL EMC, Singapore and South East Asia, Emerging Markets

Mr Martin Yates, Chief Technology Officer and Homeland Security Director at DELL EMC, Singapore and South East Asia, Emerging Markets, gave an industry perspective on how to build a smart digital city nation. 

According to Mr Yates, rapid urbanisation is one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century. Cities around the region and the globe face similar challenges, such as traffic congestion. These challenges in turn inhibit the effective productivity of a city as well as the quality of life. He also highlighted a few emerging technology trends including the faster proliferation of IoT devices, acceleration of security risks, rapid adoption of AI, accelerated demand for analytics, and rapid use of blockchain.

As a Chief Technology Officer, Mr Yates assists cities around the region in planning their ICT strategy to maximise their potential investments and provide internal future technology roadmaps. Mr Yates emphasised that the ICT strategy must be reviewed. He zoomed in to four areas of city transformation: (1) digital transformation, (2) IT transformation, (3) workforce transformation, and (4) security transformation.

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