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New ministerial-level group to raise game in planning, executing digital tech policies

New govt agency's priorities include digital identity system, nation-wide electronic payments system
Tuesday, March 21, 2017 - 05:50

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Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who will chair a ministerial committee overseeing the SNDGG, said this consolidating move is necessary so as to "drive the Smart Nation initiative more effectively".

Singapore

THE Singapore government, aiming to become more effective in drawing up and implementing policies for the deployment of digital technology, will set up a ministerial-level unit to see to this.

Several units already involved in the design and implementation of digital technology policies across the public sector will, from May 1, come under one roof.

The private sector views this move positively, saying that this is a path other economies - leaders in digital innovation and adoption - have taken.

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Among the priorities of the new agency, called Smart Nation and Digital Government Group (SNDGG), are the development of a digital identity system, a nation-wide electronic payments system, an island-wide wireless sensor network and urban-mobility solutions.

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Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who will chair a ministerial committee overseeing the SNDGG, said this consolidating move is necessary so as to "drive the Smart Nation initiative more effectively".

Vivian Balakrishnan, who is on the committee, added: "Bringing the master-planners, policy makers and implementation teams together under one roof will make a big difference."

A government agency and two technology planning units will come under the SNDGG's charge.

The Government Technology Agency (GovTech), now a statutory board under the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI), will be the group's implementing agency. Its role is to examine the ways in which technologies can be used in the public sector. It has a staff size of about 1,800.

The two other units, now parts of the Finance Ministry and MCI, will team up with a unit in the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) called the Smart Nation Programme Office. They will form the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office (SNDGO), to be staffed by a team of about 40.

Other members of the SNDGG ministerial committee include its deputy chairman, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim, along with Education Minister Ong Ye Kung and Minister of State for Communications and Information Janil Puthucheary.

GovTech chairman Ng Chee Khern, who is now Permanent Secretary (Defence Development), will also be Permanent Secretary (Smart Nation and Digital Government) from May 1.

In a Facebook post on Monday, Dr Balakrishnan said that over the next year, the SNDGG will focus on creating "foundational digital platforms" for digital identity, e-payments and sensors.

He and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong have lately called for a more secure national authentication system for both the public and private sector.

The government has also been working on a Central Addressing Scheme, through which users can make immediate fund transfers by using proxies such as mobile numbers and NRIC numbers, bypassing the need to use cumbersome account numbers. This is slated for launch by the middle of this year.

There is also a push for a national sensor network. Late last month, Mr Lee said that the country can do more to set up an integrated network of sensors island-wide to monitor infrastructure such as roads, drains and lifts, and to mine these for data.

The PMO also said that the SNDGG will work with the Land Transport Authority to tap existing and emerging technologies to improve public transport, enhance urban logistics and reduce congestion to make for more pleasant commuting.

Private-sector observers said they believe the government's rebooting of Smart Nation and digital government approaches as necessary.

Senior partner at McKinsey & Company Diaan-Yi Lin said that the consultancy's experience has shown that putting one department in the uppermost level of government to oversee setting of strategies, developing talent, standardising operations and assigning responsibilities leads to the most successful implementation of digital initiatives.

Denmark's Agency for Digitisation and Estonia's E-Estonia Council are examples of similar moves.

"This move to create the SNDGG will strengthen Singapore's standing as a digital leader and align its 'governance and organisation' approach with the global best."

Teo Lay Lim, who is Asean senior managing director at consultancy Accenture, said the reorganisation can help Singapore establish digital transformation initiatives faster.

"By bringing the Smart Nation vision to life, we can look forward to optimising local resources to drive integrated programmes and initiatives across industries."

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