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COMMENTARY

Push for solutions for better lives has never been stronger

AS SINGAPORE'S healthcare frontline workers mounted a medical response when Covid-19 hit these shores in January, the government was concurrently launching a technological response far broader and deeper that what was done for the Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak back in 2003.

Compared to Sars, 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.

Digital platforms were launched 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 situation 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.

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 enabled government agencies to react to and manage the pandemic more effectively.

The new possible: Singapore's digital landscape

During this Covid-19 period, 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 the majority of their workers telecommuting.

Singapore's workforce, and even the seniors, are becoming experts at conducting meetings via Zoom, WebEx and Skype.

The 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 receiving their latest Covid-19 updates via the Gov.Sg WhatsApp channel.

A recent McKinsey study found that consumer and business digital adoption has vaulted five years forward in a matter of eight weeks.

With the gradual reopening of Singapore's economy into a post-Covid-19 world, we will accelerate investments to empower citizens and businesses with more digitallyenabled possibilities.

As the implementing agency for the Digital Government Blueprint, the Government Technology Agency (GovTech) will increase the pace of digitalisation in government by Humanising our front-end services, Engaging our community and Modernising government infrastructure to "HEM" 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 front-end 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 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.

Over S$118 million in projected information and communications technology (ICT) contracts in this financial year will go towards developing 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 - such as those related to starting or growing a business and applying for a licence.

With information conveniently available from your phones and laptops, we aspire to let citizens continue to transact and run errands, 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.

Additionally, 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 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 S$300 million to design, implement and operate a new software-defined Government Wide Area Network to support increased computing needs, and another S$300 million to strengthen the Government's cyber security posture with automated system reviews, cyber security 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, cyber security, 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.

  • The writer is chief executive of the Government Technology Agency (GovTech).

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