COS Debate 2018 (Speech by SMS Janil Puthucheary)
Committee of Supply Debates 2018
1 Mar 2018
Transcript of speech by Dr Janil Puthucheary, Minister-in-Charge Of GovTech
Mr Chairman, many members have spoken about the unprecedented pace of technological innovation we are experiencing today. Singapore’s Smart Nation effort seeks to seize the opportunities presented by these changes, to create jobs and improve the lives of our people.
The Government will lead the way by transforming itself to become even more digital and data-driven. Digitalisation is also a key component of the Public Sector Transformation efforts.
Our vision is to be a Government that is digital to the core. We will release a Digital Government Blueprint in the middle of 2018. Today, I would like to explain just a few of the initiatives that will form part of this blueprint, in response to members’ questions.
Ms Jessica Tan asked how Government is making its digital services more citizen-centric. In the design and delivery of our services, we have and will continue to drive a user-centric approach. If I may just share about two of these services with you.
The first is the Business Grants Portal. Launched in January 2017 (at www.businessgrants.gov.sg), it brings different Government agencies’ business grant applications to one interface.
This portal removes the need for businesses to approach different Government agencies separately for grant applications, and avoids the need to repeatedly provide similar information for each grant application. Instead of an agency-centric approach, this platform has been designed around the needs of businesses.
During the development process, engagement with businesses and their feedback has resulted in modifications and improvements to the Portal. For example, the ability for company information to be automatically extracted from ACRA for grant applications. The engagement with businesses streamlined the application process by at least 15%.
The second user-centric service I would like to highlight is at the other end of the development process. The Business Grants Portal is mature. It has been launched, tested and has had many modifications. The service I am about to describe is very nascent. We are designing it and beginning the journey. We are trying to develop a Digital Medical Certificate. Patients today have to store and submit paper MCs to their employers. This can be inconvenient for both parties. The employee has to take the trouble to submit a copy and potentially an extra form. The business has to process the paper copy and also store records properly. Instead, digital MCs stored securely online can be easily retrieved and shared as instructed by the patient. Apart from convenience, this will also save costs from printing and processing. At SingHealth institutions alone, more than 1.1 million paper MCs were issued in 2017.
The design challenge of course is to separate the MC from the existing health records, and to make sure that it doesn’t in any way impinge upon the delivery of healthcare services. It will take some time to get this design right. We will start testing this concept at one SingHealth clinic in May 2018. We will start a small pilot to monitor the user experience, learn quickly what works, what does not, what is easy and what is more difficult, before expanding to more clinics. Start small; iterate quickly; have a bigger vision in mind. This is the approach we intend to apply to other Digital Government projects.
This will allow the Government to be more agile in harnessing technology. Not all the projects will succeed, and some may evolve to be quite different from the original concept. But this is to be expected in the pursuit of innovative solutions.
Ms Sun Xueling had asked for details on the Government’s digitalisation efforts to support our Smart Nation vision. Beyond designing services to be more user-centric, we will also design them to be digital end-to-end. Our aim must be for citizens and businesses to be able to interact with paperless Government services from start to finish anytime, anywhere and on any internet-enabled device.
To achieve this is not a matter of simply putting services online. It requires the re-engineering of Government processes and our digital infrastructure. It is a significant undertaking, and we are committed to making it happen.
One example of how we will re-engineer our digital infrastructure is the Government Technology Stack. The Tech Stack adopts the same platform approach used by tech and software giants such as Google and Amazon, where common software and hardware services are shared across the organisation. In our case, by all Government agencies. These common assets are reusable and modular. There is a built-in resilience and it allows agencies to quickly develop and improve new digital services in a cost- and manpower-efficient manner. More importantly, citizens and businesses will experience a more consistent and connected user experience across the spectrum of Government services, since they rely on the same infrastructure.
We are still developing the Tech Stack, but some foundational pieces are already in place. One example is the API Exchange. An API, or application programming interface, is a common “pipeline” which makes it possible for information to flow between different software applications. The GovTech API Exchange was used in the MyInfo pilot, that was just described, to allow banks to on-board new customers using Government-verified data. Compared to using more traditional development methods which would have taken typically more than a year, this pilot was developed within just four months and at a lower cost.
Ms Sun, Ms Thanaletchimi, Mr Darryl David and Mr Desmond Choo also asked how we are building digital capabilities and developing talent within Government. Our vision for digital transformation is only possible if we deepen our existing engineering and digital capabilities, build new capabilities and also attract the best technical talent to the public sector.
To achieve this, we will be developing a Centre of Excellence in Infocomm Technology and Smart Systems within the Government. The Centre of Excellence will have capability centres in a number of fields: Data Science and Artificial Intelligence, Application Design, Development & Deployment, ICT Infrastructure, Cybersecurity and Sensors & the Internet Of Things (IoT). These centres will house multidisciplinary teams of data scientists, software developers, and designers who are experts in their respective domains.
This Centre of Excellence will provide an in-house pool of technical experts to implement innovative projects within Government, and to deal with challenging problems. For example, the design and architecture of IoT infrastructure solutions as part of the Smart Nation Sensor Platform. The team also collaborated with the Municipal Services Office to build the OneService mobile app, providing its expertise in user experience design and software prototyping to create a better way for citizens to give their feedback on municipal issues.
This approach will also assist in raising the capabilities of officers across the Government. For example, the Data Science and Artificial Intelligence capability centre designs curricula, and partners with training providers to help provide public officers the tools to learn about data visualisation and machine learning techniques. The officers can then more effectively analyse their data for better policy outcomes.
Talented and competent professionals are crucial to deepening these public sector capabilities. We need to recruit Singaporeans who have committed themselves to applying technology for the public good. If I may, allow me to highlight two such engineers, Mr Chong Rong Hwa and Mr Lim Zui Young.
Rong Hwa is the older of the two, mid-career, and is a Lead Cybersecurity Specialist in the Cyber Security capability centre. He previously worked as a Senior Manager in FireEye, a Cyber Security and Malware Protection company in the US, and currently leads a team of hackers that “red-team” to identify security issues in Government systems before others do, so that we can pre-emptively resolve them. He has had prior experience as a junior officer in the old IDA, before going overseas. He has then had years of experience overseas in the private sector within the cybersecurity industry, and now he is playing a key role in making our digital services not just agile, but also secure and resilient. He came back to Singapore and to the public sector for several reasons, including family considerations, but also the opportunity to have a career development pathway around deeper technical skills, not just management skills.
Zui Young is much younger. This is his first job and he was hired immediately after graduation. He is a Development Operations Engineer in the Application Design, Development & Deployment capability centre. He earned a Master’s in Information Systems at SMU and now works on the Hive Agile Testing Solutions (HATS). They have developed an in-house automated software testing tool, reduced manual testing costs and developed more robust and stable Government digital services. He worked on the Business Grants Portal.
The Government will ensure that there is sufficient technical talent like Rong Hwa and Zui Young to achieve our Smart Nation ambitions. We will launch a Smart Nation Scholarship later this year to attract passionate and capable technologists to public service.
This Scholarship aims to attract and groom a pool of talent for a technical leadership career in the public service. The scholarship will be open to students who have completed their junior college or polytechnic studies, and are keen to pursue a full-time infocomm-related degree in either a local or overseas university.
This career pathway for scholarship holders will include working in technology agencies like GovTech, Cyber Security Agency (CSA) and the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA).
I encourage budding technologists with a passion for public service and an eagerness to take on the technical challenges of the digital age to apply for the Smart Nation Scholarship. More details will be released later this year.
In conclusion, Mr Chairman, the initiatives that I have shared today will all come together as part of the broad Digital Government Blueprint, complementing the Transformation of the Public Service, and moving Government services to be truly digital end-to-end and most importantly, citizen-centric.