COS Debate 2020 (Speech by SMS Janil Puthucheary)
Committee of Supply Debate 2020
(28 Feb 2020)
Speech By Dr Janil Puthucheary, Minister-in-Charge of Govtech
To support our fight against COVID-19, many GovTech engineers worked with the rest of the public service to build new digital services. One team put together MaskGoWhere almost overnight, to give citizens up-to-date information on where to collect their masks. This was identified as an urgent need, to allay fears, provide accurate, reliable and real-time information. It needed to be created very quickly. Other teams worked on providing accurate information through the Gov.sg WhatsApp channel and Ask Jamie chatbot, and developed software to help MOM monitor Leave of Absence compliance, just to name a few of these digital efforts to support our fight against COVID-19.
I recently met Mr Ryan Tan, who was part of the team that put together MaskGoWhere. He has been with GovTech for 5 years. He joined the Technology Associate Programme immediately upon graduation from NUS. He volunteered to help put together MaskGoWhere, as part of an initial team of three people. The team scaled up to involve more than 30 engineers over the weekend, and then back to three members when the project had become more stable.
Ryan was able to use his skills in cloud architecture and deployment. He also applied the Whole-of-Government Application Analytics (WOGAA) tool which his team had developed, embedding it within MaskGoWhere so that the team was able to optimise their service’s response in real time, as it received almost a million unique views over a very short time.
This story of Ryan and the other members of the MaskGoWhere team is an example of how we are transforming digital government. Their willingness to step forward and rapidly put together what they understood was a solution to an urgent problem, and that they had the tools and capabilities to do so, demonstrates that we are well on the way to becoming a government that is “digital to the core” and “serves with heart”.
These outcomes are only possible because we decided to build the digital engineering capabilities of the government into a strategic capability a few years ago. With a strong engineering corps, we can internalise within our service the capabilities and skills to use technology to transform our core businesses. It also gives us the confidence to build platforms such as MyInfo - not just for ourselves, but to enable the whole economy to innovate and digitalise. Finally, as reflected in our experience with COVID-19, we can respond swiftly and decisively to unexpected national contingencies.
So to Mr Vikram Nair’s question, we will continue to invest in engineering capabilities, create the right environment and exciting opportunities, for engineers to apply their ingenuity to serve the public good.
More than developing good people, we have had to re-engineer our use of technology. To enable better and secure use of data, we have established the Government Data Architecture. It cuts the time needed to share the first tranche of core data sets to just four weeks, when previously it took several months. This time will be further shortened to seven working days later this year, with more data sets for public officers to improve operations and service delivery. As Ms Lim Sun Sun mentioned, more data will also be shared with companies and researchers in the future. The progress we have made on data sharing, and the use of cloud-based services were also key factors that enabled the MaskGoWhere team to deliver a swift and effective response.
I agree with the suggestions made by Mr Darryl David and Dr Yaacob Ibrahim on the importance of maintaining public trust in our use of data and I would like to assure Members that the implementation of the Public Sector Data Security Review Committee’s (PSDSRC) recommendations is on track. Many of the technical safeguards have been built into the Government Data Architecture, to ensure consistency in compliance. We will also publish an annual update on the Government’s efforts in safeguarding personal data, starting with the first report later this year.
We have also migrated non-sensitive IT systems to the cloud, to take advantage of the latest technology and for greater cost-effectiveness.
Similarly, we are adopting best practices in software development, by building a Tech Stack with modular software components that can be re-used and shared across agencies.
With these in place, we can more effectively harness digitalisation to serve our citizens and businesses better.
Despite COVID-19, work continues on many platforms, products and services. Moments of Life and GoBusiness are examples that embody how we have used digital technology to integrate services across agencies, to be more user-centric. PSD will elaborate on this.
We must also create new value for citizens, to be “digital to the core”. WSG’s MyCareersFuture.sg is one example. The portal uses machine learning to match job seekers to relevant opportunities. Its job recommendations are personalised based on the skills and preferences of each job-seeker, and will get better over time.
With this approach, we also design better policies. A team from MOM used cross-agency administrative data to review how Workfare can strengthen retirement adequacy of lower-income workers. Their analysis informed the Workfare enhancements that were announced last Budget, and implemented since the start of this year.
To best serve the needs of our society and citizens, we need to actively partner Singaporeans in building our Smart Nation, a point well made by Ms Tin Pei Ling. Ours is a digital version of SGTogether comprising two broad strategies.
Firstly, we will develop more avenues for citizens to experience technology first-hand, and learn more about how they work. Secondly, we will create opportunities for Singaporeans to join us in designing better products, services and platforms.
To support the first experiential strategy, we will be launching two major Smart Nation showcases. In July, the CityScape@URA exhibit to give citizens an interactive experience of digital technology and in December the Playscape@Science Centre which leverages on the role that the Science Centre plays in our education, as a place with everyone can touch, feel, and play with technology.
Our aim is to demystify technology, and we hope that many people will visit these exhibits!
To support the second, collaborative design strategy, we had previously launched an initiative called Smart Nation Co-Creating with Our People Everywhere, also known as SCOPE. Citizens can try out early prototypes of our digital products and share their thoughts on how they can be refined.
This has been very useful, allowing us to continually test our ideas and products with users, iterating and improving them over time. When we were developing the Active Ageing features for Moments of Life, many seniors suggested that the app should allow them to easily find exercise events that are nearby. This was not something we initially prioritised, but we adjusted our plans, and it is now one of the most popular features.
To date, more than 23,000 Singaporeans have participated in SCOPE, giving ideas on 13 different projects. This is no small effort, and I would like to thank our community of more than 1,000 Smart Nation Ambassadors, who have brought our Smart Nation projects to engage Singaporeans from all walks of life.
This year, we will expand the scope of SCOPE in two ways. First, by starting further upstream. Instead of giving feedback on specific projects, we invite the public to join in the entire process of developing government digital services – from conceptualisation to deployment. Second, we are bringing SCOPE closer to residents, by holding the sessions onboard a Smart Nation Builder mobile truck that will make its way around Singapore. Please look out for it as it comes to your neighbourhood. We will continue to build digital readiness in Singaporeans so that they can take advantage of these opportunities. MCI will share more on this.
Mr Speaker Sir, our swift response to the COVID-19 situation is a glimpse of how Smart Nation is already here to impact our daily lives. We must continue to transform how Government works, by re-engineering our digital resources, investing in our people, and co-creating with the public. In doing so, we hope to galvanise everyone to build our Smart Nation together.