Digital Government Exchange 2017
Opening Speech by Head of Civil Service at Digital Government Exchange 2017, Asian Civilisations Museum
03 May 2017
Good morning, and a warm welcome to the Digital Government Exchange (DGX) 2017, especially to our overseas guests who have flown in for this event.
The inaugural DGX held last year was well received, and we were encouraged by views from participants who found it insightful. This motivated us to continue with it this year. I had the privilege of interacting with some of our foreign delegates last year, and I am happy to see them return, along with new faces and countries who have joined us this year.
Singapore began our Smart Nation journey in late 2014. It has been an exciting journey, chiefly because there is no proven strategy to follow. I believe many share this sentiment, which is why we need to learn from each other. DGX is one way to bring together fellow travellers to exchange ideas, celebrate successes, and just as importantly – to learn from ideas that perhaps did not work.
The theme of this year’s DGX is “Seizing the Opportunities of Digital Disruption”. Digital disruption is a term many of us are familiar with, but how exactly does it apply to governments? How do digital governments remain competitive in this realm given we have no obvious competitors? Do our existing models still work, and how cost-effective are they? Should we scale up our projects, or keep them small? There are no right answers to these questions, but I am sure that the discussions over the next two days will yield fruitful insights.
Reorganising for Better Integration and Responsiveness
For Singapore, this year’s DGX is significant for another reason. It is the second day of work for our new Smart Nation and Digital Govement Office. Set up on 1 May 2017, the new outfit draws together the planning and policy teams from the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Communications and Information, and the Smart Nation Programme Office. Together with GovTech, the implementing agency, they form the Smart Nation and Digital Government Group (or SNDGG), which will be housed within the Prime Minister’s Office.
The main reason for this re-organisation is to enable the Government to be more integrated and responsive in our strategy and processes for Smart Nation and Digital Government. As the central agency, SNDGG will be responsible for:
a) Applying digital and smart technologies to improve citizens’ lives in key domains like transportation;
b) Delivering digital enablers and platforms for Smart Nation, such as enhancing data sharing and driving the development of a national digital identity framework, and a national sensor communication backbone; and
c) Driving digital transformation for the public service, to strengthen government ICT infrastructure and improve public service delivery.
While SNDGG’s work is cross-cutting in nature, agencies will still own and maintain the bulk of digital services. Agencies are after all the domain experts, and should be supported through infrastructure and policies. This model reflects our belief that progress is best achieved somewhere between centralisation and decentralisation, and I am sure this balance is one that many governments are trying to strike as well.
Digital government and digital services are the focus of DGX, as well as the rest of my speech. Before I go on, let me share my personal reaction to the re-organisation. News reports have described it as an acceleration to Singapore’s Smart Nation efforts, and I find this fitting. Though expectations are high, I am confident that SNDGG can and will bring momentum to our digital ambitions.
Becoming a More Data-driven Government
A Digital Government is one that is data-driven. The Singapore Government needs to better collect, use, and share the data that we have and in responsible ways, in order to improve how we serve citizens and businesses. A single data point by itself says little, but many data points can go as far as to inform policies.
There are many sources of useful data, from administrative data to sensor data to the so-called ‘data exhaust’ of our online transactions. As more people interact with the Government through websites and mobile applications, we need to ensure that they provide a reliable user experience. Earlier, I mentioned that most Government services are available online. This percentage is near 90%, which is not surprising, as Singapore consumers are among the most connected in the world.
To know if our websites and digital services are performing well, we will implement Whole-of-Government Application Analytics or WOGAA from next month, to enable real-time and automatic monitoring of all Government websites and digital services. With WOGAA, we aim to ensure good performance of digital services delivery, and identify gaps for improvement.
The Government is also working on a Smart Nation Sensor Platform or SNSP. This nationwide sensor platform enables agencies to collect, analyse, and share data from sensors that are deployed island wide. The platform encompasses hardware like lampposts and public cameras, as well as software that enables sensor data exchange, and data and video analytics. As part of this endeavour, we aim to make all 110,000 lampposts in our entire country an interconnected network of wireless sensors.
Data from the sensors will be used for urban and operational planning, as well as to ensure prompt maintenance and incident response. For instance, residential areas can have smart metering that provides real-time information on households’ utility consumption, and public transport can be planned or adjusted based on the number of vehicles in a particular area. Another exciting possibility is having lampposts ‘communicate’ with connected cars, to alert drivers when an ambulance or pedestrians are nearby.
To improve data exchange within the public service, the Singapore Government is implementing an API Exchange or APEX. A network of data “pipes and gates”, APEX lets agencies share data through secure application programming interfaces or APIs, while centrally monitoring and managing the security of these exchanges.
APEX is our answer to connecting disparate systems used by different agencies. It will help us to avoid some costs in the long run, as agencies do not have to build entire services from scratch. Not only will it be easier to reuse existing infrastructure, development time can be shortened too.
Of course, the best tools mean nothing if users cannot extract value from them. This is why the Singapore Government is looking to grow our data science capabilities. GovTech has kickstarted its collaboration with the National University of Singapore to train 2,000 public officers in data science every year – senior officials included. The rationale for this is clear: we want to build a Public Service where everyone is conversant in data, from the fresh hires to senior leaders. In fact, we envisage that our daily work should be a digitally immersive and data-rich experience.
We are also growing a cadre of data scientists within a Centre of Excellence in GovTech who are increasingly adopting machine and deep learning techniques to solve real world problems. Within its Data Science Centre of Excellence, GovTech will explore the adoption of artificial intelligence and machine learning to deliver more anticipatory public services, with a focus on harnessing sensor data, enhancing cybersecurity, public safety, and customer experience. We are interested in high impact applications of AI, such as using speech and text to change the way citizens use government digital services, and to help enforcement officials harness diverse data sources to more effectively and quickly complete their investigations.
Partnering with the Private Sector
But the Government cannot build a Smart Nation on our own. Every day, more people interact and transact with commercial entities than with us, which is why it makes sense to partner with the private sector. It will be the best of both worlds: businesses bring their best practices, while the Government helps through regulations and building platforms.
A good example of this is our collaboration with the banking sector for the MyInfo bank pilot. Last year, I announced the launch of this digital personal data platform, which allows Singapore residents to auto-fill details like their name, identity card number, and registered residential address onto online forms, instead of repeating them or submitting supporting documents. Since last year, the take-up for MyInfo has grown to approximately 145,000 users. I am happy to update that from today, the use of MyInfo will be extended to the private sector, namely four banks – the Development Bank of Singapore, Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation, Standard Chartered Bank, and United Overseas Bank.
What this means is that customers will be able to open bank accounts, without having to submit copies of identity cards and income statements. This way, there is no need for bank staff to manually verify the customer’s details, since they have already been verified by the Government. Not only will this save time, data entry errors will be reduced too. Though the pilot is still ongoing, the Government has plans for MyInfo to be extended beyond the opening of bank accounts by 2018, to other transactions, such as credit card applications and home loans.
In tandem with the extension of MyInfo for private sector use, we will also increase the platform’s coverage of government digital services over seven-fold, from 19 government digital services today, to more than 150 by next year. We envision that MyInfo will be used in other sectors with strong citizen touch points, such as insurance.
E-payments is another area where the Government welcomes private sector involvement. We cannot push for e-payments by ourselves, and will need to work with external parties – from banks to payment service providers to FinTech firms. An example is the Central Addressing Scheme or CAS, which will be launched at the end of next month. CAS is an industry project led by the Association of Banks in Singapore, and developed by a local payment infrastructure provider, called Banking Computing Services. Customers of seven major banks will be able to use CAS when it is launched. Besides those already involved in the MyInfo pilot, there are HSBC, Citibank, and Maybank as well.
CAS links an individual’s mobile number, or National Registration Identity Card number, to their bank account, so inter-bank fund transfers can be made as easy as sending a text. Such convenience will make e-payments more appealing to citizens, especially those who struggle to remember lengthy bank account numbers. Over time, the Government expects CAS to help increase the volume of digital transactions in Singapore.
The Government has also put in enablers to promote innovation and experimentation in the private sector. In November last year, the Monetary Authority of Singapore issued “regulatory sandbox” guidelines, enabling financial institutions and FinTech players to conduct live experiments within boundaries, in lieu of meeting full regulatory requirements upfront. The sandbox provides a conducive space to jumpstart testing of innovative solutions, while containing potential fallouts within the agreed boundaries.
Re-organising, becoming data-driven, and partnering with the private sector – these are just some of the things the Singapore Government is doing to hasten our Smart Nation and Digital Government ambition. I look forward to hearing from all participants, on where you are in your respective digitalisation journeys. I trust that many of our exchanges will spark ideas for future collaborations.
I wish everyone a productive DGX, and a very pleasant stay in Singapore.
Head of Civil Service