STACK Developer Conference 2022 (Opening Address)
Opening Address by Minister Josephine Teo at the STACK Developer Conference 2022
15 Nov 2022
Designing a Digital Future based on Inclusion and Trust
Colleagues and friends, a warm welcome to STACK 2022.
Some of you know that about five years ago, we launched the Digital Government Blueprint, with a vision of building a government that is “Digital to the Core, and Serves with Heart”. Since then, we have made good progress in building digital services that answer to the needs of citizens and businesses, and help them reap the benefits of digitalisation.
Five years on, it is timely to consolidate what we have learnt, and start to think about what else we will need to do next. So let me share three of our key considerations that guide us in designing digital services, and how we can work with the private sector to achieve better results for our citizens and for our businesses.
Keeping Citizens and Businesses at the Front and Centre
First, it is the idea that we should always aim for digital services that provide tangible benefits to citizens and businesses and answer to their needs. It has to be citizen- and business-centric, by starting with what kind of needs they have, and how to better serve those needs. Now, many of our citizens and businesses already enjoy much improved convenience through e-commerce and digital payments. And the question on their minds is: “Why not in our transactions with the government?”
And so in 2018, we set out to make the most out of our government services by delivering them online and ensuring that the access was completely different from what citizens were able to achieve before that. And today, 99% of all the transactions between citizens and government can be completed digitally from end-to-end, anytime and anywhere.
We have also achieved better integration of our service shopfronts, such as LifeSG and GoBusiness, so users do not have to knock on multiple doors at various agencies to find what they need.
For the next bound, we are thinking about further transforming these digital services, so as to make their interactions with government easier and more seamless. So the journey never ends.
Inclusive Digital Services for Everyone
A second but equally important consideration is to be inclusive. Moving to digital is great for many people but really quite uncomfortable for some, and we have to acknowledge that.
We must pay extra attention to our seniors and vulnerable groups and engage them to understand their needs and concerns, so that products and services can be designed to meet their needs as well.
This was in fact one of the most challenging aspects in the design and roll-out of the digital CDC vouchers, a scheme that helps people cope with the cost of living, through vouchers issued by the Government.
The system was built on RedeemSG, a digital utility developed by Open Government Products. RedeemSG allows the Government to issue electronic vouchers to households, and reimburse participating merchants, as well as track usage. One reason for the digital vouchers’ widespread adoption was design. Even in electronic form, the CDC vouchers came in denominations of $2, $5, and $10, like the banknotes we are used to. This was not a coincidence, but a deliberate design feature to retain a sense of familiarity as people are encouraged to go digital.
Breaking the voucher up into smaller denominations also spread the benefits to more hawkers and shopkeepers in our heartlands. In fact, this required a complementary effort carried out by the SG Digital Office and the People’s Association to onboard more than 19,000 merchants onto RedeemSG. So it was a deliberate design decision that actually also incurred more work. But from the point of view of inclusivity, they have achieved our purposes better, and it was an effort that we were happy to carry out.
In fact, the team behind the digital CDC vouchers poured hundreds of hours into prototyping, consulting, and trialling various options. Their stories, along with those of the many satisfied citizens and merchants, deserve to be written up properly as a case study.
It is also right that we design our digital services to better support persons with disabilities. This means taking into account their views and usage patterns. To do so, we established an Accessibility Enabling Team in GovTech. The team aims to align all high-traffic government websites with the international Web Content Accessibility Guideline (WCAG) standards, by 2030. This will make government websites accessible to everyone, including users with visual, hearing, mobility, or understanding impairments. So that is an effort that is ongoing, and it will require quite a lot of resources to get done.
Maintaining Trust Through Security
Let me move on to our third consideration, which is also critical in how we are delivering government digital services, and that is how to maintain trust. In order to realise our vision of a Smart Nation, citizens must trust and have confidence that they are safe when transacting online.
While digitalisation has allowed us to perform many of our day-to-day tasks online, it has also given rise to cyber threats that are growing rapidly – such as cyberattacks, ransomware, phishing, as well as online scams. We have made Singapore one of the safest countries in the world, and nobody really worries about walking out of their homes late at night even if they are alone. But this is not the same online, so it is crucial that we find new methods of securing our online spaces.
The Government will redouble our efforts to strengthen the security and resilience of our systems. Last year, we launched the Vulnerability Rewards Programme, a crowdsourced programme, that rewards the white hat community for discovering vulnerabilities in critical government systems, such as Singpass, CPF, and the Workpass systems.
This year, we launched a new hackathon called STACK the Codes. Instead of a traditional 2-day hackathon, STACK the Codes offers participants insights to cybersecurity threats that the public sector faces, and gives them 30 days to develop fully-functioning cybersecurity products. The top winning solutions may be provided with technical mentorship and potential proof-of-concepts fundings for further development of the cybersecurity products. That is how serious we intend to be, and we put our money where our mouths are.
With the digitalisation of banking and payment systems, we have to contend with an increasing prevalence and sophistication of online scams. Most of these scams are run by organised criminal groups overseas, which makes it even more difficult for us to dismantle the syndicates.
There is much that the Government and industry need to do, and we must combine our efforts to disrupt their ever-changing modus operandi. One such effort is the onboarding of all government agencies and organisations that use SMS Sender IDs onto the SMS Sender ID Registry. This will be done by January next year, and will protect our users from online scams by making it more difficult for attackers to send spoofed messages.
Moving forward, we must continue to deploy technology in our fight against scams. For example, we have developed ScamShield, which identifies and filters scam messages using artificial intelligence, and blocks messages and phone calls from the scammers.
Co-creating with the Private Sector
I have mentioned three of our key principles when designing digital services for the future, that is – putting citizens and businesses at the front and centre, building inclusive services for everyone, and maintaining trust through security. The Government intends to continue its collaboration with the industry and tech community to realise our Smart Nation objectives.
We will remain open in sharing our approach to software engineering with the private sector and enable them to flourish by using our technology stack. In some instances, we have made our technology open source, so that developers can use them for their own developmental processes. We have done so for some products in Digital Identity, Design and User Identity, as well as Infrastructure-as-code.
We also welcome the opportunity to incorporate best practices from the industry and community, and even co-create key projects and capabilities. We will actively build up strategic partnerships to design digital services that are inclusive, secure, and bring joy to our citizens and businesses.
The STACK Conference is a good example of how the Government, industry, and tech community can come together, and I am glad to see many of you here today. Let us work together to create a vibrant digital future, by exchanging views and developing solutions to solve the challenges that lie ahead. And I wish you a great time ahead in this conference. Thank you.
Mrs Josephine Teo
Minister for Communications and Information,
and Minister-in-charge of Smart Nation and Cybersecurity