If you are in Singapore, you would be familiar with SingPass – every Singaporean has this digital access, which links to most of your government services. More than just for paying taxes or checking your CPF statement, SingPass is quickly becoming the one-stop log-in system for all online governmental services.
The cultural shift towards an integrated, one-stop systems is one that has already been emulated by other private sector companies. Google, for example, uses your email address to log onto all of their other services such as Youtube, Gmail and even to sync bookmarks across different computers. In a similar vein, Singapore wants to be able to provide and link all the relevant services to you once you approach them, whether it is to register a business, or even for marriage. This can be done via our SingPass, or any other future services which may be introduced by the government.
Mr Chan Cheow Hoe – Singapore’s Chief Information Officer
The department in charge of driving this is the Government Digital Services, a department which sits under the Government Chief Information Office Wing (GCIO) of Singapore’s Infocomm Development Authority.
Think of the Government Digital Services as Singapore’s mini startup – it builds app which the country may need, and tests out new ideas quickly. The team, which was set up 2 years ago with just 8 people, has since swelled to over a hundred people along with the rapid innovation the technology space.
Behind Singapore’s Government Digital Services, the man who helms the leadership role and direction of one of the most important department in this digital age is Mr Chan Cheow Hoe, Singapore’s Chief Information Officer. Mr Chan was appointed as the CIO since 1 April 2014, and as his role is to oversee Singapore Government’s central information technology systems and infrastructure, and drive the development and delivery of innovative public services for citizens and businesses.
Before joining IDA, the statutory board behind the Government Digital Services division, Mr Chan served as the Group Chief of Information Technology and Systems at CT Corporation, one of the largest conglomerates in Indonesia with interest in financial services, retail, media, travel and entertainment. He drove the development of corporate IT strategies to optimise operations within the group of twenty-three companies as well as orchestrated projects like the consolidation of data center infrastructure across the multiple companies to achieve significant cost savings and increased business efficiency.
Prior to CT Corporation, Mr Chan, who was then a partner in Ernst & Young‘s Advisory Services division, built the IT Advisory business for financial services. He also senior management positions in various global banks such as Citibank, Barclays and ABN AMRO.
A Necessary Cultural Shift For The Technological Revolution
In an interview with GovInsider, Mr Chan Chew Hoe shared that his “ultimate vision is to re-use systems across government, rather than have agencies use different platforms,” meaning that every application already build by the government, such as maps or even payment applications, can be integrated into new services, be it a new healthcare payment system or even a first-aid station tracker.
This design philosophy is one that had trickled down from cloud computing: using small, specialized coding teams who can easily work on several different projects with the same coding demands. Some of the projects which the teams will be working on include robotics and predictive technology, as shared by Mr Chan with GovInsider.
“Government can also become more predictive. For example, when you register to get married, government could connect you with all of the relevant agencies, providing notifications on what you need to do as the big day approaches.”
This change in approaching technology was inspired by Chan’s working experience in the private sector. And to attract the best global engineering talents, especially Singaporeans who are working at global engineering and startup hub such as Silicon Valley, the Smart Nation Fellowship was recently launched where Mr Chan hopes can attract engineering talents from the private technology sector to work with his Government Digital Services team for a short 3 to 6 months stint.
At the moment, technology seems to be the best answer to the challenges Singapore will face down the road, which include urban density, an ageing population, healthcare, mobility as well as energy sustainability.
Convenient Data through Integration: MyInfo
At the forefront of the data integration for Singaporeans is the MyInfo platform, SingPass’ one-stop repository for all your form-filling woes at government agencies. While MyInfo may not be as familiar to most of us as our SingPass’, it is no less important in helping government and Singaporeans keep all our data in one centralized platform.
Essential details such as our NRIC, CPF Account Balance, Occupation and whether or not you own private property can simply be submitted into MyInfo, and be used across all government agencies. This is incredibly useful for families because of its convenience when filling government forms – with a few click of buttons, all your pre-filled data are loaded and you do not have to manually key in all your details over and over again.
Supported by other one-stop systems like eCitizen and OneInbox, the Singaporean government looks utterly committed toward data and systems integration. Personally, SingPass can still go further to include medical and legal records and making them accessible on-demand. However, this of course poses various security risks even with the 2-Factor-Authentication, all thanks to the rise of cyber crime in Singapore, a challenge that Mr Chan and his team faces as they continue to drive innovation in Singapore.
Although the young, IT-savvy generations of Singaporeans are more than ready to benefit from the convenience of data integration through SingPass, there still is a need to take care of the older, less IT-aware generation. Social services should expand to teach these much-needed skills to them, as the current go-to-your-community-center-for-help is only a temporary solution to the problem.
At the rate of data integration in government agencies through MyInfo, it is not unreasonable to expect that SingPass can soon be used to retrieve vital information for medical or even immigration emergencies, thus making the case for accessible IT education all the more compelling.
And the team behind driving this change? The Government Digital Services.
This article is written in collaboration with Chen “Freakofnatur” Yiji.