The term ‘Smart Nation’ seems to be on the lips of every Singaporean minister these days.
With digitisation of public services via the creation of ‘one-stop’ solutions, the intentions of the Singapore government of not only getting in on, but transforming how citizens interact with government-provided services is clear.
In an article written by Mr Chan Cheow Hoe, Singapore’s Chief Information Officer (CIO) since April 2014, he elaborates on the government’s efforts to “transform the traditional delivery of digital government services” with the creation of GovTech, a successor agency of the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA), due to be officially incepted in October this year.
Admitting that the present state of public services come from more of a “inside-out” approach which simply metes out services based on internal governmental structures, GovTech aims to focus on an “outside-in” approach, which is designed with citizens in mind.
Citizens As ‘Customers’
What’s also interesting is that he also refers to citizens as ‘customers’, a term which he said resulted in confused looks from his colleagues at the statutory board when he first joined in 2014.
“One day, someone mustered enough courage to tell me: “You are no longer in the private sector; we do not have customers here.” That comment made me realise I had a bigger job ahead of me than I thought.”
While the term used might have been inappropriate then, his prior experience as Group Chief of Information Technology and Systems at CT Corporation, one of the largest conglomerates in Indonesia, and as a partner at accountancy firm Ernst & Young’s Advisory Services division possibly came in handy for his current role.
As government agencies start to see citizens as ‘customers’, there will be a greater sense of urgency in addressing their problems and focusing on user experience as compared to just delivering services in a top-down, detached manner.
“When people approach the government, we could at least make it a pleasant and productive experience by focusing on citizens as customers. This will be GovTech’s vision for a digital government.”
Government Efforts So Far
In the article, he gives a run-through of the current and upcoming efforts in digitising and improving the lives of Singaporeans in the digital age.
For example, the OneService app, a smartphone application launched by the Municipal Services Office, is a one-stop platform for residents to conveniently report municipal issues (such as litter, broken lamps etc). What the app also does on the backend is to link relevant agencies together, so that the complaint would eventually be efficiently streamlined to the appropriate authorities to address.
data.gov.sg, an open-data portal for the public, has also been launched for citizens to find out the national data they might require for various needs. “Interactive solutions, such as better maps or identifying dengue clusters, can be developed from these raw data sets.”
With great transparency and information provided, there is definitely more resources from which Singaporeans wishing to make a difference in society can turn to when developing their ideas.
GovTech, A Unique Startup
Mr Chan also mentioned how at GovTech, they’d rather been seen as a ‘startup’ which focuses on applied innovation to solve citizen problems.
However, he reiterates the importance of using only tried-and-tested technology, as “we cannot afford to take unrealistic risks with bleeding edge innovation”, something traditional Silicon Valley-esque startups tend to thrive on – thus justifying its ‘unique’ tag.
He cites the example of how online searches in government websites were made to be more intuitive with a solution, “Ask Jamie”, which was not only inexpensive, but also reliable. The solution relied on data analytics to identify FAQs by visitors, and aims to save time from the more manual approach to customer service and also encourage a ‘self-help’ culture among visitors.
Competition For Tech Talent: Private Vs. Government
With new efforts also comes the need for tech-savvy talent, and Mr Chan reveals that there is definitely a tug-of-war going on between the private and government sector in the hiring of individuals.
“The digital movement is here to stay and governments are not excluded from this revolution. Governments will never be like tech giants Amazon or Facebook because the roles are different. People seek services offered by commercial organisations because they want to; people seek government services because they have to.”
In a bid to change the preconceptions of public servant jobs and the government, the Government Digital Services (GDS) team at incubator Hive@Sandcrawler was developed last year, in hopes to attract talented individuals who want to “create a better environment, solve social issues and build digital communities”, which, he boldly states, “is something the private sector cannot offer”.
As compared to the hierarchical nature of statutory boards and government agencies, GDS is slated to offer a “startup-like culture to match any Silicon Valley firm (with) collaborative culture, sense of purpose and impact of work”.
Smart Nation, An Enterprise To Benefit Citizens
With the idea of a Smart Nation being reiterated in almost every governmental effort, the Singapore government has an even greater deal of pressure in stepping up on their methods of delivering services to citizens.
However, with both finances and national-scale data being at their fingertips, perhaps they are the most able among us to address issues; as they should be.
Feature Image Credit: UnderTheAngsanaTree