SINGAPORE: The upcoming Government Technology Agency (GovTech) - previously announced as the Government Technology Organisation - will spearhead the Government's drive to use technology to create citizen-centric solutions.
Spun off from the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA), the new statutory board will be expected to lay the foundations and deliver Singapore's Smart Nation vision, after it is officially legislated in Parliament in the second half of this year.
Channel NewsAsia sat down with GovTech's CEO-designate, Jacqueline Poh, to find out what the new agency plans to focus on.
Ms Jacqueline Poh: GovTech is new to us because it represents moving beyond enterprise IT - into looking how other technologies can be used to improve Government services to the public. By the public, I mean individuals - it could be businesses; it could be Voluntary Welfare Organisations. The truth is, the Government touches so many aspects of life in Singapore, whether it is transportation or healthcare or education. For other interactions such as business licensing or taxes, there are 98 agencies within the Government and between them a whole myriad of services, a whole myriad of touchpoints with which digital experiences can be created for citizens.
GovTech will be heavily involved in delivering our Smart Nation aspirations. But a Smart Nation will also require designers, ethnographers; it requires people who can talk to citizens and businesses and understand what their real needs are. It requires behavioural scientists and it will require a whole range of individuals whose core competencies you would imagine are far from engineering, but actually play a really important part in creating solutions.
You see, GovTech is not just about technology – it is about using technology to create citizen-centric solutions. And in order to do that solutions will require a lot more than engineers to develop and to bring to individuals.
Q: Tell me more about some of these applications and platforms that GovTech wants to build. I understand one of the key design principles GovTech wants to incorporate is to make all these applications more citizen-centric.
Ms Poh: That means it is built with the citizens’ or the businesses’ point of view in mind, within the universe of applications that Singaporeans use. They may actually prefer an experience that's more seamless, that is not necessarily tied to the organisation that they are dealing with but across different Government agencies.
What we are looking at, just (at an) exploratory (stage), is: What are these moments of life for a citizen or business – when you pull (them) together – what is the experience they are looking for in the digital realm? (Then we can) push it to them in an anticipatory manner.
Q: What is it about the Public Service that can be improved further? How will technology enable the public service to be more responsive?
Ms Poh: I don’t think the Public Service wants to wait for citizens to complain about something before they act. When we created the OneService app together with the Municipal Services Office, the sentiment was that it was much better for citizens to find a one-stop shop to be able to express feedback on any issues that they might have of concern, (such as) littering or animal issues, or pipes. It is much better to (have a) one-stop shop rather than have to go to different agencies.
Ultimately, this is very much complaint-led. I think the Government does want a situation where we want to be able to know what the needs of our citizens are, what needs for businesses are, and try and meet them even before they manifest as a complaint.
Q: How will GovTech balance the individual need for data privacy as well as all the benefits data collection can possibly bring?
Ms Poh: We take privacy and data protection very seriously. It is important to us that the various rules we have pushed out to different agencies are followed to prevent in terms of data protection so as to avoid data breaches. We have a lot of initiatives underway to ensure effective anonymisation of data that is used for analytic purposes.
Where citizens’ data is useful because it is personal data, and it is useful because we want to serve that citizen in particular - if they are a needy individual so you would want to (know) a bit more (about) what those needs are - then I think we have a very strict consent regime to ensure citizens who give us their data for purposes of serving them better, that consent is properly collected.
Q: GovTech is talking a lot about new innovation. With new innovation you get new threats as well. So aside from having all these strong privacy controls, how else will GovTech look to keep Singapore at the forefront of cybersecurity?
Ms Poh: Cyber security is one of the big challenges that a lot of organisations are facing as they seek to become more digital. It is not a good reason to not go digital, it is not a reason to not develop digital experiences, or try and serve customers better or make your operations more efficient. But what needs to be taken into cognizance is at all points in time, is there security by design? Is there a clear idea what the threats and the risks are, and are there clear mitigation measures in place?
One of the things that GovTech does is that we have a cybersecurity capability that we deploy to understand better what the cyber risks and threats are for Smart Nation, and how we can best mitigate them.
Q: I understand that GovTech will only legislated at the end of the year. What will be the first priority or the first thing on the agenda once GovTech is legislated into existence?
Ms Poh: We are working quite hard on building up capabilities, especially in the software development space – for example, analytics and IoT and sensors. We are doing a lot of work to roll out the Smart Nation platform in its first phase in particular areas within Singapore, and we are working hard to build other platforms for the development of digital in an agile manner.
We are developing these mechanisms to make it easier to later on push out more applications. The APIs we are pushing out will be absolutely critical to the development of future digital applications.