Singapore is one of the world’s most connected cities.

With some of the fastest broadband services available and smart digital services that enable seamless transactions, the Republic is recognised as a leading light in the digital world. The World Economic Forum has ranked Singapore top in network readiness.

Yet, a new digital journey is only just beginning, with GovTech leading the digital government transformation initiatives.

From 1 May 2017 onwards, GovTech reports to a new Smart Nation and Digital Government Group (SNDGG), under the auspices of the Prime Minister’s Office.

This move will enable a more centralised and focused approach to delivering on a Digital Government in a Smart Nation.

Smart Nation Govtech
Figure 1: Organisational chart for Smart Nation and Digital Government Group (SNDGG) in the Prime Minister’s Office

This is a timely development, as the digital age is now under way. Digital technologies are acting as agents for change in everything from business to government, disrupting established industries and giving rise to new companies that dominate their fields.

We have seen this previously with the likes of Amazon, Google and Facebook , and we see this now in the form of new companies like Uber and Airbnb.

Things are not business as usual.

Today, it is not enough to simply deliver a digital service — it has to be fast, reliable and secure. Plus, it must be connected to other services and be intuitive enough to make sense to a user.

A taxi hailing app is one example of the new digital experience that is defined in micro seconds — not minutes, hours or days.

Behind such services is the coming together of many technologies. Location sensing, cloud computing, mobile connectivity, Big Data and artificial intelligence are all part of — or will be part of — such a simple-looking service.

Singapore is well-prepared for the digital journey ahead.

However, we can do more.

Singapore Skyline Pixabay

Singapore’s Technological Edge

We have the networks.

And the software as well.

What’s also needed is the glue to piece them together, to make business sense of the technology. The tools are in place in Singapore, ready to be picked up by people with ideas and skills to transform how things are done.

Since the early efforts to computerise the civil service in the 1980s, Singapore has always tapped the potential of technology to make a difference.

In the 1990s, we set up one of the world’s first nationwide broadband networks. In the 2000s, we blanketed the country with free Wi-Fi hotspots.

All this has enabled us to deliver new digital services and enhance the quality of life for citizens and improve businesses. As change comes once again, Singapore is well placed to ride the next wave.

At the same time, expectations are rising from users who are used to high quality digital services from the fast-moving private sector.

When citizens interact with the government today, they expect the same smooth and intuitive experience they get from Amazon or Google.

They wish to apply for a permit, report an incident or check a health record in the same effortless manner.

In solving everyday problems, GovTech seeks to transform the way government digital services are rolled out via the various public agencies in Singapore.

The goal: High-impact services that improve citizens’ quality of life in a Smart Nation.

Being Agile

Agile development is making a difference in many cases.

This iterative approach means services are constantly being built as they are tested by users, resulting in a shorter feedback loop and faster deployment.

The OneService app today links more than 10 government agencies, from the police to the environment agency, to enable citizens to interact seamlessly with them.

Even though they may not know which agency to contact, they can use the app to report cases of littering or of an accident, for example. It then directs the information to the right agencies, freeing up call centres to handle more urgent and specific cases.

Key to such digital services is an “outside in” approach. In other words, seeing things from the view of a user instead of a public agency. A digital service has to make sense to a citizen or business, not just the public servant providing it.

With services that are user-centric in design, users can expect simpler and faster interfaces.

From 2018, the effectiveness of government digital services will also be rated, bringing measurable data to further fine-tune them over time.

For citizens

Citizens will play a part in the transformation of digital services as well.

No longer just passive users, they will be able to use openly available data to find their own insights and prompt changes in their living environment.

Data.gov.sg was created for that purpose.

Through the active use of interactive dashboards, data visualisations and data-driven blog posts, the portal aims to make government data more relevant and understandable to the public, and enable citizens to make informed decisions in their daily lives, as well as inspire data users to build new applications and services out of open government data. Already, digital services from the government have taken in feedback from users early on in development, to ensure that they are easy to use and practical.

They will play an even greater role in future.

Indeed, much of the transformation that is occurring in government services globally has occurred in other sectors as well.

From banking to retail, the digital experience is being enhanced by changes in how apps are developed and the customer data studied.

For government agencies, digital transformation does not have to involve grand projects.

Though the complexity may vary, the aim is to deploy services that make a difference. Not three years later, but in a matter of months.

Digital inclusivity is also an important component of our mission even as we strive to deliver digital transformation. We aim to serve everyone including those who are not as tech-savvy.

For example, we have also rolled out an island wide network of Citizen Connect Centres for citizens who may not have access to computers or the Internet, or need help to use government digital services.

This is what our citizens expect, and this is what GovTech will deliver.