Locking in COVID-19 digitalisation gains
We’ve all seen the meme by now: an innocuous-enough multiple choice question about who led your organisation’s digital transformation. Your choices are: Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Chief Information Officer (CIO), and – the punchline – Covid-19, of course!
It’s funny because it is true!
It’s funny because it’s true. But while the pandemic has triggered five years’ worth of digital adoption in a matter of eight weeks (according to a McKinsey study), organisations must now be proactive in ensuring these changes are long-lasting, said GovTech Chief Executive Kok Ping Soon, who kicked off the 25 March 2021 edition of the Stack X Webinar series, titled “CIO Edition: Perspectives from the Public and Private Sector”.
He was joined by two other speakers: Ministry of Education CIO Tan Bee Teck, who shared about shaping the classroom of the future through tech; and Miriam McLemore, Director of Enterprise Strategy at Amazon Web Services, who talked about her experiences helping different companies adopt new agile practices and embrace cloud services.
After sharing the meme, Ping Soon emphasised the need to quickly seize this unique moment. “As CIOs, you should lock in these gains and resist the temptation to revert to old ways of doing things,” he said, adding that there were three key shifts needed to achieve this.
No to digital window-dressing?
Firstly, entities should “avoid the temptation of applying a digital lipstick to a legacy process”, he said, citing how diners at some restaurants are now asked to scan a QR code for the menu instead of being handed physical copies. However, often the digital version turns out to be nothing more than a PDF copy of the old menu and diners still need to get the attention of servers to take their orders.
“This is digitisation and not digitalisation,” Ping Soon said.
Today, 95 percent of government transactions can be completed digitally from end-to-end and the government is aiming for complete digitalisation of all services, he added. Some of these fully digital services include the registering of a new-born and getting the accompanying baby bonus, getting a business licence, and booking a COVID-19 vaccination appointment.
To support the private sector’s digital transformation, the government has also opened its digital platforms to private companies. Hence, businesses can use MyInfo to offer one-click registration and perform seamless, reliable verification of customer details. Firms can also tap on Sign with SingPass to allow their customers to sign digital documents.
Get on the cloud
Next, digitalisation efforts should leverage cloud and commercial solutions that are already available. Such a strategy enabled the government to quickly roll out Covid-19 digital solutions – the Gov.sg WhatsApp Channel, TraceTogether, SafeEntry, GoWhere websites – by utilising existing services from tech companies like Google and Amazon.
The government is also going further by moving 70 per cent of its ICT systems to the commercial cloud. One major advantage of this move is that different government agencies can access a government-wide ecosystem of ready-made applications.
“Cloud has become the foundation that enables organisations to transform, differentiate and gain a competitive advantage. Adopt a cloud-first strategy in your digital transformation, or risk being left behind,” Ping Soon said.
Keep digital at the core
Finally, the pandemic has reshaped organisations’ views of their IT capabilities. “CIOs and engineering teams are now uniquely positioned to influence not just how business is done, but what should be done. Don’t lose this window of opportunity,” he said.
Indeed, CIOs in the government “are now in the front-seat” in driving transformation and are “no longer order-takers at the end of a value chain”. In the past, IT infrastructure was seen as a cost centre and CIOs were valued for their ability to keep costs down. Now, CIOs are expected to demonstrate IT’s utility as a value driver by delivering transformational growth. Hence, it is no longer enough to keep abreast of new technologies; for starters, CIOs need to sharpen their communication skills and develop good relationships with business leaders.
Avoiding the pitfalls
Along with these three opportunities, there are also three major risks that must be handled well, Ping Soon shared.
One, cyber threats have the potential to deal increasing damage as Singapore deepens our reliance on tech, as demonstrated by the SolarWinds cyber attack affecting 18,000 organisations including US government agencies and Fortune 500 companies.
Two, data must be safeguarded and used responsibly so as not to erode trust. Organisations must strengthen accountability for data handling and privacy.
And three, third-party risks will arise when organisations seek outside help to bridge skill gaps. They need to anticipate areas where reliability and security may be compromised and come up with plans to mitigate these issues.
Never a better time for ICT
In closing, Ping Soon said he believes there’s never been a better time for those in the ICT industry. “The impetus for digital transformation and the tangible benefits that can be derived has never been stronger and plainer in sight. Let us not waste this opportunity to lock in the digitalisation gains while watching out for the risks. There’s certainly a lot of work ahead for all of us, but I think the winds are behind our sails,” he added.
For Ping Soon’s remarks in full and to hear the other speakers, check out the complete webinar on YouTube!https://www.tech.gov.sg/media/technews/locking-in-covid19-digitalisaion-gains