Public-private partnerships – having the best of both worlds
Picture this: In the near future, borders are finally open for leisure travel again. Upon arrival in the country where you’ve booked a beach holiday, the immigration officer pulls the records of your Covid-19 swab test that you did in Singapore a day ago.
Read on to find out from Barry on how OpenAttestation could be a crucial part of international travel in the future. PHOTO: GOVTECH
After noting the negative result, he checks another digital document indicating you’re vaccinated. It takes just a few moments to ascertain that everything is in order and you sail through customs and head towards the sun and sand!
Fantasies about vacations aside, such seamless verification of digital documents are already a reality, thanks not only to technology developed by GovTech, but also the collaboration with private sector firms in putting the technology into as many hands as possible.
Indeed, the public and private sectors are often discussed as separate and even opposing forces where never the twain shall meet. In reality though, both sides regularly work together through public-private partnerships, bringing their respective strengths to the table to achieve success in a way that neither can do on its own.
Confirm Plus Chop
We use documents in our everyday lives as a seal of authenticity – be it a legal contract, an O-Level certificate, or doctor’s MC. As such, documents are useful only when;
They can be verified and therefore trusted (your employer can ring up the National University of Singapore (NUS) to check if you really graduated from there)
They are officially recognised by a large number of people (which is why a NUS degree is worth much more than a degree you issue to yourself, for example)
A revocation in place, if ever applicable, is made known explicitly (if a degree is no longer valid due to unethical actions that transpired)
Enter OpenAttestation (OA) – an open-source framework made by GovTech that can endorse and verify documents using the blockchain, the same technology that powers cryptocurrency. Documents issued through this framework are tamper-proof and are already used for educational and vocational certificates (through the OpenCerts product) and maritime trade documents (through the TradeTrust product), says Barry Lim, a Delivery Manager with GovTech.
More recently, GovTech has also embarked on the HealthCerts initiative, which will authenticate pre-departure Covid test results and ensure safe resumption of international travel.
This tech solves the “verifiable and trustworthy” aspect of the equation. But enough people need to be using the OpenAttestation framework before its potential can be realised. In the case of TradeTrust and HealthCerts, the adoption must spread beyond Singapore. This where private firms – through public-private partnerships – step in to drive the “recognised by a large number of people” factor.
Because OpenAttestation is open source, the private sector can incorporate the tech into its products, driving usage outside the public sector.
For instance, GovTech and the Ministry of Health jointly released standards and schema for digital documentation of pre-travel Covid test results through HealthCerts.
Qualified private organisations then engaged medical facilities in and outside Singapore to get them to start using HealthCerts too. The private entities also reached out to airlines and immigration authorities.
“The common framework and open-source components avoid the need for private organisations to reinvent the wheel, therefore achieving faster time to market,” says Barry.
Indeed, private companies such as Accredify, AOKpass, and Trybe.ID were able to operate agilely beyond the shores of Singapore to amplify the reach of HealthCerts. As a result, it is now operating in nine countries and used by 420 medical facilities.
Another cross-border example is TradeTrust, which meets the criteria for electronic trade documents stipulated by international trade law. This frees up private firms from having to worry about compliance, allowing them to focus on customising their apps to their clients’ needs, differentiating them from their competitors.
Open source helps to create a marketplace and transcend geographical boundaries to fit the local context. We have also seen how some of these private entities, such as Trybe.ID, customise users’ needs using OA, such as the issuance of micro-credentials, academic certificates or health certificates. Their contributions to OpenAttestation source code repository, have also been incorporated during the development of HealthCerts.
Of course, there are inevitable teething issues when organisations with differing motivations come together. After all, the public sector is guided by public policy while private entities are profit driven. This can lead to different prioritisation of product roadmaps and extra effort must be put in to understand the perspective of each side for smoother coordination.
Still, Barry feels that the benefits of public-private partnerships far outweigh the downsides. Both parties share the belief in the potential of technology to make lives better. That, he believes, is the secret sauce that makes such collaborations work.
“A common understanding on the benefits that can be brought about by the tech in question will increase its adoption by correctly addressing the user’s pain points”, he adds. Indeed, such efforts in place fosters innovation and competitiveness. This approach to public-private partnership ensures that we are not simply approaching the problem in a demand and supply manner but rather working together to promote progressive solutions to a complex situation.
*If you’re evaluating digital solutions for digital test results, keen to issue or find out more about HealthCerts please click here – so that more countries can open up for travel, safely. *https://www.tech.gov.sg/media/technews/public-private-partnerships-best-of-both-worlds