What we learnt from GovTech's interview with Dr Janil Puthucheary
Fans would have enjoyed GovTech’s very first Facebook Live interview with Dr Janil Puthucheary, Senior Minister of State (SMS) for Communications and Information, and Education. He is also the Minister-in-charge of GovTech, starting from 1 May 2017.
Hosted by GovTech’s Chief Communications Officer Lena Goh, the video interview was conducted on Friday, 28 April 2017 at the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) Building, and broadcasted on GovTech’s Facebook page.
(Here’s a big shoutout to the MCI Studio team for their big help!)
And it turned out to be an immensely popular post, with over 39,000 views in just the first three days alone.
The interview was a very engaging session, with Dr Janil sharing his thoughts about the Smart Nation journey, GovTech’s role, how the man in the street will benefit from the Smart Nation, and managing his different portfolios in Government.
In case you missed it, here are some insights from the interview:
1. Dr Janil gets live feedback on his work — from his children
Dr Janil shared that his three school-going sons are not shy about sharing their opinions with him.
“I have, through my three sons, very live feedback, on the school system and also on the tech scene. [For example] How they feel the education system could serve them better, and how our Smart Nation system could serve them better.”
He added that “it’s quite enlightening [to find out] about how they learn things and how their classmates learn things, when I speak to their friends.”
And Dr Janil admits he feels the pressure from his home constituents.
“Frankly speaking, I get an earful every day when I go home!”
2. Three big priorities…and three big challenges
Dr Janil said that the Government has identified a few major, national-level crosscutting projects to focus on: The national digital ID system, the cashless payment agenda, and the Smart Nation Sensor Platform for the Internet of Things (IoT).
“These are the things that will make a huge difference to the rest of the public sector as well as everybody’s lives. Frankly speaking, they’re difficult projects. That’s the reason why we’ve chosen to get involved with it, chosen to drive it.
He also acknowledged that these projects will allow the Government to learn a lot of lessons, which “we can apply to more focused areas, help particular agencies, particular ministries achieve some of their aims.”
From Dr Janil’s perspective, GovTech has three major challenges to take on: Enhancing national cybersecurity, updating Singapore’s regulatory and legal processes to keep pace with technological change, and to develop the pool of engineering and IT talent required to build the Smart Nation.
3. The Smart Nation journey needs to speed up.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has publicly said that Singapore’s Smart Nation journey is not progressing fast enough, with some countries already pushing ahead in some respects.
Dr Janil agrees with that assessment, in part because of his children’s learning experiences.
“You have a generation that’s growing up in a series of exposures and processes that are global in nature and that are informed by products and services and information that are produced by people around the world, it is serving their needs to a great degree, and the rest of us, the rest of our processes, need to catch up!”
He was frank about the challenge ahead.
“So the Smart Nation process that we need to think about, it’s not tomorrow, it’s here, today. And frankly speaking, a lot of it needs to have been (done) yesterday! So we’re playing catch-up. And that’s the pressure I am under.”
4. Smart Nation is not one thing. It is a long-term outcome.
Dr Janil pointed out that the Smart Nation Sensor Platform is not an end point, but rather, the starting point for something more — including opportunities for the private sector to build on.
“The issue and the thing we want to have is that it all hangs together. That when we have a digital national ID, we do it in a way that it becomes part of a stack and people can layer other products other services, and other opportunities on top and build.”
“These various systems and processes talk together. What does that mean for a citizen? It’s not a singular thing, it’s a whole series of processes.”
Dr Janil did provide a glimpse of what the ideal state of Smart Nation should be.
“What we want is a process of evolution over time. If there’s a city in the world where there is optimal use of technology, to improve and lift the experience, it’s here in Singapore.”
“It’s not a short term thing. It’s a long-term outcome.”
5. Multiple Government Portfolios: A feature, not a bug. And there’s a big benefit.
Dr Janil also shared about juggling multiple portfolios.
“The way that junior political office holders have multiple roles in our system is a feature, not a bug. It’s by design!”, he quipped.
“We’re expected to get experience across a number of ministries and agencies, and look at a number of issues with fresh eyes, and see how we can pull things together.”
His excitement to build bridges was palpable.
“The opportunity is there to look at lessons and bring them together, the opportunity is there to consider how to link the processes across the Ministries, so it’s part of our system, it’s the way our system has worked.”
And there is one such crosscutting project that Dr Janil is especially passionate about.
“I have a role at MOE looking at children with special needs. It’s one of my major portfolios at MOE. And one of our key concerns is the transition to work. How do you enable the transition to work?”
One idea is to use a combination of assistive technologies, software products and some tweaks to hardware, to create an IT interface for persons with special needs.
“If we can solve that, there’s a whole bunch of IT-related jobs that the person with special needs, with some degree of disability, can access. So we’ve started — and not just for an individual but for a whole series of people.”
Here’s the good news: work has already begun.
“So now we have a group of people looking at that, from MCI and SG Enable and a variety of partners that we have put together.”
You can view the Facebook Live interview here.