Singapore reboots digital govt

James Riley
Editorial Director

The wealthy city-state of Singapore has once again displayed its relentless focus on providing leadership for the region on tech and innovation with the launch last week of a comprehensive restructure of its digital government efforts.

In the latest of its seemingly never ending string of technology based initiatives, the country’s government has created the Government Technology Agency, given the zippy nickname GovTech, to lend engineering support to smart nation projects and to refresh old eGovernment services.

It has outlined six key areas of focus: application development, data science, government infrastructure, geospatial technology, cyber security and smart sensors, according to the Straits Times.

Singapore: Putting major tech projects, digital and data all under the one policy roof. Just like Australia.

The announcement came just a week after the long awaited merger of the Infocomm Development Authority and the Media Development Authority to create the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) on September 30 that will focus on the private sector.

“Singapore must remain forward-looking and embrace technological change to realise our vision of becoming a smart nation,” said Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim at Friday’s launch.

In Singapore, they like to put a bit of meat on their major tech project announcements – something that has been perennial stumbling block for Australian governments, who love an announcement but can be awfully slow with follow-through.

So it was no surprise that GovTech came with several things ready to go to “drive digital transformation in the public sector.”

These include a digital vault of citizens’ personal data for the auto-filling of banking forms and an autonomous wheelchair prototype and a range of others.

Already, GovTech is working with Singapore’s Ministry of Social and Family Development on Social Service Net (SSNet), which is described as an integrated case management and information system for voluntary welfare organisations and government agencies to share information to deliver better social services.

“This means social assistance clients do not have to repeat their story when they approach different agencies for help, and they do not need to produce multiple sets of the same documents that may have been collected by participating agencies,” GovTech chairman Ng Chee Khern said.

“For social service professionals, such as social workers from the family service centres and MSF officers, SSNet enables them to better coordinate their efforts, which translates to better outcomes for the clients.”

Home to one of the Turnbull Government’s five international ‘landing pads’, the project is a clear pathway for myriad opportunities for tech companies with a presence in Singapore, as the government hands out data for partnerships that will see private and community-based companies work hand-in-hand with bureaucrats.

“This is a radical mindset shift. It’s quite hard to sell, because government has always been ‘us or them’ and this attitude is very different,” Chan Cheow Hoe, deputy chief executive and government chief information officer of GovTech told PublicTechnology.Net website.

He added that there used to be an expectation that government can solve all citizens’ problems.

“It’s naïve to think that. Ultimately we don’t have the wisdom to know everything,” he said. “We’ve become a lot more discriminating in what we do as a government.”

It’s all about ecosystems that developers, citizens and companies can use, Mr Chan added.

Still, it’s not just the top end of town, economy-wsiue, that are pushing towards digital government programs.

At the weekend, freshly democratized Myanmar held the Myanmar eGovernment Conference and ICT Exhibition – which was organised by Ministry of Transport and Communication, Myanmar Computer Federation and Myanmar Computer Professionals Association – to “showcase the government’s policy on establishing digital government strategy and e-government systems.”

This digital government thing seems to be catching.

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