In the minds of many, the vision of a ideal smart nation is probably what’s been popularised in the movies: automated lights 24/7, humanised robots walking and working alongside us, and people toting their wearables such as smartwatches everywhere. This is a possible future, but for me, visual appeal is not our greatest concern and goal. Instead, it is ensuring that technology provides citizens with a better life and businesses with new opportunities.
Technology is simply a vehicle to achieve an outcome, and this sometimes manifests in ways not as visible to the eye as say, a flying vehicle. This can range from seamless connectivity on wired and wireless networks, to improved traffic on the streets, to initiatives such as the Government Technology Agency or GovTech’s Parents Gateway, a project that allows parents to engage with their children’s schools on matters such as paying of fees and signing of forms. At GovTech, we hope to empower the people in our city-state with possibilities through technology, to lead the digital transformation of our government and continue developing Singapore as a smart nation.
From Ground Up
With digital services, the government takes an outside-in approach to ensure that it addresses the wants and/or needs of our society. A strong emphasis is thus placed on co-creating services with their targeted users (citizens, businesses and other public sector agencies), who will test them out and take part in focus groups to discuss how to improve user experience. With the feedback on hand, we then work to improve the services. Although these processes take time and resources, it’s gratifying to eventually hear our users finding our digital services convenient and easy to use.
We are also looking to raise the technical capabilities of the public sector by building and strengthening the technical expertise in six areas: application development, cybersecurity, data science, geospatial technology, government ICT (information and communications technology) infrastructure, and the internet of things in which everyday physical objects have network connectivity enabling them to send and receive data. This will be supported by talent development through our Smart Nation Fellowship Programme that was launched in March to attract top local data scientists, technologists and engineers to help with our projects.
The Smart Standing
In terms of how we compare internationally, our government is consistently ranked among the top four on the United Nation’s E-Government Development Index. This reflects the potential of an e-government to support the spread of information, communications technology and global interconnectedness to bridge the digital divide, develop digitally-savvy societies and stimulate scientific and technological innovation across all industries. I am also happy to share that in 2015 and 2016, Singapore topped both the World Economic Forum’s Global Information Technology Report and the Waseda-IAC (International Academy of CIOs) International E-Government Report.
At the same time, we continue to learn from other major smart cities such as New York and Barcelona, which have implemented ideas including converting obsolete telephone booths into wifi hotspots. They have also introduced mobile identification, which lets citizens identify themselves in order to transact with the government via a mobile app—we are currently testing a prototype of our own.
We will not rest on our laurels. Beyond the development of new digital services, we will strive to boost the “smartness” and productivity of our city. We envision having common infrastructure and services such as a data sharing gateway, video and data analytics capabilities supported by sensors and the sharing of data collected and analytics to support public efforts such as urban planning and incident response. It is exciting times, and I cannot wait to see what it will bring for all of us.
The GovTech Digital Services to Know
• MyInfo A consent-based personal data platform that automatically fills in forms on government websites.
• Data.gov.sg A platform that provides publicly available information and data sets from 70 public agencies.
• Business Grants Portal A one-stop portal for businesses to apply for government grants with their CorpPass, a corporate digital identity established by the Ministry of Finance. It is managed by GovTech for businesses and other entities to transact with government agencies online.
Illustration: Yohei Yamaguchi; Images: 123rf.