Bringing business and industry together in the next stage of Digital Government 

The re-engineering of the Government: how it is continuing to deepen its tech capabilities, modernise the digital infrastructure and enhance service delivery; as well as the ICT opportunities and role of industry in growing our Smart Nation were key discussion points brought up by speakers at a webinar entitled “Smart Nation – In Conversation: Partnering Industry to Re-engineer the Government’s OS” held on 15 July 2020.

The webinar is the fourth and final instalment in a series of webinars jointly organised by SGTech, the Smart Nation & Digital Government Office (SNDGO) and GovTech. 
This session also marks the inaugural Smart Nation: In Conversation series by SNDGO and People’s Association (PA) to engage PMETs in policy discussions on Singapore’s Smart Nation developments.

Representing the Government were Dr Janil Puthucheary, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Communications & Information and Ministry of Transport, and Minister-in-charge of GovTech and Mr Kok Ping Soon, Chief Executive of GovTech. SGTech chairman Mr Wong Wai Meng was the third speaker on the panel moderated by Mr Lau Shih Hor, Honorary Treasurer and Chairman of SGTech’s Smart Nation Chapter.

Digitalisation must engage industry

Kicking off the webinar, Senior Minister of State Dr Janil said that while efforts to digitalise the public service has been ongoing for years, it cannot be successful without involving the public and businesses. By engaging with the industry, “we can close the gaps and put out the products and services we need, and over time improve them.”

While Singapore already has a well-built fibre and 4G mobile network, he said the engineering talent that the Government has recruited over the years was essential to strengthening the Government’s current digital infrastructure. 

Today, GovTech has about 2,700 engineers working in the organisation, with approximately 1,000 contributing to the development of digital solutions and the rest doing testing, product iteration and deployment. 

Dr Janil said the investment in talent has been advantageous, enabling the Government to have the expertise to “build, scale and adapt” its technology infrastructure. He cited COVID-19 as an example where much of the response to the pandemic had to be technology-driven and match real operational needs. 

“Some of the apps that were created such as MasksGoWhere, TraceTogether and SafeEntry required the rapid deployment of resources and integration of professional skills, and have only been possible because the in-house engineering teams were able to pivot and develop the solutions immediately to meet the needs of Singaporeans.

“We’ve also been able to attract commercial and public interest in some of the tools and hope we can use them as a competitive advantage for businesses in Singapore. For example, VigilantGantry, which is a system enhancing thermal scanners using AI. We’ve open-sourced the algorithm and companies have expressed interest.”

While COVID-19 has posed challenges, Dr Janil said it has accelerated the Government's transformation and imparted important lessons. The pandemic has shown that “we need a strong digital infrastructure, strong talent within the public sector” which have enabled the Government to solve "the problems and challenges” posed by the pandemic.

“The approach has not changed our priorities or our need to embrace technology to deliver real, tangible benefits to Singaporeans. However, we've had a new understanding of what it will take to be resilient and the potential vulnerabilities that are out there.  COVID-19 has given space and impetus to sharpen some of our thinking,” he said.

Making Government relevant to people and business

The second speaker, GovTech CE Mr Kok Ping Soon describes the re-engineering of the Government’s OS as a continuation of efforts to become a Singapore government that is “digital to the core, and serves with heart” outlined in the digital government blueprint in 2018.

He said the emphasis this year is two-pronged: “Modernising the kernel of the OS, which is the backend of the government core system; and humanising the front-end, which is equivalent to a digital shopfront where users will interact with the government on information and services.”

As examples of how government services are being made relevant to business users, GovTech will introduce more SingPass-enabled services and expand the reach to unlock more private sector services. Beyond families and seniors, the Moments of Life app will be extended to support retrenched individuals and job seekers, who can use it to search for employment opportunities and schemes.

To speed up the transformation and adoption of government digital services, Mr Kok said the Government has launched a Developer Portal as a centralised resource to find information on product features, use cases, and technical specifications to “develop on and from, or to co-create solutions” with the Government.

A total of $3.5 billion in contracts, 30 per cent more than 2019, will be given out this year, he revealed, providing further opportunities for Singapore SMEs to collaborate with GovTech. SMEs will be eligible to participate in 80 per cent of these procurement opportunities. The Government will put up seven bulk tenders with an estimated value of $1.2 billion. 

Mr Kok added that procurement would also be processed faster and be more outcome-based, through a call for solutions process. Instead of meeting specifications, tenderers can propose solutions based on their ability to achieve the agency’s desired outcome. To date, 20 challenges from 12 agencies have been awarded, and ten more will be made available this year.

“We can’t re-engineer the Government OS on our own. We have built our internal engineering capabilities, but given the scale of our ambition, we need to strengthen our partnership with the community,” he added.

SGTech as the bridge between industry and Government

In his presentation as the third speaker, SGTech chairman Mr Wong Wai Meng applauded the efforts by GovTech and the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office (SNDGO) to co-create projects with the industry.

“We can leverage the collective wisdom of industry players who have varied experiences, perspectives and solutions for problem statements. In the process, we leverage the diversity of ideas and pull together pieces of the puzzle that may already be in place, to deliver better solutions to benefit Singaporeans, quicker.”
Mr Wong said SGTech can play an important role as a bridge between the industry and Government in this co-creation process. Local companies can then use the knowledge and IP they have developed and apply them to other commercial solutions which they can then export. The credentials and references from participating in government projects can also benefit them when they compete in overseas markets.

“The government has been doing a lot of the heavy lifting, and we strongly believe that we can do much more together, do much more, faster and be smarter if we can rally and engage the whole industry,” Mr Wong added.

“With government ICT projects, as well as the private sector and other projects, we are optimistic that our tech companies can stay afloat, while at the same time enhancing their solutions and hunting for new opportunities in preparation to capture the upside when the economy picks up.”

Providing local opportunities 

During the webinar Q&A, a question asked was if local companies can have better representation and be given more opportunities to win government contracts. 

Dr Janil said Singapore companies are always included early in GovTech’s selection process and involved at every stage from the conceptualisation, design, build and operation. That includes having vendors and manufacturers sitting together with GovTech engineers as products are being developed, with the relationship continuing even after the product is deployed and mature.
GovTech’s Mr Kok said Singapore companies are a priority with 70 per cent of contracts going to SMEs. IMDA has also developed an accreditation scheme which pre-qualifies eligible candidates who are local SMEs. 

“As we can leverage on common components, contracts no longer need to be a few hundred million dollars but smaller. We can work with smaller innovative companies to build new services on top (of what we have created) on a microservice basis.”

Sharing his perspective on how SMEs can better participate, SGTech’s Mr Wong said that smaller SMEs face a tougher challenge. 

"I think when the SME definition gets smaller, especially when (it relates) to our start-up members - we have about 200 to 300 members -  they struggle a lot as their solutions are not proven. Some of them have great creativity, ideas and innovations but find a lot of problems trying to engage with government procurement.”

He said SGTech is aware that the Government requires solutions to be competitive and meet global standards, but wondered if more can be done to enable smaller SMEs and start-ups to have a better chance of taking part.

"Is there any way we can bring SMEs on early and if they have some great skills, innovative ideas and great solutions, how can we give them an opportunity? Probably not in the procurement process, but perhaps in an area where the Government can handhold them and build up their strength, to a point when they can then participate properly in a project by the Government."

 To get the full sharing, you can catch the webinar recording.


Previous Recordings of the Series

The Re-engineering the Government’s OS" webinar series, co-organised by The Smart Nation & Digital Government Office, GovTech and SGTech, aims to facilitate engagement between the tech industry and Government and for companies to better understand Government ICT business and partnership opportunities.
You may wish to view the following webinar recordings in the series:
Part 1: Taking a Citizen-centric Approach to Tech Development
Part 2: Strengthening Capabilities with Cloud
Part 3 Developing AI & Sensors Capabilities

Do check out similar content under SGTech Webinars here.

Published Jul 2020