Lam Chuan Leong, Chairman, IDA Singapore - Welcome Address Government Leaders Forum, Grand Corpthorne Waterfront Hotel Singapore, 9 April 2002

Lam Chuan Leong, Chairman, IDA Singapore - Welcome Address
Government Leaders Forum, Grand Corpthorne Waterfront Hotel
Singapore, 9 April 2002

Good morning,
Mr Michael Rawding, President of Microsoft Asia Pacific and Japan, Corporate Vice- President,
Mr Chee Lai Yong, Managing Partner for Government Practice in Accenture Asia,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I felt greatly honoured when asked by Natasha to say a few words of welcome at this gathering. I was however quite awed by the subject since I am neither an expert on IT nor on governance. Hence, on the important and emerging subject on how Singapore can move towards a customer-driven state, the subject is best left to the distinguished experts here to share with you later this morning.

I shall therefore confine myself to the two questions: what stage are we at in the exploitation of Infocomm Technology in Singapore's Government services and what I, as a layman, hope to see achieved in the years ahead.

The words Infocomm Technology may not have made its way into the established dictionaries. Here it is used to denote the merger of the terms "Information Technology" and "Communications Technology". The convergence of IT and Communications is too well-known to be further repeated here. But there is a deeper meaning beyond just the merger of two technologies.

IT grew out of the need to process massive data. Communications was basically long distance telephone calls. They were both simply tools to make life more efficient or easier.

These two technologies set in motion, however, developments which could not have been foreseen in the days when they began. They have set off a quiet revolution in our lives. We are in the early days of that revolution but we are beginning to see signs emerging of how Infocomm will become integrated into the very fabric of our lives. Indeed, Infocomm can shape the lives we live.

For example, today, I would not think of buying any item of great value without checking on the Internet. At first, the web merely replaces the distribution of printed sales brochures. Of course, it meant more up-to-date brochures are easily and readily available to anyone. That is a great convenience but essentially it is merely replacing the traditional sales information distribution channel.

Increasingly, however, it is becoming possible to look for other people's experience of using a piece of equipment. I was looking at buying a rather esoteric and rarely used lens for my camera and was pretty apprehensive what it can do and cannot do. To my pleasant surprise, a web search showed up people who have used the lens and who have galleries of pictures taken with it. I even asked and got kind replies and advice from people who are total strangers. That gave me greater comfort in the decision to proceed.

Hence Infocomm has revolutionized the way society communicates. To the extent that human beings distinguish its species and build great civilisations because of their greater ability to communicate, this greatly expanded capability to communicate, to search for information, to process it, must mean a great step forward for society and its governance.

In this respect, it is most timely for Microsoft and Accenture to initiate this Seminar in Singapore. Our distinguished experts from the two organisations will share about some very exciting emerging technologies that may be useful in building new breeds of Internet software that allows aggregation of contents and applications without much human intervention This is a brief description of web services concept that Microsoft is promoting.. You will also hear about tools and services that can be leveraged on to build even more customer-centric eServices This is meant to allude to Accenture's eGovernment Accelerator that Lai Yong will share.. I wish therefore to thank Microsoft and Accenture for holding this Seminar and giving us the opportunity to think about what future possibilities exist for bringing Infocomm Technology to our people.

I am also pleased to announce that Microsoft and IDA have decided to embark on a learning journey, to jointly explore how to leverage on XML Web services to work for ordinary folks like me, who use the Web but are not experts at it. Later today, the two organisations will be signing a Memorandum of Intent to seal the strategic partnership. Under this MOI, Microsoft will work with our public and private organisations to develop capability and innovations in community-based Web services. Through this MOI, Singapore Infocomm enterprises can also gain better and advanced access to new Web services technologies developed by Microsoft [in the States]. This collaboration will benefit our local enterprises; it will give them a head-start and leading advantage in product development and market penetration.

So at what stage is Singapore at in this process of tapping on Infocomm Technology?

In the space of two years, we have e-enabled more than 1,300 public services [exact figure: 1,371 as of end Mar 02], about 60% of all services deemed feasible for e-delivery, and we are on target to complete the remaining 40% by end of this year. Our e-citizen portal, a one-stop gateway to government services, is now home to 14 towns. The portal averages about 1.2 million hits per month.
Our top 5 eServices The top 5 eServices are: (1) Enquire transacted price of resale HDB price; (2) search for URA's transacted price for private residential properties; (3) enquiry of PARF/COE rebate; (4) notification of overseas trip; and (5) booking date for IPPT. collectively register about 400,000 transactions a month. More than four out of every ten persons filed their taxes online last year.

The term "digital divide" is often used. A more nuanced term would be "digital slope"; some countries are high up on the slope and some are lower down. Singapore's position in tapping the benefits of Infocomm Technology would be pretty far up the slope. According to a recent Taylor Nelson Sofres (TNS) study In TNS' study, Singapore was ranked second, behind Norway. which covered 22 countries, one out of every two Singaporeans surveyed have used our eServices, putting our e-government readiness ahead of countries such as US, Canada, Australia and UK. Singapore's innovative leadership is also borne out by Accenture's 2001 report which compared 22 e-Governments world-wide. In Accenture's study, Singapore was named one of the global leaders in overall e-government maturity This is measured in terms of service maturity (with 70% weightage) and service delivery (with 30% weightage). During the study, 100 researchers had 10 days, between 8-19 January 2001, "to act like citizens" while examining 165 federal-level government services for 22 countries., second only to Canada.

Despite these accolades, I would say, we are still at the beginning of this wave of transformation. As in all other countries, IT began in the Singapore government as data processing and labour substitution. It was essentially a backroom tool. Then more public counter services began to be computerised. The emergence of the web brought greater accessibility to government services because remote access of e-services is now possible.

In this process, a new demand was created. The public wanted a single point of contact for different services. They are no longer contented to go to different Ministries or counters to be served sequentially.

This development has a profound impact on the way that government is organised and operates. We have successfully created a one-stop portal that is so-called "customer-centric". We have worked hard at integrating the backend processes especially when they cut across Ministries to provide this single point of contact. There must come a time however when the actual processes themselves will change itself to respond effectively to this demand of a customer-centric view.

I know that the Permanent Secretaries, the CEO's and the CTO's are well aware of this message and are hard at work to bring this about. The One-Stop Public Entertainment Licensing Centre, or OSPEC for short, is one such example. The application approval process involving seven different agencies was shortened three times, from 6-8 weeks to a mere 14 days. Basically, OSPEC achieves this through back-end integration and co-ordination of the concurrent processing of the same application by different agencies. Many other examples exist so I shall not belabour this point

In the process of re-engineering and integrating processes to respond to this customer-centric need, I am reminded of Abraham Lincoln's quote "government of the people, by the people, and for the people." I should say that it is worth the while of our CTO's to adapt this phrase to "IT is of the people, by the people, and for the people."

By this I mean that we must strive to make technology serve the people and not make people adapt to the technology. I am always reminded of the days when my bank statements will come with a long list of deductions through the GIRO system. It took a long time to figure out to whom each of the payment went to because all that was available was some string of humanly difficult-to-decipher numeric code. Requests to print the names of organisations that took my money were met with polite explanations by the technical people that it cannot be done for one technical reason or another. I am glad to say that over time, enlightenment set in and I can now see who is taking away my money more easily.

Similarly, automation often means the inability to differentiate customer needs. Not too many agencies have adopted the use of mailing address in addition to residential address. So as we integrate the databases, they take a life of their own as they share and update data amongst themselves automatically. Consequently letters which used to go to the correct address now get unintentionally re-routed to the same residential address.

Such fine differentiation of customer needs incur additional costs but if we adopt the point of view that technology is to serve people, I hope that the implementers of integrated systems will take such differentiation into account. If not, they will be guilty of "technology-centric" rather that "customer-centric".

Finally, as a layman, I would like to be assured that my data are kept accurately and to have the means to know that it is so. With bank statements at least I have a transparent means to know at regular intervals that the accounts are correct. Any errors will hopefully be found out soon. With other data, regular statements are by no means always available. This is separate from the issue of data privacy. It is about the need for data integrity. If we come to depend more and more on technology not only to process and distribute information, but also as a decision making tool, data integrity is vital. What is a fine detail to the data administrator may be a vital piece of information to the individual concerned.

To conclude therefore, whilst Infocomm Technology has become integrated into the fabric of our lives, it will also shape it as well. This is the new phase of the IT revolution which is just beginning. Hence all sorts of approaches have to be tried and explored. There will be great debate and discussion on how we can use the web and its related technologies for the betterment of mankind. Today's Seminar is one of those occasions to explore what the future can offer. I do not have any clue what definitely lies ahead. But I do believe that all of us here today have the challenge to make sure that this technology should serve mankind's needs and not the other way around. As the IT experts and the implementer of systems, I ask that you do not turn us into worshippers of the silicon chip and what came with it. Rather, make IT create the extra step for mankind's greater benefit and advance.

Thank you.

Last updated on: 13 Mar 2023