Mrs Tan Ching Yee, Chief Executive Officer Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore Address - 15th CIO Workshop, Raffles Hotel

Mrs Tan Ching Yee, Chief Executive Officer
Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore
Address - 15th CIO Workshop, Raffles Hotel
Singapore, 1 August 2002

1. I am delighted to be here this morning. Daily, I am reminded of how technology has seeped into every aspect of life - from the microwave oven with fuzzy logic that allows me to eat a hot breakfast to the three Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) gantries I need to pass through on my way to work.

2. Infocomm technologies hold immense promise in enabling innovations to take place. Since this is a gathering of CIOs, I do not think I need to convince you about what technology can do. It is perhaps more useful for me to draw together some strands of lessons from the experience of the public sector in making digital transformation a reality.

Innovations Begin with a Vision

3. Innovations begin with a vision - a vivid picture what the future could be, if only we set our hearts and minds on it. In turn, bold visions come from not being satisfied with the present, no matter how comfortable it is. This dissatisfaction with the present is the hallmark of a dynamic society. It provides the fuel to motivate individuals to strive, to seek breakthroughs, and to be enterprising.

4. In the '80s, the Civil Service Computerization Programme1 heralded a future where massive data could be efficiently processed and where tedious manual processes were handled by machines, thus freeing people to do other more productive things. It was a success. For every $1 which the Government spent on computerization, it reaped a payback of $1.71.2

5. In the '90s, the IT2000 vision put Singapore, the Intelligent Island, on the world map, and resulted in Singapore becoming the first nation to connect all households onto a broadband network called SingaporeONE (One Network for Everyone).

6. Two years ago, the Singapore Government Civil Service was determined to better serve the citizens and businesses of Singapore through the exploitation of technology so the eGovernment Action Plan was born. To date, more than 1,500 public services have been e-enabled. This means that 3 out of 4 services deemed feasible for e-delivery are accessible or can be transacted on-line. The remaining 25% of the services we promised will be completed by the end of this year. For three consecutive years, Accenture has ranked Singapore number two in the overall maturity in realizing the eGovernment vision amongst the 23 countries surveyed. Also, in June this year, Singapore was honoured with the Explorer Award by Washington DC for its innovative online programme at the eGov 2002 show.

7. Examples abound of how public sector agencies have used technology to transform their core businesses.

8. Our Supreme Court is one good example that recognizes the introduction of technology as an opportunity to make the judiciary even more efficient and effective. Its main business is justice, not technology. The Chief Justice once said that the development of the systems must not be attributed to, or dependent on, technology alone. Yet, it is able to combine the business needs of the Court and the innovative use of technology to transform the once traditional paper-based litigation system into a comprehensive e-litigation system in Singapore. The legal community can file litigation documents electronically and access the system from the comfort of their offices or wirelessly within designated locations of the City Hall Building. The stunning result is - a virtual court that helps save tons of paper and precious time. The e-litigation system garnered for the Supreme Court this year's National Infocomm Award for having developed and adopted Infocomm technologies in an innovative manner.

9. Even if you wish to have nothing to do with the Courts, you can enjoy the fruits of technology-transformed business by visiting one of our public libraries. Judicious use of technology has enabled users of the library to focus on the reading habit, instead of having to worry about standing in a long queue to return books during library opening hours only. I still remember the chop-chop of the date stamp of the harried librarians in my school days. Now, users can drop off their books for return at any branch, even outside opening hours. More than that, there has been a total transformation behind the scenes, in the "backrooms". I think this is enough of a trailer; I will leave it to Dr Christopher Chia to tell the story of this transformation himself.

10. These examples all underscore the importance of a bold and compelling vision. It provides the rallying point to gather resources and to guide efforts towards its realization.

Making Vision A Reality

11. Making vision a reality is a big challenge. While we may all like to borrow Dr Christopher Chia to help us, this is not possible. So we will need to look for lessons which have worked so far, which our organisations can adopt or adapt to meet our needs. I call these the ABCs for success in implementation. And to be innovative, let me start from the back, with "C".

12. First, commitment. There must be commitment to nourishing the vision to fruition by those who have the capacity to provide or withhold nourishment. This means that the people who have the money must be committed to the cause and are willing to back this commitment up with resources. But beyond money, the group who are working on turning vision to reality must enjoy sponsorship and support from the top man (or woman) in the organisation. This ensures that there will not be competing demands for management attention, resources and talent for the project. Otherwise the project will slowly bleed to death.

13. Second, breakthroughs. A bold and compelling vision is necessarily one which is attractive but yet very difficult to get to, or it would have been done long ago. Entrepreneurs have often provided feedback about the many regulatory hurdles they need to leap over to start new businesses. If every agency involved were to stick to its own tried and tested way of working, which is perfectly sensible from its own point of view, no innovation could have happened. But, I am happy to report 7 government agencies dealing with licensing approvals related to the operation of entertainment outlets, ranging from food licensing, fire safety and permission to use HDB premises, had got together to deliver the One-Stop Public Entertainment Licensing Centre, or OSPEC for short. The Singapore Police Force was chosen to be the frontline organization to the licensing applicants, so that the applicants need not try to navigate the complexities of the other related approvals. I notice Mr Soh Kee Hean from the Singapore Police Force will be speaking later. This just shows how the Police Force is well on the e-way.

14. Last but not least, alignment. All the key ingredients - a compelling vision, money, top management support, a willingness to seek breakthroughs - need to come together into a sensible working structure in which outcomes and objectives are clear, roles are well-defined, and progress is closely monitored. Good project management is the key to success.

15. When the ABCs (alignment, breakthroughs, commitment) are all in place, the realization of our vision will generate a virtuous cycle. Nothing succeeds like success. Success whets the appetite to try more new things, to innovate more, and hopefully, through the ABCs, leads to more success. So I can add a fourth letter, "D" for "dare to try again". The e-enabling 1,500 services was done in a short span of two years. This would not have been possible without past successes in the Government's computerization efforts.

16. The Government will continue on its journey to serve the public better through the exploitation of IT. Hopefully, this commitment will encourage our private sector counterparts to do the same. While the bullish sentiments of 2 years ago have turned negative, there is no reason to over-correct and under-value the benefits of investment in IT. When harnessed wisely, and in the ABC way, much value can be realized. No enterprise or organisation can hope to remain relevant if it refuses to make the necessary investment to reach out to its customers. Few of us can imagine giving custom to a bank without ATMs, or a supermarket without an electronic point-of-sale machine.

17. So in closing, the Infocomm Technologies promise endless possibilities. Whether each of our organizations can realize this promise depends on whether we are ready to dream big, and to turn our dreams to reality through good, old-fashioned hard slog down the ABCD way. I wish all of you a fruitful time in the next three days as you exchange notes on how you intend to create a better future.

Thank you.


1 In 1980, a 5-year National Computerisation Plan (1980 - 1985) was formulated, of which the Civil Service Computerisation Programme was one of its key focus.

2 Civil Service Computerisation Programme Review

Last updated on: 13 Mar 2023