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eGovernment: A People, Private And Public Effort

30 May 2005 - Opening Keynote Speech By Mr Chan Yeng Kit, Chief Executive Officer, Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore At 5thAnnual Forum on City Informatization in the Asia Pacific Region [CIAPR V], Shanghai Convention Centre, China.

Opening Keynote Speech By Mr Chan Yeng Kit, Chief Executive Officer, Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore At 5thAnnual Forum on City Informatization in the Asia Pacific Region [CIAPR V] on 30 May 2005, Shanghai Convention Centre, China.

Mr Bruno Lavin,
Distinguished panel members, Mr Huang Qifan and Mr Yang Xiong,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. First of all, I would like to congratulate the organizers - the Shanghai Municipal People's Government and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs - for putting together a successful event.

2. Singapore and China share many similarities in our goals to use information and communications technology (ICT). One example is the use of ICT as an enabler for government and businesses to generate greater socio-economic benefits. The realization of the importance of ICT for governments and businesses in China is most clearly seen in the rapid increase in spending on IT. A recent IDC report projected that spending on IT Services in China will continue to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 20% from 2005 - 2009. This places China as one of the fastest growing IT markets in the world.

3. Over the next few years, we can expect the adoption rates of ICT equipment and services, such as PCs and broadband, to increase in China as more individuals and enterprises embrace ICT to improve their quality of life or to help them to be more competitive. The use of ICT will also become more sophisticated. Such developments will present challenges in how citizens and businesses interact with the Government. How can the government use ICT to deliver services more effectively to the public? Should the government be a follower or leader in the use of technology? How can the government bridge the digital divide to ensure that those who are not ICT-literate are not left behind? These are tough questions to answer and the sharing of knowledge by various governments within and outside China as well as experts at this event will help to shed some light on these questions. I am honored today to be able to contribute to this effort by sharing some of the learnings in Singapore's eGovernment journey.

eGovernment Journey in Singapore

4. The Singapore government started on the eGovernment journey about 25 years ago. At that time, our goal was simple. The key objective was to computerize all government agencies through the Civil Service Computerization Programme. The focus was to improve public administration by automating traditional work and reducing paperwork.

5. Our venture into eGovernment was not by choice. Singapore is a very small country with no natural resources. Our key assets are our people. In order for our government to operate more efficiently and to overcome our lack of size and numbers, we have to use ICT as a force multiplier to help us be more efficient and productive. We see ICT as a strategic tool to help Singapore to achieve greater competitiveness.

6. When we started the Civil Service Computerization Programme in 1981, there were only two ministries with computers; they were the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Defense. Under the Civil Service Computerisation Programme, all ministries had invested significantly on ICT. The use of ICT is pervasive across all ministries. More importantly,there were tangible and direct returns from our investments in ICT. It was estimated that the Civil Service Computerization Programme helped to reduce more than 5000 posts by 1988. This allowed the government to make more effective use of the manpower resources.

7. In mid 80s to early 90s, our strategies matured. The focus shifted from civil service computerization to connecting government services with businesses. This led to key initiatives like the Tradenet. Using Tradenet, traders can submit just 1 document instead of over 30 documents for trade clearance. More significantly, the processing time for trade permits was reduced from 2 to 7 days to 10 seconds. This has brought about significant cost savings, as well as increased productivity and efficiency for businesses.

8. The next milestone of our eGovernment efforts is the eGovernment Action Plan which was launched in 2000. The primary focus of this programme was to put as many Government services online as possible, so that citizens and businesses can gain access to Government services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Today, we have over 1,600 government services available online. The rapid advancement of technology and the changing needs of our customers require us to frequently update our plans. In 2003, we launched the eGovernment Action Plan II. This new plan aims to deliver more one-stop, integrated services, thereby, providing greater convenience for businesses and individuals when interacting with the government. At the end of the day, the public should only need to interact with ONE government entity, rather than having to approach several government agencies to fulfil their tasks.

9. As we can see in the case of Singapore, the concept of eGovernment has evolved significantly over time. At the beginning, the emphasis was on the "e" portion of eGovernment, where we embarked on many initiatives to implement IT systems. As the level of eGovernment matures, the emphasis has to shift to the "Government" portion, where the success of eGovernment is now dependent on changing policies, processes and procedures among government agencies to provide more integrated services to the public. Hence, achieving successes in eGovernment is not just about adopting the latest infocomm technologies or putting Government services online. It is about changing mindsets in the Government, on how government services should be delivered to our citizens. So what are the factors that determine the success of Singapore's eGovernment efforts? There are many, but I will share 3 key ones that I feel are important in creating a successful eGovernment.

a. Putting customers first.
b. Equipping users with capabilities to use eGovernment services
c. Partnership with the private sector

Putting Customers First

10. Putting customers first means that the focus of our eGovernment effort has to be on the users of our services rather than on the needs of government agencies. Being customer-centric rather than government-centric is about understanding what the customers want and leveraging on technology to realize new possibilities. What the customers often want is a one-stop experience in dealing with the Government.

11. Government by its nature is complex. But, businesses and the man-in-the-street look for simple and direct means to access, communicate and interact with the Government. The public wants the convenience of "Many Agencies, One Government", where they have access to fully integrated Government services. Our challenge is to "make it real" and "make it work" for them.

12. The starting point is not about ICT or systems and processes, but the willingness of Government agencies to look at the larger picture and collaborate with one another to make delivery of Government services a seamless experience for the customers. Rather than just creating a one-stop portal, we should create a one-stop experience. This can be achieved when agencies work together, and integrate services for the citizens. To do this, agencies must be prepared to change mindsets, policies, processes and procedures, even if this means some loss of autonomy. Organizational boundaries have to be broken down.

13. Let me use the example of starting a business. Whether in Singapore, or any other country, starting a business is often a daunting experience, with a seeming maze of Government agencies to negotiate for various licenses. The process often requires the applicant to visit many Government agencies one after another. This was also the case in Singapore. For example, if you want to set up a restaurant in Singapore, you would need to apply for more than 7 licenses from 7 government agencies. What we have done is to review business licensing policies, re-engineer processes and remove licenses that have ceased to fulfil a purpose. Today, through the Online Business Licensing Service, you would only need to complete one integrated form and perform a single payment for many licences, instead of making 7 separate trips to fill up a series of forms and make separate payments. This helps to cut down processing time from 8 weeks to 2 weeks.

14. Sometimes, more drastic changes may have to be carried out,such as changes in legislation. Previously, when one registers for a new company, the owners of the company would need to sign on a physical form. With electronic registration of new companies, the legislation has to be amended to allow for the application forms to be filed electronically. The law was also amended to allow the authority to issue electronic notification on successful application, instead of a paper copy of a company certificate.

15. In this case, technology is only the enabler. The successful end-result is made possible due to the willingness of Government agencies to collaborate, review their current way of doing things and even to give up some degree of autonomy.

Equipping Users with Capabilities to Use Egovernment Services

16. Putting services online is not enough. If people or businesses are not comfortable with using computers and the Internet, then everything that we have put in place - the IT Infrastructure, the portals - will not be utilised.

17. In Singapore, we are driven by the premise that an IT literate population, comfortable with the computer, helps to build greater competitive advantage for the nation. Hence, we push IT in a big way in the schools. Our plan is to equip every child with a computer at home or in school. Today, all students have access to computers in schools. IT is highly integrated into the curriculum to assist students in grasping new concepts. All teachers (regardless of age) must also know how to use IT. These initiatives have brought about a sea-change in education and created a generation of technology savvy students.

18. We have not forgotten those who are not ready and we offered them assistance in three possible ways;

a. IT-literacy programmes to teach them how to use computers (which we do as "fun" activities for the elderly in our community centers, as well as for the workers in their work premises),

b. assistance and guidance to citizens who need help (which we do in e-clubs in our community centres)

c. engage the help of businesses to do it for them (for example, in passport applications through photo shops and in services for small businesses by business bureaus).

19. It is also important that people are also given assurance that online transactions are secure and safe. We started a nationwide trustmark programme, called TrustSg, to boost consumer confidence in online transactions. Services displaying the "TrustSg" logo have gone through a specific certification process to ensure data security and privacy.

Partnership With the ICT industry partners

20. One of the key success factors in our eGovernment efforts is collaboration with our industry to deliver the eServices. The Government cannot do everything on its own. We work closely with our industry partners to achieve our eGovernment objectives. It also makes sense for the industry to be involved in our eGovernment efforts. The industry is at the forefront of technological developments and can offer innovative ideas and suggestions on new ways of using ICT to deliver Government services. This frees up the Government to concentrate on masterplanning, reviewing policies and re-engineering processes. It also allows us to develop a strong ICT industry in Singapore.


21. Ultimately, eGovernment is not about IT, but about changing the approach to Government. The key to successful eGovernment implementation lies in changing mindsets within the Government. This requires strong leadership and commitment from all levels. We leverage on ICT to deliver value to our customers; from working in silos to integrating with other government agencies so that the customers only need to interact with one Government. Strong partnership with industry partners will ensure that services are delivered with the best technology and most viable solutions.

22. With this, we can create a truly Networked Government where information and decisions flow across agencies to give maximum efficiency and convenience to our citizens. This helps us realise new possibilities and will bring us to the next level in service delivery and the engagement of our citizens.

23. Thank you once again for this opportunity to speak at the 5th CIAPR here in Shanghai. I wish all of you a fruitful session.