Towards An Integrated Government: Singapore's e-Government Journey

13 November 2007 - Speech By Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister For Community Development, Youth & Sports and Second Minister For Information, Communications & The Arts, At The e-Government Summit 2007, Suntec International Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Speech By Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister For Community Development, Youth & Sports and Second Minister For Information, Communications & The Arts At The e-Government Summit 2007 on 13 November 2007, Suntec International Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Mr Lim Swee Cheang, Chairperson of the e-Government Summit,
Mr Chan Yeng Kit, CEO of IDA, and some of you may know by now, soon to be Permanent Secretary of the Ministry
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,


1. It’s an honour to have the privilege to join you this morning at the e-Government Summit 2007. And I thought I would spend a few minutes with you taking you through the Singapore Government’s journey: our experiences, past, present, as well as our plans for the future as we move into the decades ahead using technologies and services which many of you here in this room are providing for us.

The Beginning

2. Singapore’s e-Government journey began in the 1980s. The first phase was called rather prosaically the Civil Service Computerisation Programme. We didn’t spend too much time inventing fancy names. All we did was to focus on automating work functions and reducing paperwork and the objective was basically to improve and to achieve higher internal operational efficiencies within the government itself. I said all we did but actually this was still a significant achievement for an entire government to do and this was way back in the 80s. In the 1990s, we concentrated on building interfaces: interfaces between government and the private sector and some of you will be familiar with the applications of those days – we call them TradeNet, MediNet and LawNet.

3. Prior to the launch of TradeNet, I don’t know whether any of you here in this room would remember, that obtaining an import or export license required an applicant to file 21 different forms, then wait another 15 to 20 days for more than 20 Government agencies to process the request. Today, applicants only need only submit one form online, and the license can be received as quickly as 15 seconds later. But the key point was that this is not an exercise simply to replace paper with electronic forms. In fact, the real value add is that this is an opportunity to re-engineer our processes in order to optimise the total transaction process, to make it more efficient, to make it more responsive. In fact, if I make a slight diversion, I was stuck in a traffic jam on the way here reading an email from an irate member of the public. His title was “very disappointed with your response”. He wrote to me a few days ago about his personal problem. I referred it to my staff and my staff responded to him and he obviously didn’t like the answer. More than that he said, “You did not answer me personally, satisfactorily”. So I was stuck in a jam reflecting on the speech down here. I was just thinking, it just shows you how times have changed and expectations too. I receive hundreds of emails a day. I read every one of them, but my policy is I don’t necessarily respond to personal requests. I forward them to my staff to deal with it appropriately and respond. However, for people who email me on policy decisions or issues which go beyond the personal ambit, then I feel that there is a higher obligation for me to respond at least initially, if not later on. But the point is people today expect government to be accessible, expect government to be responsive, expect government to respond immediately and preferably in an affirmative way. So,
technology has offered many options but it has also raised significant expectations.

4. More recently, we are now rolling out what we call the e-Government Action Plans I and II. And from 130 public services which were online at the turn of the century, at the beginning of decade, we now offer 1,600 e- Government services. This is round-the-clock for both citizens and businesses.

Citizen-Centric e-Government

5. Public services have to keep pace with these technological changes and higher customer expectations. And our citizens and businesses, actually to be fair, have a right to engage and to interact with all government agencies anytime and anywhere.

Social Connected-ness

6.  I would also like to share with you our efforts in reaching out, engaging and soliciting feedback. REACH stands for Reaching Everyone for Active Citizenry @ Home. This REACH portal has given Government an additional dimension through the deployment of Web 2.0 applications. We are familiar with those – blogs, social networking, online chats and short message texting.

7. To truly reach out to all citizens, we also need to remember that even if this day and age, there are people who are not IT-literate. To this end, we have launched the CitizenConnect initiative and this is to assist Singapore citizens who may not know the computer, may not know how to use it and CitizenConnect centres have been set up at 28 public locations island-wide. Each centre has internet connected to the computers and officers are available to hand hold people as they use these computers to interact and transact with the government. This is particularly useful especially for people, citizens who are older and may not be familiar with the technology.

Helping Businesses

8. Another example is the EnterpriseOne. It is mainly a project to help business-owners to seek assistance from Government agencies. The Online Business Licensing Service or OBLS in short allows business-owners, especially entrepreneurs, to apply for one or more of the 80 licenses from 17 different Government agencies through a single online form. I don’t mean that each applicant has to apply to 17 government agencies but you can reach anyone of them and you only need to do so through one online form. Through extensive re-engineering, this processing time has been reduced from 21 days in the past to eight days, and allowing applicants to obtain the necessary approval quicker and more expeditiously.

Personalised e-Government

9. Making public services available 24-7, while it’s taken for granted, will not be enough. Our citizens expect professionalism, personalism and ability to be key features of their transactions with the government in keeping with their e-lifestyle.

10. In keeping with this, the popular MyeCitizen portal was revamped earlier this year to provide customised homepages and personalised services, a kind of our version of the igoogle homepage. In addition to serving as a onestop for e-Government services, MyeCitizen also helps the individual keep track of his activities close to his heart, whether you’re talking about food, entertainment or investments.

Mobile e-Government

11. To give our citizens and businesses access to public services on the move, we have put in more than 150 e-Government services on mobile platforms. Some of these mobile e-Government services include central provident fund services, the latest COE bidding results and traffic conditions.

12. In time to come, there will be more mobile e-Government services to serve our people. One mobile service which I find particularly meaningful is the joint initiative by the Singapore Police Force and the National Council for Social Service to help the deaf and hearing impaired community. Those who face hearing disabilities will be able to send SMSes to the police in times of emergency.

World Leader In e-Government

13. Our e-Government efforts have borne fruit, but I am also glad to say that they have been noticed internationally. The latest Accenture Leadership in Customer Service Report 2007 ranked our public service as the world leader in customer service maturity as well as proactive communications and education. In addition, our public service has also consistently achieved high rankings in the World Economic Forum, Economist Intelligence Unit and International Telecommunication Union. This is been for our pervasive usage and adoption of infocomm technologies to deliver public services. Since May last year, our public service has been accorded a total of 54 e-Government international and regional awards. These rankings are testimony to the commitment and efforts put in on the part of the Government and professionals like you in this room.

14. More importantly, our own citizens have given us strong endorsement of our e-Government services. In our annual Government-to-Customers survey  conducted for the Financial Year 2006, eight out of 10 users awarded Singapore a rating of four and above on a six-point scale on the overall satisfaction with e-Government services. Nine out of 10 users also indicated that they will recommend others to transact with the government through eservices.

Our e-Government Experience

e-Government Leadership

15. Given the rich experience which we have gained through our efforts, many foreign officials have asked us to help them with their own e-Government efforts. To this end, we have set up the Singapore e-Government Leadership Centre or eGL for short. eGL is a partnership between the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore, the Institute of Systems Science and the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. eGL is also amongst the first agencies to integrate theory and practical experience and business into its programme. While on the course, the delegates will get to visit Singapore Government agencies to get a first-hand insight into how public administration processes can be transformed through the use of infocomm technology, as well as draw on the real-life experience of our officials and Chief Information Officers.

Leveraging Our Infocomm Companies

16. But we did not walk alone through this journey. And if we did not have the support from our infocomm companies, it would have been impossible to transform our public administration processes. But now having developed many tried-and-tested e-Government solutions, our infocomm companies have developed the expertise, the experience and a wealth of domain knowledge which I believe they are ready to share with the rest of the world.

17. The Public Service Infrastructure initiative is one successful example. Designed and developed by Ecquaria, the initiative is one of the world's first Government-wide, Internet-based service delivery infrastructure. Ecquaria helped to customise the solution for residents and businesses in Brunei, Mexico and Qatar to develop a convenient one-stop online access to e-Government services in these countries respectively.

18. Another example is the assistance rendered by our local infocomm company, CrimsonLogic, to the State of Uttarakhand in India in developing a central depository of citizen data that allows citizens to also access e-Government online services or via public kiosks, very much like our own CitizenConnect.

19. The NCS Group has also worked very closely with our public service to provide e-Government solutions. The NCS Group will soon help Hong Kong's Immigration Department to launch a one-stop secure document and record management solution. It is also working with the Information Technology Authority of Oman to develop the Ubar Portal, the new service delivery platform to connect the government with the Omani citizens.

20. Last but not least, the example is ST Electronics (Info-Comm Systems) Pte Ltd, which has recently started to work closely with the Ministry of Interior of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to put in place an integrated Traffic Management and Security Systems Solution. The key point here again is that the Singapore government acts as working proof that this is not just a concept, this is not just an idea. This is a real-life working model and that is probably the best calling card. But the key point here is that most governments will soon realise that it’s not really about technology. It is about re-engineering processes, changing mindsets and re-calibrating standards. And there is where the true value add is.

An Integrated Government by 2010

21. We are entering a new phase of our e-Government journey. Our vision has not changed. We remain committed to serving our citizens and connecting our citizens, connecting our citizens through innovative use of infocomm technology. Today, 98% of our services are available online. We need to close the gap to make sure it’s 100% soon. And we will need to ensure that the public administration needs to become more citizen-centric than ever. Going forward, we would be reconstructing our internal public administration processes to achieve our vision of an Integrated Government by 2010.

22. What this means is that our services, instead of being focused on a service-centric or agency-centric model, will instead be focused on a citizen-centric model. That puts our citizens at the centre of this whole process and to ensure that they continue to have easier access to the government, not only the transaction process, but also in engaging us in shaping policy and the mechanics of service delivery.

23. To achieve the interactive and citizen-centric model of public service delivery, we will have to integrate our public administration processes further at the backend. Government services will therefore have to be re-constructed and delivered in a way that makes the most sense for our citizens and for our businesses, and this will enable everyone to engage the Government more effectively, and save you the hassle of going from one Government agency to the next. We used to have this question of going through wrong doors and more wrong doors and I think the electronic platform allows us to ensure that it is always an open door.

24. But even as we talk about moving to citizen-centric models and integrated governments, let me also sound a cautionary note. As we become more dependent on our e-government systems, we will also have to develop robust strategies to address the problems of cyber terrorism, identity theft, disruption of services and other related threats to the integrity of our systems. Security will have to be a theme that pervades through all our applications. This theme of security will be with us for many decades.


25. Much progress has been made since we embarked on our e-Government journey. We have changed our focus from being Government-centric to being citizen-centric, which requires deep understanding of the needs and expectations of our citizens and businesses. This will demand the adoption of a whole-of-Government approach, or what we call Integrated Government or i-Gov. Only then can we reap the full benefits of infocomm technologies for our citizens, our businesses, our society, and of course the infocomm companies who are represented here today.

26. Thank you all very much for your attention.