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Opening Speech by Head of Civil Service at Inaugural Digital Government Exchange

5 May 2016 - Opening Speech by Head of Civil Service at Inaugural Digital Government Exchange on 5 May 2016, 9:10 am, at the POD @ National Library Board

Opening Speech by Head of Civil Service at Inaugural Digital Government Exchange on 5 May 2016, 9:10 am, at the POD @ National Library Board

Ladies and Gentlemen

1. Good morning and a very warm welcome to the inaugural Digital Government Exchange in Singapore. My thanks to our guests from Australia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, New Zealand, Sweden, the UK and the US for flying down and gracing this very special event. 

2. This event has evolved from what was formerly known as the eGovernment Global Exchange. Held every two years, the event brought leading practitioners to Singapore to exchange ideas, share challenges and foster an international community. Last held in 2013, the event saw over 700 guests. This year, we wanted to take the discussions to a deeper level - featuring more intimate and in-depth engagements with a smaller group of participants.

3. Our aim is for DGX to be the regular platform for all of us involved in the work of making Digital Government a way of life to our people to gather and exchange insights. In today’s fast changing digital world, I believe that each country can share and learn from each other’s experiences and challenges in order to better serve our citizens and businesses.

Government Leading in the Digital Era

4. Digital Government is certainly not a new concept for all of us here. Our governments have journeyed through the wave of computerisation and the Internet era. In Singapore, we have pushed almost all our public services online. For example, we ended our annual income tax filing season for individuals less than three weeks ago, and it was a non-event to almost everyone. That is because about two-thirds (1.7 mil) of our taxpayers enjoyed the convenience of the No-Filing Service by the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS). Tax returns are pre-filled based on salary records from employers and the taxpayers are not required to file taxes if they have no other sources of income. For those who did file taxes, more than 97% did so electronically. Of these, close to 12% (or 96,000 individuals) filed using their smart phones, following efforts to optimise the design for such filing services for mobile devices this year.

5. Today, we continue on this familiar road, but the journey has led to us to new territory. High mobile penetration rate, pervasive connectivity, massive computing power, and the constant generation of data have allowed us to do so much more with digital technology. At the same time, people expect more from Government. 

6. But the question is: in what direction do we shift? I am sure many of us seated here, public sector leaders and experienced ICT practitioners, have our own differing, professional interpretations of Digital Government. But even so, I think our end goal is similar - to make a difference in peoples’ lives. But in what way?

7. Like many of you, the Singapore public sector has been thinking hard about this issue. Just a month ago, many of my colleagues came together and brainstormed about the meaning behind the two words - Digital Government. We took a moment away from our role as public officers and asked ourselves: what would a Digital Government mean for citizens and businesses? The discussions led us to a few key statements about what citizens and businesses wants.

With Digital Government,

  1. I have access to better services and more opportunities.

  2. I have the chance to participate in decisions and actions that impact my society.

  3. I have the chance to learn how to use technology at my own pace.

Better Service Delivery

8. First, Digital Government is about putting citizens and businesses at the centre, so that they have access to better services and more opportunities. Our goal is to make transacting with the government that much easier, using digital means to work jointly across agency lines to do so.

9. For example, citizens often ask why they need to give different government agencies the same data about themselves repeatedly for separate transactions. We must aim to remove that inconvenience and friction. I am therefore pleased to officially launch the MyInfo feature for Government e-services. 

  1. This is a consent-based platform where users who choose to use the feature will only need to provide their personal data once to the Government, instead of doing so repeatedly for every electronic transaction. This will help them to save time, avoid mistakes, and eventually do away with the need for physical documents as verification to complete transactions.

  2. We have completed the pilot for MyInfo and the responses were very encouraging. Despite the fact that we decided not to publicise the availability of MyInfo, over 32,000 individuals have signed up for the feature since its soft-launch in January this year. MyInfo is now available across ten e-services, including applications for public housing flats and our child-bearing incentive scheme, the Baby Bonus scheme. In the case of Baby Bonus applications, the MyInfo feature coupled with the online application process allows parents to cut the time taken by half1, and eliminates the need to provide physical documents. 

  3. By 2018, all e-Services that require 2-factor user authentication will be linked to the MyInfo platform. We are also looking to increase the number of personal data items that could be shared, and expand the use of MyInfo to secured commercial transactions, such as those for banking. 

10. Let me cite another example. In his 2016 Budget Speech, our Finance Minister, announced the launch of the Business Grants Portal to be ready in the fourth quarter of this year. The portal seeks to address what some businesses find time-consuming and challenging: To navigate the wide variety of government grants from different agencies, and apply for the most suitable one. In the portal, business grants will be organised according to the businesses’ needs at different phases of their growth, e.g. for capability building, training and international expansion. To our guests - you may also look forward to interacting with our in-house coders working on this project in the afternoon, as our first stop of site visits. 

11. Beyond information and communications technologies, we are also leveraging large scale automation to improve our operations. We have installed sensors in about 10,000 public litter bins which track the locations of the bins, and trigger alerts when they are almost full, and are using robots to shelve books in public libraries. Our land checkpoint at our border with Malaysia is one of the world’s busiest land checkpoints. By the end of this year, our Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) will complete the expansion of its automatic biometric clearance system to allow motorcyclists and pillion riders to perform self-clearance at the automated lanes instead of manned counters currently. This will enable ICA to optimise the deployment of its manpower resources at our land checkpoints, such as the Woodlands Checkpoint which processes a flow of over 70,000 motorcycles daily.

Collaboration and co-creation

12. Second, Digital Government means giving our citizens the chance to participate in decisions and actions that impact them. A key measure of success of a Digital Government is not what government can do for its citizens, but what government can enable citizens to do for each other and for society.

Collaboration and co-creation of solutions with the public not only enables governments to make better-informed decisions, but also strengthens our community and civic responsibility. 

  1. The Singapore Civil Defence Force’s MyResponder mobile app allows individuals to alert volunteers of cardiac arrest cases so that those closest can administer CPR to the victim while they wait for an ambulance to arrive. Earlier this year, a life was saved thanks to the timely action taken after the notification was sent out. Stories like this inspire us. 

13. But Government is hardly the only player. We are witnessing more meaningful apps and services created by citizens and organisations through the use of government data. One that particularly touched my heart was developed by a volunteer organisation called Food from the Heart, which conducts daily bread distribution to the needy. Using geospatial and parking data that are available on our open data portal, the app enables the reporting of bread collection information and navigation support for the collection and distribution of bread to the needy every day. We have over 150 other applications developed by the public using government data, and we should facilitate more of such initiatives.

Going Digital Together

14. Even as we make transacting digitally a way of life, we must not forget that there will always be some who may not be comfortable or know how to use digital services. My final point is that a Digital Government must assure its citizens that they will not be left behind and that they have the chance to learn how to use technology at their own pace.

15. Most countries have recognised this and are tackling the problem in their own ways. New Zealand implements an Assisted Digital initiative which helps customers to move to digital channels and stay in digital channels, while offering alternatives for those who cannot, or are in a transition phase. We should learn more from each other, because these problems transcend countries and cultures.

16. We are upgrading our island-wide network of Citizen Connect Centres, which cater to those who do not have computers or Internet connections, or who need help to use Government services online as they are not familiar with technology. Complementing these are our Digital Inclusion efforts that focus on providing digital access to low income households, persons with disabilities and the elderly. For example, every year, we organise intergenerational IT boot camps, where young student volunteers act as cyberguides to help seniors pick up basic IT skills in a friendly environment. For many of these seniors, the boot camp is their first step on the IT journey.

17. These are important steps that we are taking to ensure that as Governments, we must make sure that we bring everyone along the journey, including and perhaps especially those who risk falling on the wrong side of the technology divide. 

Smart Nation 

18. These three points that I shared reflect how we see a Digital Government working in a Smart Nation. The Smart Nation initiative was launched by our Prime Minister in November 2014, with the vision of developing and deploying technology at a national level, to improve lives, create opportunities for the future and strengthen community togetherness. The role of the Digital Government in this vision is as a key pillar of our drive to be a Smart Nation. We want to use technology to transform government service delivery; to be an enabler, by providing the platforms which people and businesses can innovate, contribute and find value and to navigate the quickening pace of technology together as an inclusive society.

19. Above all, Smart Nation is about putting people, not technology, at the centre. Digital Government must be anchored by that same principle. It also means recognising that the key ingredient of success is not the technology we adopt or the systems we deploy, but the people that we have. This is why we will be forming a new statutory board, Government Technology Agency, or GovTech for short, in the second half of this year. GovTech, along with the Ministry of Finance as the central policy agency, will drive the Digital Government initiative across the whole-of-government. It will build up a core of public servants who have deep technical expertise to develop the Digital Government, but also a willingness to experiment and create change for the better. 

20. I have shared how we see our Digital Government initiative meet the needs of our people and our businesses, as we seek to develop Singapore into a Smart Nation. We look forward to learning from all of you present and to sharing our experiences in our respective journeys taken. Beyond these, I hope that your participation at this Digital Government Exchange will result in stronger friendships forged that will allow for ongoing conversations well after this Exchange is over. Do actively engage my colleagues at the Ministry of Finance and GovTech in the future for exchanges on Digital Government, so that we can share our experiences, and exchange ideas on challenges faced. For now, please enjoy your stay in our garden city and bring back memories and insights that I am sure will help you in your work back home.

21. I wish everyone a fruitful and enriching event. Thank you.

1Compared with the time taken to complete a paper-based form.

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