Sunday, 9 October 2016

GovTech: New agency to lead tech push in public sector

GovTech aims to harness latest technology to make life easier for residents
By Irene Tham, Tech Editor, The Straits Times, 8 Oct 2016

Next year, bank customers may no longer have to print and fill in physical documents. Instead, a digital vault of their personal data will do all the tedious work for them.

Also on the cards is a self-driving wheelchair which, if developed successfully, will help manpower- strapped hospitals channel resources elsewhere. These are part of the cutting-edge plans of a new government agency, which aims to harness the latest technology to make life easier for residents.

The Government Technology Agency, or GovTech, was launched yesterday. Its brain bank includes 1,800 data scientists, technologists and engineers. Said Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim: "Singapore must remain forward-looking and embrace technological change to realise our vision of becoming a smart nation."

The self-driving wheelchair, for instance, will be among the first of its kind in the world. It follows a pre-mapped route to take patients safely from one part of a hospital to another. Another project is a smart walking stick that can send an alert to the caregiver if the user falls.

GovTech was formed after the official merger of the Infocomm Development Authority and the Media Development Authority. It will drive change mainly in the public sector; the merged entity - the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) launched last Friday - will work mainly with the private sector on the digital front.

GovTech will focus on six key areas: application development, data science, government infrastructure, geospatial technology, cyber security and smart sensors.

In the area of data science, the agency has been working on a dashboard called Pulse of the Economy, where high-frequency data - such as electricity consumption and the number of exits from buses and train stations during peak hours - are compared. These can provide non-traditional economic indicators to supplement traditional ones like gross domestic product.

For instance, if electricity and public transport use at an industrial park both fall over the same period, it is probably an indication that business activities have slowed down.

On reducing the need for form filling, the plan is to extend MyInfo, a government-backed digital vault of citizens' personal data launched in May, to the banking industry next year to prove that it works.

Bank customers can give consent for their income tax statements and public housing ownership data to be pulled digitally from MyInfo, which has 100,000 sign-ups so far.

How GovTech plans to make life easier
The Straits Times, 8 Oct 2016

MyInfo: Launched in May, the service makes it easier to fill online government forms when applying for a flat, for instance, by filling in personal data automatically. GovTech plans to expand this to include bank forms.

Parents Gateway: To make it easier for parents to pay school fees and sign consent forms. It will be tested at five schools next month.

CorpPass: Launched last month, it means businesses and non-profit organisations no longer need to use shared SingPass accounts of individuals for corporate transactions.

National Trade Platform: A trade information management platform for firms in the trade and logistics industry is in the works in collaboration with Singapore Customs.

Smart Nation Platform: Being developed to allow different parts of Government to share data and improve public services.

GovTech raises public service tech capability: In six areas - application development, cybersecurity, data science, geospatial technology, government infocomm technology infrastructure and sensors, and the Internet of Things, which involves connecting objects by allowing them to collect and share data.

Digital architecture for the next lap
The Straits Times, 10 Oct 2016

The launch of two new government agencies with an eye on the digital future underscores how Singapore is setting great store by such technology. The Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA), working mainly with the private sector, will develop and regulate the converging infocomm and media sectors. A traditional separation of functions would be inappropriate in the so-called digital age. The economic and political basis of this era springs from a combination of telecoms liberalisation, the rollout of broadband access, cheap mobile phones, cloud computing and social media - all complemented by raw advances in new technologies that cannot be ignored, as author Paul Hudson has pointed out.

The role of the new Government Technology Organisation is to lead digital change in the public sector. At a basic and important level, the earlier focus was on government websites to serve citizens more effectively. That, however, is sometimes easier said than done - as the rollout of "Obamacare" in the United States showed three years ago. The portal for the major healthcare overhaul simply failed despite the huge costs to build it. That led President Barack Obama to publicly declare there was "no excuse for the problems". American efforts to improve "GovTech" - the buzzword in recent times - have involved the private sector too, in areas like urban planning, municipal debt investing and open data.

Here, the new GovTech agency will help to improve Singaporeans' digital interaction with the State and "encourage the participation of citizens in the co-creation of public digital services". Its role includes delivering the Smart Nation Platform and applications, and helping all government agencies to tap innovation and new technology. In doing this, one must guard against introducing bells and whistles that might delight geeks but lack sufficient practical value to justify the cost and upkeep. No effort should be spared, however, to safeguard state infrastructure from cyber threats. The government-backed digital vault of citizens' personal data, MyInfo, should be also kept highly secure. The risks of sharing it with private companies ought to be weighed carefully.

GovTech projects like an autonomous wheelchair for use in hospitals might be better left to the private sector. But greater public-private collaboration will be needed in other areas, like ensuring Singaporeans as a whole display digital readiness. This is the combination of attitudes and behaviour that allows people to use digital tools in a discerning and competent way.

Digital connectivity plugs both individuals and the nation into a world of expanding opportunities and threats alike. Amid such uncertainty, both science and prescience will be needed to ensure that Singapore is the positive change which its people want to see in a highly digital world.

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