Thursday 29 May 2014

$1.2 billion in govt IT projects up for tender

By Kenny Chee, The Straits Times, 28 May 2014

COME July next year, people dialling in to the Ministry of Manpower's (MOM) hotline for its new contact centre could have their calls analysed automatically by software.

This is to help MOM categorise calls and understand why people call the centre, which will handle public enquiries.

MOM is also looking into the feasibility of using virtual assistants at the centre to answer simple questions that could come from phone calls and e-mails.

The new centre is one of the $1.2 billion worth of infocomm projects for which the Government is calling tenders in its 2014 financial year, which began last month.

The amount to be spent on Government information technology projects is the same as last year, the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) said yesterday.

About 380 tenders are expected to be called, up from the previous year's projection of about 290 tenders.

More than 90 per cent of this year's tenders are less than $5 million in value, Mr Chan Cheow Hoe, IDA's assistant chief executive, said at an industry briefing at Suntec Singapore. This is similar to last year's.

The event was attended by more than 700 people, including infocomm executives, public officers and business developers.

The bulk of this year's projects - 33 per cent - are between $200,000 and $500,000.

One reason for tenders with smaller values, said IDA managing director Jacqueline Poh, is that more tenders, notably large ones, are being broken up into smaller chunks.

"The rate by which people expect to see changes being made is at lightning speed. We can no longer wait two to three years for an enormous system to be ready.

"It may have to be ready in phases," she said, adding that this means more opportunities for smaller companies to bid on projects.

This process of breaking a project into smaller parts and delivering services in stages is called agile development.

It can allow organisations to get feedback from users to improve services at each phase.

The IDA also said a bulk tender was completed earlier this week, which will allow public agencies to use agile development software services and tools from 15 companies.

Such bulk tenders, a first for agile development, are expected to cut procurement times for agencies by half.

Mr Chan said the Government will also be looking into standardising some aspects of infocomm projects that vendors will need to comply with so that different IT systems can be integrated.

"Every time we integrate two agencies' (platforms), it is a nightmare. We waste a lot of money. We cannot keep doing that," explained Mr Chan, who is also the Government's chief information officer.

Mr Zack Ng, a senior account manager for Japanese technology firm NEC, said trying to meet standardisation requirements in infocomm projects could be challenging for some companies, however.

"IT always has challenges with putting different systems together. But if a firm can resolve them and competitors can't, it is an advantage," he said.

The tenders called by the Government this year cover areas such as cybersecurity, infrastructure, data analytics, mobile services, as well as system development and maintenance.

It includes a project under the Law Ministry for developing mobile versions of current online services.

For the next financial year, the Ministry of Home Affairs has a project that will help police search for people from photos and video feeds quickly using facial recognition software.

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