Singapore’s Smart Nation journey is a hugely ambitious for several reasons, not least because there is no end to this journey. In other words, we are not going have a situation where the government can say: “Voilà! We have reached our Smart Nation destination.”

As technology progresses, new features and services will become available because there will be a requirement to incorporate these within the Smart Nation framework. Much of Singapore’s Smart Nation push will require a Blue-sky approach to planning and execution, and it will be a continuous journey.

The Smart Nation planners understand that it is not just about adding new tech as it comes along. The framework needs to be flexible so that changes can be incorporated without disrupting existing structures and services. Anyone who has experience in project implementation and execution will assert that incorporating new services or technology within an existing technology stack – without disruption – is easier said than done.

So how is Singapore tackling this problem?

The Singapore way

In any smart city or smart nation, citizen engagement is the primary focus and technology is only a means to an end; the end is serving citizens better.

Singapore residents have always had top-class government services available to them. In the new paradigm, the Smart Nation planners are attempting to take these services to the next level by making them agile, flexible and able to meet the rising needs and expectations of citizens.

The Singapore government employs around 145,000 officers in 16 Ministries and more than 60 Statutory Boards. In such a large organisation, making sure that the quality of public services remains ubiquitous across the board in a Smart Nation environment is easier said than done.

Re-engineering

In a speech late last year, Singapore Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, noted that there will be a “fundamental re-engineering” of the government in order to provide better and faster public services “at a fraction of the cost”.

This will involve, according to Lee, a radical overhauling or replacing its existing IT systems and revamping its processes. This will be done through a new digital platform called CODEX (Core Operations, Development Environment and eXchange).

CODEX will help the government to move away from a system where individual agencies build their own e-citizen services and applications to a more centralised approach. The platform will better allow the public and private sector to work together to develop more user-centric services.

As Lee noted at GovTech’s own developer conference, the government can go “beyond tweaking existing ways of doing things, to reduce bureaucracy and simplify our processes significantly” with this technology.

The Smart Nation and Digital Government Group (SNDGG) have embarked on five Strategic National Projects (SNPs) that provide the key building blocks to realise Singapore’s Smart Nation vision. Codex has been designated as the sixth SNP for the Smart Nation project.

It is important to understand why Codex is a fundamental shift away from the existing way the government currently builds its IT services. Most existing Government Infocomm Technology (ICT) systems are designed and built independently, with each agency building to meet their respective requirements.

Codex provides developers re-usable digital components, including machine readable data flows, middleware and micro-services. This will be shared across agencies so that developers can plug and play into these resources and focus their time and energy on building better products and services.

The adoption of common tools and standards will reduce bugs and raise the quality, reliability and security of government services. It will also enable the Government to tap into what the commercial cloud can offer in scalability and reliability, as well as software services and tools.

As of now Codex comprises the following components:

a) A Government Data Architecture for common data standards and formats that better enables seamless data sharing between agencies;
b) A systematic shift of less sensitive Government systems and data onto the commercial cloud, enabling the use of leading-edge private sector capabilities to develop digital services; and
c) A Singapore Government Technology Stack (SGTS) comprising a suite of shared software components and infrastructure to enable more efficient and focused building of digital applications.

Early results are very encouraging. For example, the MyInfo bank pilot project was developed and delivered in four months, instead of the usual timeframe of one year. The pilot uses GovTech’s APEX (application programme interface exchange) to allow banks to on-board new customers using Government verified data.

Another success story is the MyCareersFuture.sg site. The use of existing components lowered the development costs of the portal by at least 40 per cent and shortened the development time from about two years to eight months. The use of pre-existing components allowed the development team to focus on building a scalable web service, without the need to develop its own infrastructure.

The building of “common digital and data platforms” is one of six strategies identified in the Digital Government Blueprint (DGB) to harness digital technology to transform how the Singapore Government serves the public.

There are a lot of people around the world who are cheering on Singapore in its efforts. That is because the Singapore experiment of turning an entire country into a “Smart Nation” is being keenly watched by city planners and officials around the world. Much of the development that is happening here will set the benchmarks that others follow.

Amit Roy Choudhury, a journalist and media consultant, writes about technology for GovInsider.

Images from GovTech Singapore Facebook Page