How do you use technology/policy to improve citizens’ lives? Tell us about your role or organisation.
I am a product manager at the Open Government Products team, and this involves working with product designers and software engineers to build products that improve people’s lives. I work on three products – RedeemSG, a redemption tracking system for Government; parking.sg, a way to digitize parking payments; and PaySG, a payment service for swab test and Stay Home Notice payments.
Unlike the traditional government unit that implements initiatives that are approved by leadership, we operate like a team of entrepreneurs trying to find problems to solve, and finding solutions to solve these problems quickly. Many of the issues we tackle emerge from ground research — going down to clinics to experience the patient journey, or visiting government agencies to experience their challenges in a particular government process.
A typical week for me might involve, for instance, going down to the hawker centre to test e-vouchers with users. Then, taking the feedback back to the team and map out options on how we could improve the usability of the voucher redemption experience for hawkers without compromising on security.
What was the most impactful project you worked on this year?
During a hackathon this year, the team I was part of started RedeemSG, a solution that is used to track redemptions of vouchers. To date, the solution has been used to track over 13 million redemptions of items/ vouchers. It was used to ensure every Singaporean gets their quota of masks at the vending machines and Singapore together packs. It was also behind National Day Parade (NDP) e-ticketing this year and NEA/PUB’s Climate Change Household Package e-voucher issuance.
Firstly, with RedeemSG, over 14,000 staff/ volunteers need not log records of Singaporeans redeeming items on paper before keying or scanning in the records. Instead, they used our RedeemSG mobile app to scan and record each redemption. Secondly, RedeemSG enabled us to save taxpayer’s money spent printing vouchers/tickets and alleviated logistics in distributing paper vouchers. This year, for example, NDP ticket recipients did not need to go down to collect their tickets but got it sent digitally.
What is one unexpected learning from 2020?
Keep it simple. The biggest hindrance to scaling a process or product is not its lack of feature completeness, but rather how easy it is to understand and maintain a product.
When we first built the e-voucher tracking platform in January, the product was relatively simple. It was a system that simply allowed us to quickly submit a form to create an e-voucher that got sent to the recipient’s phone via SMS. And the voucher was either redeemed or not redeemed.
But as we built the system to handle more use cases, we ended up building more and more options/switches for the campaigns. Two switches became four, that became 8 and so forth. It became way more complicated to even set a campaign up and for campaign organizers to understand.
The biggest lesson learnt was a single additional option multiplies the level of complexity and maintenance work many times more than the number of options you are adding.
What tool or technique particularly interests you for 2021?
I am excited about the potential of linking up various products in the team to deliver even greater impact. Right now the products we have in Open Government Products form the basic suite that any agency needs – we have a form builder (FormSG), website builder (Isomer), data sharing tool (Vault), messaging tool (Postman), a voucher tracking tool (RedeemSG) etc. Each product is built in a fairly modular fashion. So while this solves specific problems, there is often a need to link different products up to digitise a workflow.
One way to accomplish this is through the use of webhooks that FormSG uses, which is a standard means by which applications send real time data to other applications and servers. Just this year, we used FormSG webhooks to be able to instantly create and send NEA/PUB vouchers to eligible recipients. Once someone submits a form to apply for the voucher scheme, they would get their vouchers sent in seconds. Previously, they needed to go down to collect their vouchers.
We also used FormSG webhooks to create a checkout on a payment service when an applicant applies for a swab test. This allowed us to build the payment service in 2 weeks. We are only just beginning to reap the benefits of using webhooks to quickly digitize workflows.
What are your priorities for 2021?
Figuring out how we can sustainably scale our product to deliver more positive impact for people. Right now our product can support a bunch of use cases. The question is how it could sustainably support many more use cases despite there being just 5 of us in the product team. This requires more thinking around automating workflows and developing processes that support the product’s operations.
What advice would you give to women looking to start a career in GovTech?
Have the courage to learn, even if it means looking like a total mess.
Coming from a non-technical degree and background, and being one of the first non-technical hires in the team, I needed to learn most things from square one despite having some four years of working experience. Initially, it was difficult to appear so ignorant. At other times, I doubted my ability to learn.
It was only when I made it more of a habit to swallow my pride and doubt and say that I do not know something that I was able to grow a lot more in learning from others.
Write a message for your future self.
Always remember that the focus of delivering digital products for public good is about delivering value in solving people’s problems rather than the number of users. As a product manager, it is easy to err on the side of maximising user growth. But in the public sector, user growth might not tell a full story – a product can be used because it is mandatory by policy, or that a guideline boosts its use.
Instead, focus on what pain you are alleviating and let the users decide what is best, and we will always be acting in the public’s best interest.