How do you use technology to improve citizens’ lives? Tell us about your role or organisation.
Technology is an enabler that helps make things easier and more intuitive for our people and businesses. It’s exciting to see how tech has transitioned from being enterprise-led with big complex systems to where people are empowered with data and powerful mobile devices to be part of a generation of crowd-sourced co-creators to choose what they want and when they want it.
As the CMO of the newly formed GovTech, my job is to help us work closely with our fellow agency partners and market useful digital services to our people and businesses. And we believe that we need to adopt an outside-in approach of listening to what our people want – by focusing on the citizen’s journey of when they need information or when to transact with the Government. We need to engage citizens more in the upstream process of co-creating such digital solutions and get their input across the whole user experience journey.
One of the services that will provide this empowerment to our people is the newly launched MyInfo service. It helps people to save time by auto-populating their online government forms with personal data that they already have with us. The user has the final say on which government agencies they share their personal data with, as they need to provide consent for every single transaction that they authorise us with. And with trials starting with the banks, MyInfo could potentially help people auto-fill or authorise banks to retrieve their personal data without having to repeat the tedious form-filling tasks again.
What has been the most exciting thing that you worked on in 2016?
It has been a tremendously busy year for us as we transitioned from the then-Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) to GovTech and worked on identifying applied innovations that would matter most to our people. Some of the key areas that we are focusing on include cybersecurity, data analytics, IoT and sensors, user experience and geospatial technology. In particular, with the proliferation of millions of sensors in a Smart Nation comes the arduous task of making sense of these huge amounts of data through analytics and also securing these “things”.
I am privileged to have the chance to work with some of the most talented and passionate software engineers and data scientists who are constantly using their specialised know-how to help solve real problems that we face. For example, instead of waiting for the annual industry reports, our data scientists have developed a Pulse of the Economy dashboard. This enables economic agencies to get a more real-time sense of the economy with indicators such as utilities usage, transport data, population density to nowcast the state of certain industrial zones. This will aid policy makers in getting a quicker sense of the issues and work on providing the right help to the impacted industries.
What is most exciting is the advent of artificial intelligence and deep machine learning as we gather more data. Our virtual assistant Ask Jamie is an early step in this direction, providing users real-time help on some of our government websites. But as Ask Jamie continues to “learn”, one day, it can be personalised and become more interactive, providing citizens with answers to more complex queries.
What tool or technique particularly interests you for 2017?
In the tech world, the pace of change is really fast and I really don’t think we have a lack of new tools but are rather looking for the most cost effective and scalable way to provide simple solutions to our people and businesses.
At GovTech, we emphasise a lot on “applied innovation” because it really isn’t about the tech but how it can be practically used to help solve real world problems. However, I am really excited about the potential of chatbots. And not just in government, but with the use of open data and hopefully more open APIs, we can see more active citizenry and creations, such as the Bus Uncle chatbot which is so useful and can easily be adopted by anyone.
If you were to share one piece of advice that you learned in 2016, what would it be?
This year, we have started a Citizen Digital Engagement Office to ensure that we listen to and engage even more with citizens to hear their perspectives, and make them part of our co-creation process. I have attended the focus groups and am inspired by the work that our design thinking strategists and behavioural insights teams have built up across various parts of government. I learnt that to solve complex problems for our citizens, it is often not about the tech, but empathy and improving their user journey and experience that matters most. And as the saying goes, it is not the hardware, but the heartware that will make this transformation successful.
Who is your hero and why?
Not so much a hero, but Singaporeans in general. I have worked in quite a few countries and I really admire the work ethic that we have in Singapore. The honesty, transparency and tenacity to deliver is inborn in us. While I know there has been quite a lot of feedback on our education system, I grew up with it, and am proud that my education stood me well when I worked in some of the world’s largest MNCs. The kind of discipline and methodological thought process we are taught is something we should be proud of. After travelling overseas for work, everytime I come back, I still feel a deep sense of pride in what our forefathers have built and treasure how far we have come. It’s up to us to build upon their success for the next 50 years. And one of the mantras I have learnt is: successful people take action. Don’t wait around for things to happen.
And finally, if you could recommend us one place to eat, where would it be?
I’m quite an Easterner and I think all the good food exists in the east of Singapore or rather in the Katong area. You can take your pick of the best prata along Joo Chiat Road to Peranakan food at Glory Catering, the new Baba Chew at Katong Square, the best hokkien mee (Geylang Hokkien Mee, coffeeshop next to Alforno) or the now so famous fried carrot cake at Marine Terrace Market that Joseph Schooling (and my family!) grew up eating.