The key lesson to designing effective government payments services is to understand the users’ needs, shared finance and digital leaders at the recent Innovation Labs World summit hosted by GovInsider.

“One key message is to really stand at the point of the view of the user, and then imagine the entire journey that the user will have to actually walk through, from using the services to that of the delivery itself,” said Lim Hwei Chen, Senior Director of Finance and Procurement at the Judiciary State Courts of Singapore. Lim was speaking on a panel run in partnership with payments infrastructure company Stripe.

But designing services from the users’ perspective can be difficult for government agencies, noted Parimal Aswani, Director of Government Digital Services from the Government Technology Agency (GovTech). “It’s very easy in government to lose sight of that,” he said. “We tend to design based on assumptions and that very often leads in the wrong direction.”

To remedy this, government agencies are increasingly using an agile development process to make services more citizen-centric, according to the panellists.

Changing user needs

To meet the growing expectations of citizens, the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS) develops prototypes of new services for taxpayers to test. “We do ask them, based on the prototypes that we’ve delivered, about whether they will use some of these services,” said Poh Lai Khim, assistant commissioner from the agency’s taxpayer services division. “There are instances where we go back and redesign some things, taking into consideration the users,” she added.

Another trend of note in Singapore is that payments now come at the start of a transaction, rather than at the end. “In the past, we traditionally believed that payment is at the end of the transaction,” Lim from the State Courts said. But now, “when you make an appointment, you settle payment first. After that, you don’t have to worry about a single thing; you just utilise the new services,” she added.

What’s next for Singapore

The panellists believe that new tech can make payments more seamless in coming years. “The key thing is to use technologies like blockchain and robotics, to empower the citizens to go about their daily lives, whether it is doing businesses in Singapore, or reporting your tax,” Lim shared. “We’ll see more integrated services rendered across the whole of government, towards services to be delivered to the citizens.”

“The key thing is to use technologies like blockchain and robotics, to empower the citizens to go about their daily lives.”

The government will create less stand-alone apps, but build more APIs to enhance the services provided by existing apps, GovTech’s Aswani predicted. Essentially, APIs create a method for other people to build their services on top of your data and infrastructure. For instance, Grab does not use their own mapping software – they borrow from Google Maps. An API lets them pull that data straight into their taxi app, for a fee.

“These APIs then would be consumed from anywhere. It could be smart watches; it could be a virtual reality environment,” Aswani added. “It could be your super smart AI assistant who gets your driver’s license applied.”

For one, the Municipal Services Office of Singapore has begun linking different services, such as parking payment, on one single platform, rather than build new applications for each service.

Increasing trust

Digital payments play a crucial role in the economy, helping small businesses sell to people that they would not have been able to reach before, said panellist Piruze Sabuncu, Head of Southeast Asia and Hong Kong at Stripe. This payments technology company has been working closely with governments to help them understand user needs.

“These services are not only helping the users, but also the small businesses that would like to provide their services to Singaporeans, and democratising access to the users,” she said. “Once they view the service as convenient, they start demanding this [convenience], not only from their day-to-day apps, but from all the online services that they use.”

While Singapore’s push towards seamless payments across government is still in its infancy, according to GovTech’s Aswani, the panellists agreed that there is great potential for innovative new services, such as Stripe’s cloud-based software, to come to the fore. “We’re just scratching the surface now,” Aswani remarked.

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