Building and enabling safe and inclusive digital government services

By Awantec

What are the risks and opportunities in digitalising government services in Malaysia, and how you can encourage safe and successful take-up of such services? GovInsider speaks to Lee Wai Theng, Head of Solutions for Awantec Systems, to find out more.

As the Malaysian Government commits more resources to digital government services, they should embrace agile methodologies and tap on cloud services. Image: Canva

The Malaysian Government has recently announced the upcoming formation of a new digital government unit, GovTech Malaysia, which will help improve the government’s ability to embrace a “Whole of Government” approach to digital government transformation, reports Business Today. 

As Malaysia commits more resources towards digitalising government services, the question of how to build such services in a resilient and user-friendly way comes up. These services often leverage on citizen data, and need to be accessible and easy enough to use, so that adoption is wide and effective.  

To learn about the considerations agencies should bear in mind when transitioning from traditional to digital government services, GovInsider speaks to Lee Wai Theng, Head of Solutions for Awantec Systems, a provider of information and communication technology services and cloud-based solutions in Malaysia. 

What are some of the key considerations in digitalising government services? 

The pandemic has accelerated the availability of digital services in both government and private sectors. However, the fear of cyberattacks remains the biggest challenge for citizens to adopt government services, especially in terms of sharing personal information such as healthcare and personal data.  

Lee Wai Theng, Head of Solutions for Awantec Systems, shares the key ingredients for successful digital government in Malaysia. Image: Awantec

I am still quite shocked to see applications that can expose your personal data without user protection services like ReCAPTCHA and SSL. A bot can easily be programmed to retrieve massive amounts of personal information. 

A very key consideration would be inclusiveness. I was happy to hear that they are planning to develop the Malaysia Digital Inclusiveness Index during the Mid-Term Review of the 12th Malaysia Plan.  

For many years, I have been working with various agencies and stakeholders on creating digital services. Creating digital services shouldn’t be just for fulfilling an internal KPI.  

Finally, digitalising services should serve to provide an alternate channel for citizens to access government, services, rather than totally replacing it. It would also be ideal to reduce waiting times, and simplify and automate processes. It is also designed for the masses.  

What do you need to do to build services in an agile manner, such that they are delivered fast and flexibly, and remain resilient against issues or even crises? 

Application designers or solution architects need to rethink how they approach designing an application for digital services.

Developers need to learn how to develop these services using new development methodologies such as agile development methodology or rapid application development (RAD) which is a condensed development process. They need to develop applications to be microservices or API-oriented so that new functions can be introduced fast and remain resilient during a surge of demand.  

When there is a surge of users, developers must consider how their applications will behave, and how many resources need to be allocated so that the user experience is not impacted. 

One advice I would offer is to employ a good UX designer and to use approaches such as Design Thinking to create the user interface. This could save a lot of time and effort, and help to create stickiness if the user experience is user-friendly and inclusive. They should also remember that some users are differently abled. 

Agencies can also use cloud environments to host digital services, as they can be scaled up and down to meet demand. 

How do you ensure digital services are simple to use, easy to access and are citizen-centric? 

The pandemic has accelerated a lot of digital services made available, but it also showed the weaknesses of building them too quickly.  

As mentioned, digital services need to be designed with the citizen in mind, especially the user experience. Often, we design user experience from a technical perspective. Apple is a great example of how they design their services and devices to be so user-friendly. In Malaysia, multilingual support is a must. 

Running these services on a public cloud like Google Cloud would allow citizens to access these services from anywhere and any device. They can scale automatically to handle the surge in users and scale down to help you save costs when no one is assessing the services. 

When I talk to developers, I always ask them why they would want to re-invent something that someone has already developed and offered at a low price. Cloud service providers like Google Cloud have, for example, developed advanced technologies for Generative AI and offered them through APIs with full support.  

What are the challenges in working with multiple government agencies, and with other vendors, that need to collaborate in such digitalisation projects? 

One of the major challenges is the lack of governance framework to help guide data sharing and exchange data securely. Data is also not stored in a common format, so it is difficult to share without transforming and mapping the data. Of course, these days agencies share via JSON or XML formats via API calls, which makes it easier. 

We also need to identify which agency should be the data owner of various types of data (the provider) and should provide updates to the users of the data (the subscriber).  

Even though a data exchange platform like MyGDX has been introduced for data exchange, adoption is not very high. We see a lot of important information generated and stored at various agencies which are useful to others, but the process to get the data owners to agree to exchange and share information between multiple agencies seem to be complicated.  

How can data help you anticipate the needs of citizens, and how do you balance the use of data with the need to secure what may be citizens’ sensitive data? 

We need to be able to collect and analyse data that covers a diverse demographic. These could be via transactions with businesses, government agencies, movements of people, or simply exchange of data between agencies. 

At the same time, citizens, companies and governments across the globe agree that everyone should be free to live their lives and use technology without fear that their information will be stolen or held ransom by cybercriminals or other malicious actors.  

As a citizen, I am also worried about the security of my personal data whether it is stored in Malaysia or not.  

Do you know the fastest way to destroy a piece of data that has been encrypted is to destroy the key? Encrypted data without its decryption key is not accessible to anyone including the rightful owner. That is why all data stored no matter at rest, in transit or while being processed should be encrypted and if the data is stored in the cloud, store the key outside of the cloud platform. 

Another way is to ensure segregation of the storage of data which is classified and not classified.  

Finally, sharing health data that is properly anonymised in the cloud is the best way to share data with scientists and doctors around the world to find new cures and for research.  

Find out how Awantec can help your agency develop citizen-centric, sustainable and inclusive solutions at our upcoming event, Johor Conversations: A Citizen-centric, Sustainable And Inclusive Johor, where Lee Wai Theng will be speaking.