Five questions for Singapore GovTech’s services lead

By Vanessa Gu

Tan Eng Pheng shares his vision for a service journey approach for digital transformation in the public sector.

Image: GovTech, Singapore

Tan Eng Pheng is head of the Services Group in Singapore’s Government Technology Agency of Singapore, or GovTech. He oversees more than 1,200 officers who are deployed across 60 government agencies.

The Group helps agencies plan, architect, and manage their IT systems for effective delivery and internal operations. The officers also play an active role in managing various offices’ digital transformation agendas.

GovInsider caught up with Tan to find out more about his vision; key priorities; upcoming projects; and key trends GovTech is keeping an eye on.

What are the projects you are most excited about right now?

The whole of GovTech is constantly thinking of how we can better deliver government services based on citizens’ needs at particular stages of their lives. This “service journey” approach means citizens no longer need to know which agency to transact with. Instead, they can have the right services delivered to them, as and when they need them.

An example of this is the Parents Gateway app. Developed by GovTech in collaboration with Ministry of Education, the app enables parents of school-going children to receive information and complete administrative processes. This includes a digital consent form to participate in school activities.

Parents Gateway will be progressively rolled out to all primary and secondary schools by the middle of this year, and more functions, such as e-payments, will be added over time.

Meanwhile, GovTech is working with other agencies to identify more service journeys across the government to break down organisational boundaries for more seamless services.

What is your vision for 2019?

The government launched the Ministry Family Digitalisation Plan (MFDP) last year to develop a tranche of transformative, cross-agency digital initiatives by 2023. And in 2018, we planned the development of 92 citizen-centric, secure and easy-to-use digital services. This is a key aspect of Singapore’s Digital Government Blueprint, where we want to become digital-to-the-core with citizen-centric services.

The MFDP will guide agencies in aligning their efforts to the digital blueprint, and raise the digital ambition of agencies to deliver anticipatory and personalised services.

What are your key focus areas and priorities?

Two key focus areas for my team this year will be helping agencies accelerate digital initiatives, and facilitating the adoption of commercial cloud.

We already have a practical, easy-to-use digitalisation guide to help agencies in their digital transformation. On top of that, we want to foster “business/operation-technology integration”. What this means is integrating digitalisation into the business planning cycle, and raising the tech mindshare among public sector leaders. This way, leaders will actively consider how technology can help enable new programmes and public service delivery.

Another area we are looking at is leveraging on the commercial cloud to host less sensitive systems. We want to rejuvenate our current systems by learning from best practices from commercial cloud providers. This will allow us to develop more cloud-native applications, and design digital services faster.

The move is a significant one as it requires us to develop a new set of cloud technology capabilities in IT teams across agencies. Currently, many of our systems are hosted internally or on private cloud, which is not fast enough for today’s environment.

We will develop the methodology and relevant tools centrally to support our agencies in this mission over the next few years.

What are some key global trends in digital government that Singapore should be aware of?

Citizen-centricity is central to a digital government, but it is difficult to achieve this if you only focus on technology. Beyond understanding what a citizen needs and using tech to deliver the desired outcome, there needs to be a fundamental process and cultural shifts in the public sector.

Today, many successful digital services are first built as a minimum viable product, and improved on-the-go as feedback from users come in. With this approach, we can make adjustments based on these feedback to create a product that is also built by users.

And this requires a fundamental shift in how the government develops digital services. It requires agile and iterative development, and taps on cross-functional, multi-disciplinary teams for a common mission. Instead of having a fixed criteria, time, and resource allocation for a “project”, it is a “product” concept which allows the app’s or service’s functions to evolve. This new way of working has been found to deliver better user experiences.

This means that the technology teams are no longer mere “order takers” from the business team. Both sides now work collaboratively to achieve a common goal. Success for the ICT team is no longer just about delivery milestones, but also the extent of adoption by and experience of actual public users.

How will you measure your success in five years?

The measure of GovTech’s success lies in the number of people who use digital government services, and their satisfaction with them.

Our surveys show that citizens and businesses are getting increasingly more satisfied with our digital services. Last year, 78 percent of citizens and 69 percent of businesses were “very satisfied” with government digital services. That is an improvement of 5 percentage points from the previous year’s survey results.

By 2023, we hope to attain a 75 to 80 percent satisfaction ratings from citizens and businesses. To do so, we have to focus on getting the basics right by delivering what citizens and businesses need; going digital when it makes sense; and better protecting citizen and business data.