Power to the people: Making digital services citizen-centric

By Rachel Teng

Representatives from Singapore’s Health Promotion Board, Agency for Integrated Care and technology agency GovTech tell a GovInsider panel event that highly personalised citizen services are the future, and share views on how to deliver them.

The current era represents the peak of the digital transformation, in which people expect to receive information and services at the click of a finger. Data and services are at risk of becoming obsolete at unprecedented speed. In short, services that snooze lose.

Digital giants – the likes of Uber, Grab, Spotify and Netflix – pioneered the push for highly personalised and timely experiences for their customers, with customised discounts, playlists and watchlists. This arguably gave them an edge in becoming giants in their respective industries.

More traditional enterprises have started to follow their lead. The financial services industry, for example, is now using real-time data to understand people’s spending habits and detect fraud.

And governments are also part of the equation. Such technologies as autonomous driving and intelligent parking have been made possible only through an abundance of data obtained from traffic monitoring cameras, weather satellites and wireless devices, processed at lightning speed.

All about data

Speakers at the recent GovInsider event Personalised Citizen Services for Life agreed on the necessity of ensuring seamless flows of data between multiple sources and end-use points. Another priority the speakers shared was highly situation-specific practices, because they said the integration of services would represent progress only if sensitivity to the needs of both organisations and end users was built in.

Yeo Khan Tze, Deputy Director of the Innovation Office at Singapore’s Health Promotion Board (HPB), which uses data about lifestyle and health behaviours to design targeted health promotion and disease prevention programmes, said integration came in the form of ensuring that data gathered from devices was accurate and meaningful. This could mean, for instance, knowing what sorts of smartwatches were most popular and cleansing and converting data that people had given consent to share with the board.

Yunn Shing Ong, Chief of Strategy at the Agency for Integrated Care’s Research & Data Division, said the agency had experience of integration through maintaining offline services for senior citizens. The agency focuses on providing support and services for those requiring care outside hospitals, and a large number of its beneficiaries are elderly people who are less likely than others to be digitally savvy.

“We work with our IT partners at Integrated Health Information Systems to make our services digital, but at the same time, we also try to push out more physical touch points through our ‘silver-generation’ ambassadors and door-to-door engagement sessions by colleagues and volunteers from our Silver Generation Office to understand and support our seniors’ needs,” Ong said. The team also works with the Infocomm Media Development Authority during door-to-door visits to help seniors go digital.

Privacy protection

For services to be truly customised, quality personal data is key. The Agency for Integrated Care collects data on senior citizens’ health, social situations and family living arrangements so it can provide advisory services that will resonate with families and seniors.

“Because we often deal with the vulnerable segment of the population, many of whom are from low-income groups, we do take a lot of care in protecting their data,” Ong said.

Speakers at the panel said a high level of trust is required to make such personalised services possible. In some contexts, data collected can be highly personal and reliable, but protected from abuse or leaks by masking people’s identities.

Kenneth Sng, Product Manager at Open Government Products, part of GovTech Singapore, explained sgID, an app that allows people to share personal information in an anonymised and secure manner. He said it could be used for digital voting during elections.

“It provides a way for the receiving party to know that this is an identified, credible individual with [a national identity] number, but that they can trace back to the individual,” Sng said. Such a service might in future allow citizens to provide anonymous tips to authorities, or protect them from being directly harmed in the case of data leaks.

Up close and personal

Yeo said that when personalising citizen services, the HPB continuously makes improvements to the user interface and user experience so that more targeted messages can be delivered, encouraging people to adopt healthier habits.

He said that with personalisation, the aim is to have messages that better resonate with people and ultimately encourage them to take steps towards living healthier lifestyles.

When it comes to handling data, Yeo said data security and privacy must be the highest priority. For HPB programmes, explicit and informed consent is always sought from participants, and only data required for the purposes of those programmes is collected. 

“At the end of the day, as we deliver citizen-centric programmes, we also ensure that any consented data collected is safeguarded,” he said.