Shara Wong, Digital Business Analyst, Parents/Students Digital Services, Information Technology Division, Ministry of Education, Singapore

By Sean Nolan

Women in GovTech Special Report 2021.

How do you use technology/policy to improve citizens’ lives? Tell us about your role or organisation.

As a Digital Business Analyst with the Ministry of Education (MOE), it is my honour and privilege to be part of a dynamic Ops-Tech integrated team of UX designers, software engineers, business analysts and education officers improving the lives of parents and teachers. This team works on the Parents Gateway application which is an MOE – GovTech co-creation that uses Agile methodology to iteratively deliver new features or enhancements almost every month.

Launched in 2019, this one-stop, centrally-coordinated, digitally secure platform streamlines engagement between parents and schools. While enhancing convenience for parents by providing a unified digital experience for common administrative functions across schools, the Parents Gateway app also frees teachers from administrative workload and saves a significant amount of time by making administrative duties such as disseminating information to parents more efficient, hence allowing teachers to focus on doing what they love – to teach and to mentor our next generation.

Undergirding my work is the team’s mission-centric view that creating stakeholder products/services from an end-user’s perspective while leveraging familiar user-behaviour of citizens is key to deliver an effective, meaningful product like the Parents Gateway app.

At the same time, riding on the prevalence of mobile phone ownership in this digital era, the app also enhances convenience for parents who can access school announcements and consent forms, anywhere and at any time via their mobile phones. Parents with children attending different schools can also view information pertaining to all their children, consolidated and synced in one app!  This digital transformation has enhanced convenience for all parents and teachers.

Beyond bringing an app to users, extensive customer service journey mapping is also critical. The Parents Gateway app adopts a “Forever Beta” approach to remain relevant and responsive to changes. The team continuously engages in user research to improve the app based on users’ feedback, by introducing new features and enhancing existing ones.

What was the most impactful project you worked on this year?

It would be the project to digitalise the Pupil Data Form which used to be a hardcopy form issued to parents whose child is entering Primary 1 the following year. As part of MOE’s initiatives to digitalise work processes and systems to deliver a more seamless digital experience for parents and to reduce schools’ administrative workload, I led a team involving UX designer and software engineers to build a digital Student Details Form web portal to replace the hardcopy Pupil Data Form.

Parents can access the portal from desktop or mobile to fill in and verify their child’s information digitally, without the need to go down to schools to submit the hardcopy form. This has also helped schools keep to safe management measures under the prevailing Covid-19 guidelines more efficiently.

The project spanned nine months from conceptualisation to implementation and the portal went live in November 2021. It involved collaborating with other MOE divisions to gather requirements and streamline processes, working with UX designers on the design flow and screens as well as software engineers on user stories, performance standards and security tests.

What is one unexpected learning from 2021?

Despite the Covid-19 situation, our development team remained agile and completed tasks in a timely manner, even when working from home. We used various online tools including Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Skype for Business to conduct virtual meetings and run various Agile ceremonies (Daily Stand-up, Sprint Planning, Sprint Review etc). It is amazing to see how the team adapted to the new norm quickly without compromising our quality of work.

In addition, the evolving Covid-19 situation was also an eye-opener. Just when I thought that everything should well go back to normal by 2021, the situation continued to develop in unexpected ways. I had to constantly keep up with the latest news on restrictions (e.g. number of house visitors allowed, dining restrictions etc) to keep my family safe.

As we transit towards the Covid-19 endemic phase, resilience and adaptation are key in coping well with the changes. While the pandemic had impacted many people’s lives, it also reminded me to spend more time with my family and not take life for granted.

What’s your favourite memory from the past year?

There were many new features released in Parents Gateway app last year. One of them is the “Pop-up comms” function, where push notifications are sent to users to provide updates in a timely manner.

Parents Gateway has become a key platform for MOE and schools to disseminate important messages on school arrangements to parents, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. During Full Home-Based Learning in April 2020, schools had reached out to parents through the use of Parents Gateway.

Knowing that the work I am doing makes a positive difference to people – parents and school staff alike – perks me up.

What’s a tool or technique you’re excited to explore in 2022?

I would like to explore more of data analytics as I am keen to read data from different perspectives to gain deeper insights and spot usage patterns that can serve to continuously enhance the product.

What are your priorities for 2022?

In 2022, I hope to be able to keep up with the ever-evolving emerging technologies and integrate them with the work I do. With the experience in running Agile projects for years, I hope to contribute my Agile skills to more government projects, bringing digital transformation to the next level using Agile practices.

At the same time, I will also try to maintain work-life balance. While I am willing to work harder next year for the citizens, I should be mindful not to neglect my own “citizens” at home too!

Who are the mentors and heroes that inspire you?

I am working with a great project team and every one of them has mentored me and been a source of inspiration, in one way or another. I am grateful to be in this team working with like-minded people who strive to bring the best app to citizens.

What gets you up in the morning?

If yesterday was a bad day, it’s history. Every morning is a brand new day to start off fresh, knowing that I am going to create something good for others again.