How Singapore’s GovTech supports SMEs

By Chia Jie Lin

CEO Kok Ping Soon shares three ways the government is changing procurement.

Image: GovTech Agency, Singapore/Facebook

Government procurement is a bit like dating. If you want to find a good match, you have to tell others about yourself and learn more about them too.

But finding the dream match with government can be slow, expensive and tedious. Singapore’s Government Technology Agency is keen to change this and make it easier for smaller businesses to bid for government work.

Here are three ways it is doing this.

1. Simplifying procurement

SMEs can skip a few steps and share their ideas directly with government through the InnoLeap programme. GovTech “matches tech companies with problem statements from public sector agencies”, says Kok Ping Soon, Chief Executive Officer of the GovTech Agency. The programme has cut red tape by allowing companies to take part without having to register through a formal procurement registration process.

It offers three platforms for government and companies to work together. First, government officials discuss their problem statements with companies through workshops. Next, companies get opportunities to showcase their ideas and solutions directly to government agencies. Finally, GovTech connects agencies and companies in one-to-one consultations to get them started.

For one, the government has shared a problem statement asking for ways to use AI for concierge services that can respond to visitor enquiries, print maps and call for taxis. Another problem statement looks for a mixed reality solution to help deliver more immersive training simulations in different work environments.

InnoLeap also connects companies with research institutes if they need expertise to develop early-stage ideas. For instance, a company worked with the Institute of Infocomm Research to develop a translation engine that produces faster and more accurate translations for government websites in local languages. “The success of this collaboration has led to interest from several parties to actually commercialise this technology,” says Kok.

At the same time, InnoLeap helps SMEs cover the costs of early-stage trials and developments. This reduces the financial risk smaller companies usually face when developing new ideas.

2. Sharing problem statements

GovTech is sharing problem statements through its Ideas! Portal, before agencies tender for projects. Instead of complex legal documents with rigid specifications, agencies set challenges for companies and individuals to share ideas on. This is a “whole-of-government crowdsourcing platform for agencies to collaborate with the tech community and the public to solve their challenges”, the GovTech CEO says.

For instance, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) has recently launched a challenge asking for ideas on designing spaces that encourage people to exercise and improve social interactions.

The scheme helps SMEs get involved early in the tendering process. Companies can get a headstart in understanding governments’ challenges and developing solutions that the government needs, according to GovTech.

Meanwhile, government agencies discover new solutions that it would not have otherwise thought of alone.

3. Pooling demand

The government is also pooling demand for new services into “bulk tenders” to cut the number of steps for bidding. Companies will need to go through just one tender process to gain access to a number of projects and public agencies that may need their services.

For instance, GovTech has announced plans to have bulk tenders for robotic process automation (RPA) software tools and agile services. This will be part of $2.4-2.6 billion worth of tech tenders the government will issue this financial year.

GovTech is also building a platform to allow agencies to reuse existing apps and tech developed by other government agencies. “It's important for them to be able to deliver their applications with much faster time, as well as lower costs,” Kok says. The government will tender for companies to build this platform, and in the future, also develop ways for SMEs to build new services on top of it.

Dating apps are now using artificial intelligence to find potential partners. Perhaps one day the same could be said of government procurement.