Sonjia Yan, Product Manager, Open Government Products, Singapore

By Ming En Liew

Women in GovTech Special Report 2021.

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

I am a product manager at Open Government Products (OGP), an experimental tech team started by the government of Singapore to solve public sector problems.

As part of our mission, OGP builds tech solutions for the government, many of which we are open sourced. For example, our mobile app ParkingSG allows Singapore drivers to conveniently pay for parking and eliminates the need for parking coupons or gantries.

Beyond tech solutioning, OGP also acts as a living sandbox where the government can experiment with new organisational practices and ways of operating – from management techniques to cultural norms, agile methods and financing models.

My job as product manager is to mobilise our teams of engineers, designers and ops specialists to attack the highest-value problems that technology can solve in government today. I oversee 4 products – Singapore’s Covid-19 case management system, open source form service FormSG, open source messaging tool Postman, and healthcare notification tool Touchpoint.

FormSG, for example, was used by our public agencies to quickly respond to Covid-19 developments and operationalise national Covid financial relief, daily temperature taking, and Antigen Rapid Testing (ART), among many other new workflows.

As usage grew exponentially (~50x in a year), our challenge was ensuring that the product scaled reliably to meet the new need. During this period, I spent more time scoping features and reliability improvements urgently needed at scale, building up professional ops support and devising resiliency plans with the engineering team.

What was one impactful initiative you worked on this year? 

My team dived in very quickly this year to build a Covid case management system for the Ministry of Health. The goal is to enable Singapore’s healthcare system to smoothly coordinate the necessary care for Covid-positive individuals at a steady state. This includes responding quickly to fluctuations in case numbers, new coronavirus developments, and changes in individuals’ medical conditions. 

Although it’s still a work-in-progress, we have already cut down the time it takes to notify a Covid-positive individual, channel them to the appropriate model of care, and if necessary, convey them to a facility.

What is one unexpected learning from 2021? 

Haha, I think I learnt to become a lot more spontaneous in 2021! There was no telling when there would be a new variant or new restrictions, so it didn’t make sense to plan too far ahead. Now, if there’s someone I want to meet or something I want to do, I just grab the earliest opportunity.

For various reasons, I also took up 3 new products on very short notice this year. I got used to surprises like that and making the most of them from a learning perspective. It’s been a lot of fun.

What’s your favourite memory from the past year?

Honestly, it’s hard to pick a favourite; just thinking about this question makes me feel blessed. My balcony opens to a view of just trees. Because I’m faithfully a ‘night owl’, there’s only been about four times this year I’ve stood facing this view with the birds waking up and breathed in the early morning air. It always feels perfect.

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

I’m looking forward to spending more time doing web development work and contributing code.

What are your priorities for 2022?

Spend my time more purposefully and with tighter focus
Spend quality time with family and friends
Show my appreciation more consistently
Improve web development skills
Get fit
Do things I’m excited about

What are some products that inspire you?

Actually BTS, the boy band, and Douyin/TikTok, because they became so unnaturally successful (outperformed dominant competitors) mainly as a result of seriously excellent product process and solid execution. I would really like to meet the people who worked on these products in their early stages.

What gets you up in the morning?

The chance to build tech-enabled experiences that make a difference to ordinary people. Saving taxpayer money! And working with people I really enjoy.