Weng Wanyi, Deputy Director (Plans), Home Team Science & Technology Agency, Ministry of Home Affairs, Singapore

By Nurfilzah Rohaidi

Women in GovTech Special Report 2019.

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

I am currently the Deputy Director (Strategic Plans) of HTX, which is the new Home Team Science & Technology Agency launched on 2 December 2019. HTX is an agency of scientists and engineers, dedicated to using their technical expertise to build transformational capabilities for the Home Team. Capabilities like automated immigration clearance systems, cutting-edge forensic methods and even life-saving robots - HTX is all about using science and technology to keep Singapore safe and secure.

I am actually a uniformed police officer and have been for the last 12 years. Before coming to HTX, I was deeply involved in leveraging technology to improve policing, and ultimately the safety and security of my fellow citizens.

Notable projects I have worked on include the rollout of the Digital Traffic Red-Light Cameras, which aims to deter errant motorists and enhance road safety; and the Police Smartphone, a specialised smartphone with custom-built apps that allow police officers to respond faster and more effectively to incidents.

As Deputy Director (Strategic Plans) of HTX, I get to continue my passion of bringing about digital transformation to safeguard Singapore.

What has been the most exciting thing that you worked on in 2019?

It has to be the creation of HTX. Not many civil servants get a chance to be involved in creating an entirely new agency from scratch, much less an agency of 1,300 officers with an ambitious mandate of using science and technology to exponentially impact Singapore’s safety and security.

In many ways, creating HTX was like building a startup (but in the public sector!). The pace was frenetic, decisions were made fast and furious and we had to do ‘trial and error’ for many things because there simply was no standing operating procedure or template to follow. Who says public service work is boring and predictable?

What is the best thing you have experienced in your career?

When I was in the Digital Transformation Department (now known as Operation Technology Department) of the Singapore Police Force, my team and I built an IT application to help investigators and their supervisors better track and make decisions about incoming cases. It was one of the first applications built on user-centric design and agile development methodology.

On the third day of implementation, I went to a Police Division to witness it in action. One of the investigation supervisors, a hardened detective with 35 years’ experience, used it with remarkable ease.

This was a man who started doing investigations with pen and paper, and he even admitted that he did not go for any of the training sessions. But because the application was so user-intuitive, he could easily figure out how to use it. Not only was it easy to use, he raved about how much time it saved him.

I was amazed. If we could win over hard-boiled, cynical detectives in their 50s and convert them into tech-embracing adopters – the sky is the limit. It is a complete myth that technology is only for the young. With proper design and user consultation, technology can truly be for the masses and can bring about great change.

If you were to share one piece of advice that you learned in 2019, what would it be?

People are at the heart of any change that you are trying to bring about – technological or otherwise. Whether it is introducing a new piece of technology or transforming an organisation to adapt to the digital age – at the end of the day, you are dealing with human beings. They are driven by their own unique perspectives and motivations, and you have to spend time and effort to better understand them.

What tool or technique particularly interests you for 2020?

User Experience Design (UX Design) applied beyond the realm of technology. Most of us are familiar with UX design principles being applied to mobile app creation or the design of mobile devices like smartphones. Increasingly, I think governments are going to apply UX design principles to different facets of the public sector.

From policy formulation to the provision of services to citizens – I think there is tremendous scope to apply UX design to improve the lives of citizens. Technological advances have allowed us to provide greater customisation. The question is, how we can redesign processes to ‘wrap’ them around the citizen’s perspective.

I am going back to school! After 12 years in the public service, it is timely for me to refresh my skills and pick up new ones. Given the rapid pace of change, it is absolutely vital that I stay up-to-date on the latest trends and remain relevant.

I am exploring full-time Masters programmes in public policy, specifically focusing on institutions that are also on the forefront of technology. What are the latest technological shifts, how will they impact society, are there different roles that the public sector needs to take up in this digital age – those are some of the tough questions I want to tackle back in school.

What has been your fondest memory from the past year?

Seeing Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong launch HTX with a super-cool hologram show. The whole launch event was really a statement of ambition that HTX has, to bring Singapore’s safety and security to a new level with science and technology. It was great to see HTX officers, fellow Home Team officers and even industry partners come together to celebrate the launch of HTX.