Jacqueline Poh, Chief Executive, GovTech, Singapore

By Medha Basu

Women in GovTech Special Report 2017.

Image: Singapore Computer Society

What has been the most exciting thing that you worked on in 2017?

The most exciting thing we have been working on, not just this year but from 2015, has to be the Singapore Government Technology Stack. The SG Tech Stack is a platform comprising layers of software and hardware components that agencies can leverage to build their digital applications.

What this means for citizens is that they can enjoy a seamless and connected user experience across different digital services built on it. The beauty is that the users themselves might not realise this integration despite experiencing the convenience. More and more applications are coming on board every week and being built on the stack, rather than monolithically. We hope this will eventually mean cheaper, faster and better development for government to serve citizens.

What technology particularly interests you for 2018?

The intersection of a number of technologies across applications interests me. Specifically, Artificial Intelligence (AI) still remains very interesting because it is becoming ‘real’ and a lot more mature in its applications. AI is also being used alongside other technologies, such as the Internet of Things and distributed ledger technology, to provide solutions in both the public and private sectors.

The implications of AI and its impact on jobs, skills, ethics and governance would be very challenging, and this is an area I’m personally engaged in.

If you were to share one piece of advice that you learned in 2017, what would it be?

In building Singapore into a Smart Nation, what has been really important has been to work across society, economy and Government, and reapply technologies from one to another.

For example, MyInfo - a platform developed by GovTech where users only need to provide their personal data once to the Government - is now used by private companies such as banks and insurers.

My advice is that these three areas would need to work much closer together to truly create a Smart Nation and digital society.

What was the greatest challenge that you overcame in 2017?

Driving meaningful technology adoption was the greatest challenge in 2017. There may be a tendency for both the public and private sector organisations to rush into adopting new technologies without having fully thought through their strategies and use cases.

Adoption is most crucial for any digital product to make any sort of impact in terms of providing convenience, improving productivity or creating new business models. To get people to adopt, we have learned that basic digital infrastructure such as a National Digital Identity is important - but so are applications that start off addressing clear and direct pain points.

A lot of the work we have done through the user testing sessions for our digital services and community engagement sessions has been to find out what makes more sense for our citizens and businesses – the users of our digital services. From these sessions, we find out their pain points and discover areas of our products which need polishing.

For example, Parking.sg is an app that provides a quick and convenient way to pay for parking digitally. The app has limited features and a constrained design, making it simple and easy to use, which is actually hard to achieve. A simple app like that turned out to be very popular among motorists - 300,000 users have downloaded it on iOS and Android since its launch.

What book did you read in 2017 that most interested or inspired you?

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy. Through this book, Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, and Adam Grant, a psychologist and professor at Wharton, tell a story on how to build resilience to better cope with adversities.

It was a brave attempt to pen down Sheryl’s post-tragedy thoughts on what happened when she lost her husband unexpectedly. The impact of an unexpected derailment can be different for different people, but there was a strong message about resilience being ‘like a muscle’. We are not born with a finite supply of resilience; it grows as it is exercised, with time and through challenges.