Ming Sien Choong, Senior Manager, Government Digital Services, GovTech, Singapore

By Medha Basu

Women in GovTech 2018 Special Report.

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

I am part of Singapore’s Government Digital Services (GDS), the government’s in-house application development team. GDS promotes an “outside-in” approach to delivering citizen-centric government digital services, to support Singapore’s public sector transformation.

Many of our products, such as the Business Grants Portal and the Moments of Life (Families) app, enable citizens to transact easily with the government. Behind the scenes, many of our products are part of the Singapore Government Technology Stack (SGTS), such as APEX and NECTAR. Many citizen-facing products are built on the SGTS, providing citizens with a seamless user experience across different digital services.

What has been the most exciting thing that you worked on in 2018?

I was part of the inaugural Ministry Family Digitalisation Plan (MFDP) initiative, during which each Ministry Family prepared their digitalisation plan for the next few years. It was a steep learning curve – I had been in the public service for less than six months when MFDP began, and I had to learn about the agency while helping them to develop their plans. However, this gave me unique insights into the agency’s specific strengths and challenges, and digitalisation opportunities.

If you were to share one piece of advice that you learned in 2018, what would it be?

Creating user-centric digital services is as much about tech as mindset. Oftentimes, apps are proposed as standalone initiatives, without regard for how the app will impact the organisation’s business processes and change management issues. For the digital service to be truly transformational, you need to reengineer your organisation to deliver a digital experience to your stakeholders. Focus on the problem you are trying to solve – the tech is the most flexible consideration, and can be adjusted to your requirements.
“Focus on the problem you are trying to solve – the tech is the most flexible consideration, and can be adjusted to your requirements.”
What tool or technique particularly interests you for 2019?

I’m interested in learning more about meditation. Meditation is hardly the latest tech buzzword: the earliest written records of this (analogue) practice can be traced back to 1,500 BCE. The health benefits of meditation are well-publicised, but I am interested in how meditation can discipline the mind to achieve mental and emotional clarity. (I’m open to using apps like HeadSpace to learn how, though!)

Given the rapid speed at which the tech industry evolves, it can be very easy and/or tempting to be swept up by the excitement and the hype. The ability to block out white noise and to focus on what is really important is a valuable skill for everyone to have, but especially so for those of us in tech.

What are your priorities for 2019?

Professionally, my priority is GDS’s sustainability. GDS has gone from success to success since it was established in 2014, and our high-performing team has grown more than ten-fold in size. It is a credit to our founding and current teammates that GDS continues to be the government’s catalyst for transforming the delivery of its digital services.

Nevertheless, we must not rest on our laurels, as GDS’s needs have also evolved over the past four years. Like any successful start-up, GDS now needs to strike the right balance between maintaining the collaborative and innovative spirit of 2014, with the team’s changing operational requirements of 2018. This balance will enable us to continue supporting Singapore’s Smart Nation ambitions.

What is one skill that has helped you the most throughout the course of your career?

Regardless of your rank or your industry, you will accomplish very little if you cannot communicate effectively with other people. Even if you have the best idea in the room, nothing will happen unless you can convince other people of its value. My days mainly comprise of managing stakeholders, from GDS, to the wider GovTech family, to other government agencies. These stakeholders usually have very different, competing priorities, and they all think they are “right”.

Whatever the chosen medium, you should articulate your message clearly and politely, especially if you’re communicating across different cultures, and/or you’re delivering bad news. More importantly, you should listen to what the other side is saying, and empathise with their viewpoint. You don’t have to agree with them, but understanding their perspective might help you to better explain yours.
“You don’t have to agree with them, but understanding their perspective might help you to better explain yours.”

What advancements do you predict will happen in your field in the next ten years?

It is difficult to predict what will happen in the tech industry in the next one year, let alone the next ten years! One advancement that I find interesting, that is already taking form, is Web 3.0. I shall not attempt to explain how it might work, as there are far more qualified people who would do a better job. However, it has already raised very interesting questions about decentralised control of the web, cybersecurity, data ownership, and application interoperability.

Coffee, yoga, music... what powers you through your day?

If I am in need of alone time, good music will pick me up or calm me down. I have found that a good pair of headphones can create such an oasis, even in an open plan office!

If I am in need of company, stimulating conversations give me energy, especially when I learn something that challenges or expands what I know. Thankfully, knowledge sharing is a big part of GDS’s culture, from formal presentations to quick chats by the coffee machine. I feel very fortunate to be part of GDS, surrounded by interesting, intelligent teammates who are passionate about what they do both in and out of the office, and are happy to impart what they know. I only need to tap someone on the shoulder to start debating anything from blockchain to blueberries.