Here’s how Singapore plans to make its services as easy as Facebook Connect

By Michael Tegos for TechInAsia

The Singapore government made one more step toward bringing public services online. GovTech, or the Government Technology Agency, launched yesterday to drive Singapore’s digital strategy.

GovTech plans to continue digitizing key functions of governance and public life.

Working with public agencies, industry players, and Singaporean citizens, GovTech plans to continue digitizing key functions of governance and public life. It wants to make new technologies accessible and easy to use, and train the people who make it all possible.

“The government has a big role to play by setting the example and applying [information and communication technology] and related engineering solutions to improve our quality of life, create opportunities for businesses, and drive productive and efficient government processes,” said Minister for Communications and Information Dr. Yaacob Ibrahim during GovTech’s launch event.

Power to the people

A big part of becoming a Smart Nation involves making it as easy for Singaporeans to access online services as, say, using Facebook Connect or their Google account to log in to their favorite apps and websites.

For example, MyInfo helps people access banking and finance without having to produce their personal documents every time. Parents Gateway will allow parents to engage with their kids’ schools. OneService is an online portal and app for accessing municipal services.MyResponder helps alert emergency response to your location through your smartphone.

GovTech launch Minister Dr. Yaacob Ibrahim

The Minister visits an exhibition of GovTech’s programs and services. Photo credit: GovTech.

The Smart Nation Platform that GovTech is developing will make it easy to share data and analytics between different departments, allowing health, mobility, urban planning, energy, and education services to work together seamlessly.

And let’s not forget Singapore’s treasure trove of open data that lets people create their own apps and digital services.

Smart technology

These services aren’t limited to software. On the quest toward making Singapore a smart metropolis, GovTech’s Emerging Technology team experiments with internet of things (IoT) and sensor tech.

How about an autonomous wheelchair that can take you around your house and go around obstacles, for example? Or a smart walking stick that alerts your caregiver if you fall, keeps track of your location, and plays the radio for you? Or smart cones that alert cars about roadworks?

Govtech smart hardware

An autonomous wheelchair, a smart walking stick, and smart road cones are examples of the Emerging Technology Team’s efforts. Photo credit: Tech in Asia.

Or maybe you’ll be interested in an online health platform that helps you keep track of your fitness and diet. It also allows you to take part in an island-wide activity challenge and a number of other health-related events and programs – plus gives you a free wearable tracker.

GovTech’s Emerging Technology team experiments with IoT and sensor tech.

Nor is it just about people. Businesses in Singapore can take advantage of CorpPass, a digital identity that enables them to conduct quick, safe, and easy online transactions with government offices.

The National Trade Platform will allow trade and logistics businesses to access data and services that help them streamline and digitize their processes – something that will be especially valuable for small and medium enterprises that have found it difficult to shift to digital.

Pulse of the Economy, a project by GovTech’s Data Science team, will use data, machine learning, and predictive analytics to gather real-time information to keep tabs on the economy. Data like electricity consumption spikes and traffic density can be combined and disseminated to enable better decision making, rather than relying on traditional factors like GDP and employment.

Security and education

All this sounds well and good but raises a number of concerns. One key issue is privacy and security – if every citizen’s information is part of a huge network of different interoperable services and databases, doesn’t that make it vulnerable to abuse and intrusions?

For this reason, GovTech will work with authorities, government agencies, and industry to strengthen technical policies and regulations to safeguard the use and custody of this data. It also plans to develop cybersecurity technology to respond to and defend against cyber attacks.

Another question is who will build and operate all this infrastructure. GovTech wants to help build up Singapore’s engineering capabilities and create a sustainable tech talent pool. The Hive is a good example of what can be achieved by getting the right people together and giving them the tools to develop cool technology.

Govtech chief executive, Jacqueline Poh, at the Govtech launch event

GovTech chief executive, Jacqueline Poh, at the launch event. Photo credit: GovTech.

At the same time, GovTech plans to support education and attract domestic and foreign expertise with initiatives like the Smart Nation Fellowship Program, which will give top data scientists, academics, technologists, and engineers short government stints in order to take advantage of their skills and experience.

People can receive digital training and familiarize themselves with these online services.

These experts will work with Capability Centers in sectors like app development, data science, geospatial technology, cybersecurity, and sensors and IoT, to develop new technologies and services.

Meanwhile, the country’s established Citizen Connect Centers are meant to help citizens who don’t have their own computers or internet connections. People can receive digital training and familiarize themselves with these online services. These centers will be gradually equipped with better hardware and redesigned user interfaces to make things even easier.

“GovTech will build on the strong foundation established by the Government Chief Information Office to support the building of a Smart Nation,” said GovTech chief executive, Jacqueline Poh. “The formation of GovTech marks a new chapter in the way we use technology to improve the wide range of services and touchpoints that the public sector has with our citizens and businesses.”

First appeared at TechInAsia