Singapore e-gov services still lack integration

Country has achieved high global rankings in its deployment of e-government services, which enjoy high citizen participation. However, such services still lack integration and adoption among the silver generation.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

Singapore has been highly committed to ensuring government services are accessible online to both citizens and businesses and it takes particular pride in the country's high e-government rankings among its global peers. Its e-services, however, still lack integration and adoption among the silver generation. 

ICT regulator, Infocomm Development Authority (IDA), is responsible for spearheading and charting the direction of the country's e-government services. And it hasn't done a bad job. Let's look at some stats IDA will no doubt be proud of.

The United Nations E-Government Survey 2012, for instance, ranked Singapore 10th in its e-government development index. In terms of e-participation, the country ranked 4th, according to the survey. Among Southeast Asian nations, Singapore claimed pole position in terms of e-government development, ahead of its northern neighbor and second-placed Malaysia. 

United Nations e-government survey 2012
United Nations e-government survey 2012

Conducted once every two years, the U.N. study examines e-government frameworks and underscores the importance of such services in aiding governments grappling with challenges related to social equity and the digital divide. "The caveat is that governments must find effective channels of communication that fit national circumstances, while also taking steps to increase usage of online and mobile services in order to realize their full benefit to citizens," the U.N. stated.

Its 2012 report revealed that while South Korea and the Netherlands led both indexes, Singapore--along with Kazakhstan--were close behind. It noted: "Singapore's citizen's portal provide an extensive range of online payment services that lists by agency as well as bill type. Payments range from taxes, fees, fines, and licenses that can be made through multi-channels such as credit card, direct debit as well as internet banking and even by phone."

In fact, Singapore was among only a handful of nations including Australia, France, and the United Kingdom that ranked high in multi-channel service delivery because they offered e-government services through various platforms, such as mobile apps, public kiosks, and Wi-Fi. The report noted how Singapore citizens could receive SMS alerts, for instance, when their passports or road tax were due for renewal.

"It might also be helpful to consider further enhancements to the quality and usability of government Web portals. One possible improvement is to create a consistent user interface across various e-government service portals so that they are simple to learn and use."

~ Lyon Poh, KPMG in Singapore

More recently, Accenture in February 2014 released its own digital government study which ranked Singapore first, ahead of Norway and United Arab Emirates which placed second and third, respectively. The survey, however, only included 10 countries including India, Germany, South Korea, and the United States, measuring the nations' citizen service delivery experience, citizen satisfaction, as well as service maturity. It defined digital government to include online portals that offered public services, as well as social media platforms to engage citizens. 

According to Ng Wee Wei, Accenture's Singapore managing director for health and public services, Singapore ranked first in digital government performance. She said nearly 3.34 million citizens had opted for the Central Provident Fund's e-services since its launch in September 2010, yielding almost US$1.15 million in savings by reducing the use of paper statements.

Transactions through e-services increased to 46 million in 2010, while transactions at the counter dropped by 46 percent in the same year, Ng said in an e-mail interview. 

Singapore's own E-government Customer Perception Survey, conducted annually by IDA and Ministry of Finance, evaluates how receptive the public is toward such services. Last year's study, which polled 1,213 respondents between April and May 2013, indicated that 88 percent had transacted with the government via online services over the past year.

Interestingly, though, while this was an increase from 80 percent the year before, the figure was a drop compared to 93 percent who transacted with the government electronically at least once in 2011.

Among businesses, 80 percent had obtained information from the Singapore government in 2012, of which 99 percent did so electronically via various channels such as online, kiosks, and e-mail. In comparison, 68 percent of businesses in 2011 obtained data from the government, of which 98 percent did so electronically. 

No direct comparative data was available for 2013. 

Adoption still low among the old, services integration still lacking

According to Lyon Poh, partner for advisory at KPMG in Singapore, the government did well in making its services available online as well as developing mobile apps on the Apple iOS and Android platforms, including eCitizen and Mobile@HDB. These provide both citizens and businesses with easy access to e-government services via a single, integrated portal, he said.

KPMG in Singapore works with various government agencies to "redefine their business operational processes so that citizens and businesses can access e-services and interact with relevant personnel". Consulting services the company provides include developing online business registration and emergency services, Poh said.

He noted that some key challenges remain in the adoption of e-government services here. For one, the majority of Singapore's older generation may not be sufficiently IT-savvy to make use of e-government services. He called for more to be done to train these folks if Singapore is aiming for its online services to become the default way for accessing essential government services.

"It might also be helpful to consider further enhancements to the quality and usability of government Web portals," Poh added. "One possible improvement is to create a consistent user interface across various e-government service portals so that they are simple to learn and use."

Anne Teng, a Singapore-based marketing executive for a multinational IT company, also suggested the need for a centralized portal.

She explained that e-government sites here should be better integrated so users can access a range of services via one site. "Currently, we need to log into the individual website each time to access each different service," Teng noted.

She added that some websites should be improved in terms of user interface and performance. The Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) portal, for instance, is very clumsy, she said. The executive accesses the site frequently to search for information on business entities in Singapore.

Teng goes online to file her taxes and occasionally visits the CPF (Central Provident Fund) website to check that her employer's monthly contributions are correct.

CPF is Singapore's mandatory social security savings scheme for all working adults in the country, where a portion of the individual's monthly pay goes into his (or her) CPF account. The employer also contributes a portion each month, though at a smaller percentage of the monthly pay than the employee. There were over 3.51 million CPF members last year, 1.85 million of whom were active members. In 2013 alone, Singapore workers contributed over S$28.53 billion in CPF funds.

The CPF website allows account members to carry out a range of transactions including checking their account balances and arranging for a portion of their monthly contribution to go toward their mortgage repayments.

Boon Koh, manager at an e-commerce and private equity consultancy, has used e-government services in Singapore, as well as Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines, where he accesses the websites to file taxes and business-related services.

He found those offered by the Singapore government easiest and most convenient to use, singling out the country's single signon system--SingPass--as a "great" feature. The Malaysia-born Singapore Permanent Resident (PR) often visits the Immigration and Checkpoint Authority (ICA) website to renew his PR status or update his passport details. He also heads online to file his taxes via the Inland Revenue Authority site and check his CPF (Central Provident Fund) account.

Koh said: "For a regular user like me, the e-services here work great and I love using them. Compared to e-government services in Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines, Singapore's are much better." He noted that his company's personal assistant found it so difficult to manage government-related administrative work in those countries that it hired a management services company just to help handle the processes.

Accenture's Ng suggested Singapore took advantage of its geographical size to ensure tighter collaboration and a more connected government to improve service delivery, citizen engagement, and productivity. She pointed to adopting a more enterprise-focused ICT strategy that involves streamlining e-government services to avoid overlaps as well as improve efficiencies and economies of scale.

"Beyond increasing performance management while managing costs, it is also about being citizen-centric. Citizens' needs are not based on silos as defined by government structures. More often than not, they typically require cross-agency collaboration and response," she said.

KPMG's Poh also noted that amid the threat of cybersecurity attacks such as phishing, fraud, and personal data theft, the Singapore government needs to monitor this area closely, especially since such threats are only likely to increase as technology evolves. 

No one is spared from such attacks, whether citizen of chief executive. In November 2013, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's official website was breached and defaced by hacktivist group Anonymous, which also defaced a subpage of the Istana website. Istana is the official residence of Singapore's president-elect Tony Tan. 

Questions were sent to IDA about its plans to further improve and drive adoption of e-government services, but the ICT regulator has yet to respond.

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