S'pore rides digital wave on new e-govt plan

update Singapore's e-government initiatives spanning next four years seek to tap public collaboration through data sharing and focus on new media and technologies, reveals senior minister.
Written by Vivian Yeo, Contributor

update SINGAPORE--The government has reiterated its commitment to improve public service delivery and citizen engagement with the unveiling of a new e-government masterplan Monday.

Under the new masterplan, which runs until 2015, two new public services were launched: an mGov@SG mobile site to house all public sector mobile sites and apps; and a data.gov.sg portal to share textual data with citizens and businesses.

Speaking at the E-Gov Global Exchange here, Singapore's deputy prime minister and minister for home affairs, Teo Chee Hean, noted that governments worldwide need to be more connected, innovative and efficient in "harnessing ICT to deliver higher, more sustainable public value".

According to the minister, the new eGov2015 masterplan will, among other things, help to catalyze the development of new e-government services and delivery channels. To achieve this outcome, there would be a greater emphasis on emerging technologies, he said.

Citing mobile services as an example, Teo said the private sector has already capitalized on the high smartphone ownership trend in Singapore--where more than seven in 10 mobile devices are smartphones--by actively pushing out services via mobile apps and Web sites. Government agencies can do the same, he pointed out, adding that mGov@SG would make it easier for citizens and businesses to locate mobile services.

The mobile government site currently houses 40 apps and SMS- or browser-based services, and is able to display mobile services compatible with the device platform.

Singapore's public sector mobile transaction volumes hit nearly 4 million last year.

But beyond the mode of service delivery, governments also need to empower and tap the wider community to derive new ideas and services. To that end, Teo suggested governments "take a leaf from Apple's successful AppStore concept", where third parties can leverage the company's platform and tools to build apps for their customers.

"As long as there is a ready platform, supported by the right tools, tapping the right [talent] pool...innovative individuals and companies outside of government can come up with good solutions that create value for citizens," he said.

He added that there are examples of such collaboration today within the public sector, but the opening of more government data will encourage businesses and individuals to stretch their imagination in using such information to create new services.

The data.gov.sg portal currently includes over 5,000 datasets in machine-readable format from 50 government agencies. These include weather updates, location of amenities such as recycling bins or childcare centers, and real-time traffic patterns from cameras located on roads and highways.

Initiatives to come
Besides paving the way for new services and modes of delivery, Singapore will also be focused on improving the exchange of information and ideas as well as enhancing the delivery of public services, said Teo.

To better engage citizens going forward, the government will enhance its Reach (Reaching Everyone for Active Citizenry@Home) online feedback platform and try out new feedback channels and e-consultation. It will also explore crowdsourcing or tapping collective intelligence to perform tasks.

Teo also pledged that the government will continue to streamline the number of transactions, reduce the steps required to complete them, and where possible, eliminate such transactions altogether.

At the same time, businesses will also be issued a single online identity to transact with the government, similar to the SingPass system for individuals currently in place.

During the second half of 2012, OneInBox, a centralized electronic inbox for citizens to receive electronic correspondence from the government will be introduced together with a revamped eCitizen portal to allow for more customization and personalization.

James Kang, assistant chief executive at IDA, noted that OneInBox may eventually evolve to become a personal digital repository that can be used to federate identity--a "gamechanger" for the service.

According to the local ICT regulator, the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA), the government plans to build a private cloud called the Central G-Cloud, that will complement the use of public clouds and government agency clouds. G-Cloud, the successor to the whole-of-government infrastructure for shared computing resources known as Shine, will be designed to meet two different levels of security and governance requirements.

An open tender exercise for G-Cloud will be called by year-end, said IDA.

Changing times
Governments, particularly in smaller countries such as Singapore, need to keep up with technology and learn to be agile, according to an analyst.

In his presentation at the conference, Steve Bittinger, Gartner's research director for government research, pointed to the commoditization of IT infrastructure and services, and seamless socialization and collaboration, as among the current key trends impacting the public sector.

According to Bittinger, by 2015, more than 50 percent of government outcomes will depend on consumer or highly commoditized technologies.

With the move toward shared services and the cloud, government IT departments will also face changes. Within four years, about half of government shared services and centralization initiatives will be supplemented by public or community clouds, he predicted.

By 2014, government agency IT infrastructure and operational headcount will fall by 20 percent, he added.

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