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The journey behind the development process of the Business Grants Portal (BGP)

Above featured image: The team behind the Business Grants Portal at GovTech. Credit: GovTech.

In January 2017, the Ministry of Finance (MOF), Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) and Government Technology Agency of Singapore (GovTech) launched a one-stop portal for businesses to apply grants according to their needs without having to approach multiple agencies. The Business Grants Portal (BGP) is designed to route applications to the relevant agency based on user inputs, so businesses need not worry if they do not know which agency to approach for grant support.  

Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are a significant part of our economy, and the Government is committed to ensuring that they receive the support they need. There are targeted schemes to support SMEs in specific areas, from the adoption of latest technologies for productivity improvement to assisting companies in accessing international markets. The BGP provides a great example of shifting government services from an agency-centric approach to a citizen-centric approach. Traditionally, citizens or businesses, as in this case, have been required to approach each government department and agency separately, often needing to provide the same information during applications. With the simplified application process and streamlined application flow via BGP, operational efficiencies are achieved, helping applicants realise time savings and easily find and apply for grants. 

‍The BGP currently hosts six grants: Market Readiness Assistance (MRA) Grant and the Global Company Partnership (GCP) Grant from International Enterprise Singapore (IE Singapore), the Capability Development Grant (CDG) from SPRING Singapore, the Business Improvement Fund (BIF) from the Singapore Tourism Board (STB), the  Building Information Model (BIM) Fund from Building and Construction Authority (BCA) and the Marketing Assistance (M-Assist) Grant from the Info-communications Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA). More grants will be added progressively. 

We approached members of the GovTech development team to learn more about the ongoing development of this portal, which involved coordinating with many different agencies.   

Since the primary objective of BGP is to make it more convenient for businesses to apply for grants, we asked about the User Experience (UX) considerations/processes to make grant applications more intuitive for users.  

Ms. Nina Ee, UX Designer, Agile Consulting and Engineering, replied, “With BGP in place and most high-volume business grants already available, we’ve been working with various agencies to simplify grants applications even further. We have engaged businesses at each step of the process and incorporated their feedback into the portal.” 

‍“All forms on the BGP have been streamlined to comprise 6 short, standardised sections, regardless of the processing agency. In addition, through usability testing, we realised that businesses had to repeatedly enter the same information about their company whenever they applied for a grant,” she added.   

Therefore, a company profile module was developed. The module automates the extraction of company information from the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority’s (ACRA’s) database, based on the registered Unique Entity Number (UEN) of the applicant company. The company then only needs to provide other relevant information, such as financials, which are saved within the company profile.

Every time the company applies for a grant, the company profile is attached to the grant application. In this way, companies only need to provide their information once, as relevant company information provided in previous grant applications are stored for use in subsequent grant applications. These features have shortened the application process.

User testing 

User testing is key to getting the product right.  

Most of usability testing efforts are focused on validating new ideas or designs before they go into development. There is a regular user testing cycle with BGP grant applicants that takes place around once every two months, where new ideas and features are tested at various stages of the design process ¬- from paper prototype to developed features.  

After gathering feedback, the designs are improved and undergo two to three rounds of testing before they are moved into development.  

“For what is already in development, we look at the website data, feedback forms and helpdesk data to identify areas where businesses have difficulty, before exploring design options which could address these issues,” Ms. Ee explained.  

Collaboration with different agencies   

Bringing together grants from different agencies to one portal is a challenging process. 

Mr. Simon Ang, Manager, GDS (Government Digital Services) Product Development, said, “The biggest challenge was aligning different agencies with differing operations to one standard operating policy. The process involved engaging the various agencies, understanding their processes and concerns and finding a way forward that would address the various stakeholders’ needs and concerns. However, it has been satisfying, as in the process, the various agencies are able to learn from each other and establish best practices. 

Agile development 

post on GovTech’s Medium blog in June 2017 revealed agile development as one of the secret ingredients in the successful development of BGP. BGP was one of the first whole-of-government digital services developed using Agile. It allowed the team to deliver features with high business value first and deprioritise features with low business value, so that the team could deliver greater value for every dollar. The first grant was launched within 12 months and the next 5 grants over the next 6 months - a much shorter timeframe than traditional waterfall development, which could have taken 3 years. 

We asked about the key lessons learnt from the development process. Mr. Kah Kong Poh, Product Manager, Agile Consulting and Engineering, told us that the most vital aspect for any agile development is a product owner with an agile mindset, who is empowered to make key decisions and is committed to the project full-time. A good product owner helps the team focus on the right problems. 

He said that Agile development is fairly new in Singapore and so, the expertise is limited. The team engages vendors with proven Agile experience and track record. Vendors go through an extensive evaluation to qualify. This helps the team to partner with a good team of Agile specialists to co-source effectively. 

The team also conducts Agile Brown Bag sharing every month to help other government agencies embark on Agile development.  

The team is looking to continuously improve the BGP. Feedback and suggestions for the BGP can be sent in to bgp_helpdesk@spring.gov.sg.

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