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Reimagine, Reinvent, Redefine Citizen Services in the New Normal – Singapore OpenGov Leadership Forum 2021 Part II

The Singapore OpenGov Leadership Forum 2021 – Virtual Edition was held over two days. This article covers Day 2. Read about Day 1.

COVID-19 has progressed digital transition by years and has foundationally altered the way both the public and private sector across the world deliver services, products and programmes. Government agencies and institutions have fast-tracked digitisation of internal operations and delivery of citizen services. Businesses made temporary solutions, that are morphing into more permanent ones, to meet changing and new demands – far more quickly than was thought possible before the crisis.

Indeed, a digital revolution is underway.

However, this is a daunting journey – stories of problematic projects abound. Organisations and agencies in government, healthcare and education that get digital transformation right are proving that the effort and investment reap significant rewards when done right.

This was the focal point of the discussion during the Singapore OpenGov Leadership Forum 2021 – Virtual Edition Day 2 that brought the key decision-makers and influencers together in one forum.

Convening the brightest digital minds for a strategic level discussion on the issues that matter the most, the Singapore OpenGov Leadership Forum offered a unique way of tackling challenges in its virtual edition. Intentionally planned, every activity and facet of the event was designed to let delegates garner exclusive insights from the digital leaders as well as demonstrate their thought-leadership.

As always, the forum provided intimate interaction between key ICT leaders from the Public Sector and leading technology providers who influence and determine digital strategies across agencies and organisations.

Apart from informative presentations from renowned speakers, this year’s Forum continued its award-winning OpenGov Gamification Table (OGT) format in the new OpenGov Gamification Virtual Rooms (OGVRs). Every OpenGov Gamification Virtual Room was a virtual heuristic exercise allowing delegates to learn from varying decision-making scenarios just as they would in the physical world.

Digital Government: Building for the People

Pascale Elvas: Government services must be simple, easy to use and citizen-centric

The day started with a keynote address from Pascale Elvas, Senior Director, Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat who talked about how a digital government builds for its people.

Canada has nearly 38 million people and is the second-largest country in the world with ten provinces, three territories, two official languages – diversified and multicultural. The country also has its share of indigenous people as well as immigrants.

Canada is one of the most connected countries in the world with 94% of Canadians having internet access at home. Canadians are used to working, shopping and banking online and expect the same from their government’s services.

A total of $7.5 billion was spent on Federal Annual IT Expenditures in the following areas:

  • $2.6B Applications
  • $1.4B Telecommunications and networks
  • $1.2B Distributed computing
  • $1.2B Production and operations computing
  • $0.7B Programme management
  • $0.4B Security

In 2009, the Government of Canada launched a project to replace the system it had been using for 40 years to process payroll for its 290,000 employees in 101 departments and agencies.

The Office of the Auditor General of Canada concluded that the Phoenix project was an “incomprehensible failure in project management and oversight”. The Standing Committee on Finance referred to the project as an “international disgrace”. The pay system failed users, cost hundreds of millions of dollars and caused financial hardship to tens of thousands of employees.

The Overview of the Phoenix Project:

  • Mega contract: A tech giant won the sole-source contract – $5.7 million initial contracts but eventually the company was paid $185 million.
  • Unforeseen costs: The original budget in 2009 was $309 million, with projected savings of $70 million per year. The system has already cost taxpayers over $1 billion, with unforeseen costs estimated at $3 billion by 2023.
  • Serious consequences: By June 2018, Phoenix had caused pay problems for almost 80% of federal public servants, or 232,000 people, with over 600,000 cases in arrears. Phoenix led to the suicide of a federal public servant in 2017.
  • Pascale enumerated the causes of the project’s failure:
  • Waterfall management: Largely pre-defined IT project with 300-400 contract requirements. Tech developer left alone for several months to design and develop the project. Unveiled very late, near the end of the contract
  • No tests: Budget and timelines prioritised over functionality, testing and security. Launched without a pilot project or end-to-end testing
  • Culture of “yes”: Culture where the risks of IT project failure are not discussed

To bounce back from past mishaps and to combat the effects of the pandemic, the government launched an online info-service platform on COVID-19.

In mid-March last year, the coronavirus pages had peaks of 13 million visits per day. Google steered 90% of the traffic, showing that people were looking for reliable and authoritative information prompting them to launch the digital info-service for COVID-19. Since its launch, the service has sent more than 5.8 million notices to more than 56,000 subscribers.

The Overview of the COVID-19 information service platform are as follows:

  • An email subscription service that provides information to help better manage health and wellness, and combat misinformation.
  • Uses the open-source code from the GOV.UK Notify service, adapted for Canada by the Canadian Digital Service.
  • Minimum viable product launched based on initial hypotheses regarding subscriber numbers, network load and minimum viable product, without planning all the features of future iterations.
  • Launched one month before the press release and promotional campaign to test, improve and build a subscriber base for the service.

Pascale said the success factors of the platform include being informed by data where the content of the emails is based on the analysis of popular search data. Emails are written in a simple and accessible manner so that a grade 8 student can understand them. The platform uses existing tools and services.

The Canadian Digital Service’s Notify platform and the publishing platform made it possible to launch a turnkey service in two weeks. Lastly, it has an open-source code. The service is available in the Open Call for Code for Canada, a catalogue of free digital tools to answer common questions about COVID-19.

Smarter, Safer, and Resilient Cities: Re-opening Our Cities in the Face of COVID-19

Sameer Sharma: Resilience and flexibility are paramount in crisis management

The delegates next heard from Sameer Sharma, Global General Manager Smart Cities, Intelligent Transportation & IoT, Intel Corporation. He talked about learning how the Internet of Things and data can be leveraged to monitor, alert and protect citizens in modern cities as they begin to re-open.

Data clearly shows there is an explosion in populations in major cities all over the world; 55% of the world’s population lives in cities and is expected to rise to 68% by 2050. With this surge, governments have been striving to find ways to make urban systems and infrastructure more efficient and effective. However, with COVID-19 hitting the world at the end of 2019 Q4, it has created a major pause in city innovation in specific areas.

The rapid spread of the virus affected countries globally on a massive scale. It severely hit areas like trade where the value of global exports increased by 4,000% in the last century; and the travel industry where 4.5 billion passengers boarded flights in 2019 pre-COVID. And on a personal level, human interaction was also reduced by the pandemic.

The pandemic made governments and policymakers looked at their vision for cities – such as better access to education, better healthcare and more opportunities for their citizens – in a whole new light.

Across the world, there are currently 33 megacities (>10 million people), 4,000 cities with 100K+ population and 2.5M towns. Serving this global population are 1.4 billion cars, 246 million trucks, 17 million buses, over 50,000 ships, 25,000 commercial planes and 1.3 million kilometres of railways.

All of these must be and can be managed even in an ongoing crisis. Improving and strengthening cities where the working society is in will be the key and, in the age of COVID-19, Sameer is convinced, that resilience will be critical; new threats and challenges must be anticipated and planned for.

Agencies and organisations across the board have tried to mitigate the effects of the pandemic by using technologies and new operational frameworks. Sameer reminded the delegates that legacy infrastructure cannot scale but disruptive technologies can make everything possible. Digital technologies must overlay the physical world, especially cities.

COVID-19 created shifted the focus specific sector improvement to overall infrastructure upgrade – that is, transforming ‘spaces’ to ‘smart spaces. It is imperative to learn how to adopt technologies like AI, Cloud, 5G and IoT.

With the re-opening of the economy, safety and sanitisation will take precedence. Automated air filtration systems will be the norm in offices, commercial spaces, and industries where the physical presence of people is a must.

Organisations that use these spaces can utilise technology to upgrade their infrastructure. There are a plethora of tech-based solutions that enable smarter spaces: automated room access, keyless and touchless entry, touchless and on-demand elevators, ambient temperature control, fresh air circulation and quality monitoring, UVD disinfecting robotics, face mask and fever detection using AI, people-counting and spacing-analytics and digital contact tracing initiatives just to name a few.

With fears of the virus in public transport, for local, shorter commutes, most likely, people will use personal vehicles. Where longer travel is necessary by air, road, rail or sea, security agencies will add healthcare checks and screenings.

Schools and universities will opt to use online tools; hotels and restaurants will transition to digital menus, delivery models and contactless payments; retail will be increasingly driven online.

Intel’s Smart City Vision, Sameer shared, is built on effective policies, governance and financing. Transportation, buildings and energy, environment, healthcare, public services and homes stress citizen wellbeing and safety. Intel is a strong advocate for and champions the use of sensors and edge computing, wireless tech, access and core networks, cloud and analytics and AI and Automation to achieve their dreams of a Smart City.

Nations must understand that resiliency is the key and technology enable it. Decision-makers should think big, not just thinking about smarter cities, but better cities. The mantra is to start small and get going with obvious projects and opportunities; then learn, adjust, and iterate.

Sameer urges governments and organisations to find the right partners across the industry to build sustainable cities for citizens.

In closing, he quoted Nelson Mandela, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

Digitally Automated Citizen Services

Dan Ternes: Citizens trust agencies that provide good services

Dan Ternes, Chief Technology Officer, APAC, Blue Prism was the presenter and talked about ways on how to serve citizens better with digital automation. He began with the key factors that drive the public sector to change its disciplines and practices. At the helm is to be able to serve citizens better, mostly with robotic process automation.

Government agencies are under pressure to improve the user experience to meet growing expectations and to help improve the lives of citizens. Public sector leaders are being urged to leverage new and innovative digital technologies like AI and automation.

Security and fraud detection are significant considerations as well. Governments must have higher levels of security and be innovative in fraud detection to address the pressures of rising fraudulent and cybersecurity activities.

Regulatory compliance, too, plays a key role in these changes. Increased levels of governance and compliance requirements are needed to address the pressures of stricter regulations and privacy of data.

Lastly is the public sector’s future operating model. Current operating models are proving unsustainable in the face of dramatic changes in the expectations of citizens.

The public sector’s path to value in terms of automation starts with the back office – automating high volume and high-value back-office processes, financial data tracking, updating HR and payroll and IT data migration.

It then transitions to citizen services. New account and account renewals, automatic invoicing and billing, lowering contact centre wait times, automated benefits processing and efficient public service matching.

The public sector must create capabilities that free up staff time and enable them to be re-skilled for higher value-added services on the front line. Notably, the government must transition from legacy and avoid constraints of legacy systems. It must create digital agility while reducing risk and complexity and enable simplification and modernisation.

Dan enumerated four samples of success stories that the public sector achieved by automating processes:

  • Revenue NSW, 80,000 hours returned to the business; 1.1M transactions across 40 process automation
  • Luton Borough Council, 90% of benefits cases processed by digital workers and 5x faster than temp workers
  • South Kesteven District Council, 3 weeks backlog reduced for critical housing applications
  • Suffolk County Council, 2,000 monthly audits on prepaid card spending for Special Educational Needs & Disabilities children

The current state of adoption of intelligent automation in government as follows:

  • 33% piloting right now
  • 28% has no plans
  • 23% moving into production
  • 11% unsure
  • 6% scaled-up and industrialised

Dan conceded that going digital must build on the promise of a new E.T.H.I.C. of public services. It must be Efficient, capable of increasing productivity as well as being a good steward of the taxpayer’s money. It must be Trusted where security and compliance are the top priorities. The government must practice transparent, non-inclusive engagement. Government must also be Highly responsive through cross-silo integration and invisible bureaucracy. Public services should be Inclusive, driven by personalisation and equitable services. Lastly, a digital government must provide Convenient, omni-experience and seamless access to its services.

Critical Services Resiliency

Soh Kiat Hiong: Do not Backup. Go Forward.

The delegates heard from Soh Kiat Hiong, Head of Systems Engineering, Asia, Rubrik on ways to keep critical services resilient in the age of cyber threats.

Digital transformation must focus on leveraging data as a strategic advantage. Organisations must modernise and reduce complexity and cost. Digital adopters must learn how to automate infrastructures and how to utilise a hybrid cloud setup. The transformation must be secure, compliant and resilient. Lastly, digital processes and platforms must be able to harmonise with existing assets to have a seamless management system.

With the current surge in digitalisation from both the private and public sectors, cyber extortion is growing too. For example, while some simple ransomware may lock the system so that it is not difficult for a knowledgeable person to reverse, more advanced malware uses a technique called crypto-viral extortion. It encrypts the victim’s files, making them inaccessible, and demands a ransom payment to decrypt them. In a properly implemented extortion attack, recovering the files without the decryption key is an intractable problem.

Soh Kiat Hiong conceded that there are additional challenges with ransomware. Foremost, quick recoveries are a pipe dream and on average take over 7 days to recover. An organisation’s last line of defence is no longer enough – more is needed with additional backup. Finally, users cannot determine the blast radius of the attack.

He also mentioned the following to build a Ransomware remediation plan:

  • Immutability (Safeguard Backups)
  • Impact Visibility (Reduce Data Loss)
  • Instant Recovery (Lower RTOs)

Government agencies and organisations must implement an integrated experience for IT Ops and SecOps with a unified management system for data protection and integrated intelligence in security information and event management (SIEM)/security orchestration, automation, and response (SOAR) dashboards.

Soh Kiat Hiong conceded that a resilient and intelligent data management platform must be able to mitigate data risk by leveraging backups for cyber-resiliency and data privacy. It must also be equipped for modernisation and automation. Lastly, the platform must be extended to the cloud to earn benefits from cloud economics and mitigate the risk of cloud data loss.

Power Talk

After the informative presentations from the speakers, the session shifted to a Power Talk discussion where Mohit joined panellists Leong Mun Kew, Director, Graduate Programmes, Institute of Systems Science, National University of Singapore and Terence Ng, Director, Policy & Technology Innovation Office, Health Promotion Board.

On the agenda was public services in the new normal and what does the word “reboot” mean. Open for a discussion was the kind of transformation the panellists were expecting to see and how did they think technology would support the reshaping of the world with lessons learned from COVID-19.

Terence Ng said that society should relook instead of rebooting. People should look at the tools and platforms to improve on and continue to build on that going forward. However, he noted that the lack of physical contact such as face to face interactions put a strain on some people. Therefore, he believes that a more hybrid setup may work and bear benefits in the future.

Leong Mun Kew emphasised that the world must take advantage of the current mindset aided by the lessons that the pandemic. The area that needs a reboot is the overall governance to consider what the new normal is truly about and what are the initiatives needed to improve citizen services and organisational capacities.

Interactive Discussion

After the informative presentations from renowned speakers, the forum moved to an interactive discussion – a time of high-level engagement with delegates from various government agencies, FSI, education and healthcare organisations.

Aided by polling questions, this session is designed to provide live-audience interaction, promote engagement, hear real-life experiences and impart professional learning and development for the participants. It is an opportunity for delegates to gain insight from subject matter experts, share their stories and take back strategies that can be implemented in their organisations.

The opening poll inquired about delegates’ primary objective in their digital transformation strategies. 34% of the delegates said their digital transformation is meant to improve their business processes while 34% also said it is for the improvement of citizen and customer experiences.

On the question about the biggest challenges delegates face in implementing digital strategies, 38% voted legacy systems and technologies that lack integration capabilities were the biggest. A quarter (25%) signalled that the inflexible business processes and teams are the main challenges.

Participants were asked how they measure the success of their digital transformation efforts. Almost two-thirds (63%) of the delegates said that they are still looking for ways to measure it effectively while 29% indicated they already have qualitative and quantitative methods in place.

Delegates were asked about their most important IT priorities. Three quarters (75%) said digital transformation and innovation are their top priorities while 19% said that improving efficiencies and reducing maintenance costs were the most pressing aspects of their IT strategies.

Exploring IT structures, delegates were asked how AI and Data Analytics impact or improve their current digital transformation strategies. About 41% voted faster access to data to improve pre-emptive analysis can be achieved using AI and Data Analytics while 36% said that they need AI-ready infrastructures to manage large sets of data.

On being asked to share their organisations’ biggest pain points in the Big Data value chain, 46% went with data accessibility and sharing as their biggest pain points while 26% said data integrity was the real problem for their organisations.

Regarding the maturity of their data strategies, 49% conceded that it is evolving and they are building a Data Lake for democratising data. Just over a quarter (26%) indicated that a traditional approach with a central team managing data with all the analytics drivers through their data warehouse.

When asked to rate their organisations’ use of data and data analytics tools for decision-making purposes, 42% said that they needed improvement and better tools while 32% said they were doing good with adequate tools were in place.

Differentiating cloud providers for various workloads, 31% said services is important while 31% said that integration is the key for evaluation.

This led to delegates being asked how much of their organisations’ mission-critical/data-sensitive workloads are to be put onto public clouds this year. About 62% said that less than half of their workloads are set to be put onto the public cloud while 28% said more than half is earmarked for public cloud adoption.

On the issue of cloud adoption, delegates were polled on the biggest challenge CIOs face when complying with the government’s direction to go on the public cloud. More than half (54%) of the delegates agreed that security poses the biggest challenge, 32% said governance was an issue and 7% said skills to mitigates are lacking.

Close to half (48%) of the delegates’ main concern for security operations in their organisations are advance and zero-day attacks. A fifth (20%) said cybersecurity skills shortage is concerning while another fifth (20%) voted for actionable threat intelligence.

Respondents were asked to rate their current level of security operations efficiency to detect and respond to attacks. Almost 34% said their security operations are currently based on log management, correlation aggregation, and basic reporting, while 39% said it was very good in terms of a partial mapping of the prediction, detection and response areas, but needs improvement.

Questioned on what drives their cyber resilience plans, an overwhelming 84% indicated compliance and incidents were critical factors for their cybersecurity strategies and programmes.

With COVID-19 still making its presence felt in most parts of the world, the delegates were asked about the areas most impacted by the ongoing pandemic. Over 57% said the well-being of their staff took a hit, 37% said they were able to launch new initiatives because of COVID-19 while 6% said their productivity was greatly affected.

Knowing that the pandemic accelerated the digital transformation especially for the working sector, delegates were asked about their perceived outcomes of a digital and automated workplace. About 31% believed that there will be an improvement in employee engagement. The remaining votes were divided into higher productivity, greater collaborations, greater digitalisation, and resource savings.

On the current challenges they face in the adoption of a digital workplace, 42% said the lack of effective technologies to optimise staff productivity and performance is an issue. Over 38% said the lack of executive leadership to drive a culture of process improvement and effective change management is their biggest challenge. Only 21% said that no clear articulation of digital workplace benefits and a supporting business case hinder their adoption of the new working setup.

Finally, delegates shared their organisations’ capabilities in supporting a remote workforce. Exactly half (50%) said they already have the tools to implement a seamless remote working setup. Over a quarter (27%) said they are not looking to implement a fully remote workforce while 23% indicated a lack of collaboration tools for seamless remote work (but they are looking for solutions).


The Singapore OpenGov Leadership Forum – 2021 ended with a closing address from Mohit. He thanked the delegates, speakers and sponsors who joined the virtual session.

Mohit believed that with the unprecedented pace government agencies and industries are tackling the effects of a global crisis, he is positive that the world will soon return to its former self.

However, there will be a glaring difference. Going forward, government agencies, organisations, industries and communities are now more equipped with the appropriate knowledge and innovative capabilities that we all gained from our many battles with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Singapore OpenGov Leadership Forum 2021 – Virtual Edition was held over two days. This article covers Day 2. Read about Day 1.


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