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EXCLUSIVE: OpenGovLive! Virtual Breakfast Insight: Accelerate, Innovate, Transform – Next-Gen Digital Services for Smart Nation Citizens

Digital technologies play a significant transformative role in a growing number of government sectors. They are rapidly impacting all policy workstreams and raising citizens’ expectations in terms of public service efficiency, inclusiveness, convenience, and sustainability.

This necessitates that governments prioritise digital policy planning, design, development, implementation, and oversight. Apart from adapting their institutional settings, legal and regulatory frameworks, greater efforts must be mobilised to enhance the necessary public sector capacities for seizing opportunities and addressing challenges associated with digital transformation.

At this scale, digital transformation begins with each agency embracing and adopting to change. The government relies on enterprises to guide them on their transformation journey to create an environment of open culture, open practices and open technology that fully supports change.

Many digital transformation success stories in the private and public sectors across the region are based on collaboration with partners with proven experience in application modernisation and cultural change.

Without a doubt, Singapore is redoubling its efforts to improve the development of digital applications and services for citizens. In late 2018, the government announced a five-year plan to migrate the majority of its information technology systems from on-premises infrastructure to the commercial cloud to provide better services for citizens and businesses in the region.

The Singapore government intends to spend up to S$3.8 billion this year on information and communications technology procurement to transform government digital services used by both citizens and businesses, as well as reengineering government digital infrastructure that supports modern application development. As it delivers more agile and innovative products and services to the citizens, the government hopes that leading by example will spur organisations into accelerating the transformation efforts.

This was the focal point of the OpenGovLive! Virtual Breakfast Insight on 21 Sept 2021 – a closed-door, invitation-only, interactive session with Singapore’s top government agencies. The session focused on how government agencies and organisations could enhance their IT infrastructure, drive successful digital transformation projects, modernise services and rapidly develop digital services to increase productivity and enhance the citizen experience.

It aimed to provide an understanding of how to overcome change barriers so agencies can build high-performing teams and modernise application delivery, as well as undergo cultural transformation to improve the public sector’s capacity and capability.

Citizen-centric solutions for future-ready government 

Mohit Sagar: Happy citizens are what organisations and governments should strive for

Mohit Sagar, Group Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief at OpenGov Asia, kicked off the session with his opening address.

He acknowledged that demand for online services during the pandemic skyrocketed. This drives many organisations to offer a slew of personalised options, which, in turn, have made customers more discerning and demanding.

He agreed that while 2020 was about digital transformation, much of it was companies and governments bolting technologies to create ad-hoc platforms and band-aid solutions. It is now time to deploy more permanent initiatives – intentional, agile, and scalable. In this, Mohit felt, governments should lead rather than be followers, establishing vision, defining policy and creating infrastructure.

Despite being a difficult journey, Singapore has travelled a fair way into its journey and, based on its track record, will keep striving to ensure the continuation of digital transformation.

A happy citizen is what organisations and governments should strive for, and Mohit’s advice is that they should push that goal as far as they can. This can be accomplished if organisations work together effectively with experts to guide them.

He believes that having the right partner is the key to success, allowing agencies to concentrate on their deliverables.

Mohit said that the speed of this acceleration is determined by technological advancements. Certain platforms provide organisations with more power, which is ultimately what organisations and governments seek. “The right technology, with the right power,” and this is the path that organisations should take and adopt.

DevOps – the most effective way forward

Andrew Clay Shafer: The problem is not technical or human; it’s a socio-technical issue

Andrew Clay Shafer, Vice President of Transformation, Global Transformation Office, Red Hat in his welcome address spoke about DevOps, a concept which he helped to implement.

DevOps is a culture, automation and platform design approach that aims to increase business value and responsiveness by providing rapid, high-quality service delivery. All of this is made possible by fast-paced, iterative IT service delivery. DevOps is the process of connecting legacy apps with newer cloud-native apps and infrastructure.

There has been a Darwinian pressure, he says, in delivering fast and more reliable service at an ever grader scale that has led to the implementation of DevOps. Notwithstanding, deployment of DevOps is not ubiquitous. Highly evolved firms are far more likely to implement automation comprehensively according to a report presented by Andrew on the state of DevOps in 2021.

Another key issue that needs careful consideration is failure framing – something that Red Hat is closely monitoring. The first lacunae often are a failure in leadership. This occurs when people at the highest levels of an organisation are not ready to support new ways of working or lack the necessary strategic vision.

Next, there is product failure that happens where investment in digital solutions is not prioritised. An organisation may not understand nor value such investments and consequently, these strategies will not matter to the organisation.

Development failure is not a strategic issue but rather a lack of development skills. An organisation may see the value of the digital transformation but may know have the expertise or ability required.

The fourth problem is architecture failure. Here organisations may meet the delivery features but may not have considered numerous other factors critical to success.

He suggests that the primary advantage of being cloud-native is operational excellence. While most organisations have these ‘roles,’ many organisations lack the associated capabilities. To overcome this, organisations are encouraged to make strategic investments in leadership through executive sponsorship, strategic product requirements, better product development through delivering the right features and improved operations where systems never stop working.

Andrew then referred to his colleague’s, (Jabe D Bloom) research which distinguishes between two types of economics – scale and differentiation and the tension between efficiency and innovation – which is an oversimplification of DevOps. He noted that this is where on one side, developers or IT operations are creating more value and on the other side, business units or organisations are attempting to drive down costs. The debate plays out at the organisational level but begs the question, “How can both sides win together?”

To win, one must engage in the process of communing, which is a constant negotiation between selfish interests and those of the collective. DevOps discussions are centred on tools – it is all about bringing people and interests together, whether it is old-school automation, any new platforms or other upcoming cloud services. It is about recognising humans as active agents in the process and bringing all of their personal interests together so that organisations can negotiate their way through them.

Andrew acknowledged an SRE framework in which Google performs a variety of operations. Having worked on the SRE workbook, he strongly encourages organisations to read it to be better informed. The SRE creates framework modules to implement canonical solutions for the production area in question. As a result, development teams can concentrate on the business logic while the framework handles the infrastructure.

In concluding his session, Andrew feels that the problem is not technical or human; rather it is the socio-technical system that delivers these dependable innovative outcomes and organisations must work together to solve these issues.

Continuous innovation and collaboration should lead the way 

David Graham: “Why stop there? Why don’t we work together to change the world?”

David Graham, Chief Innovation Officer for the City of Carlsbad, the next speaker, has been working with the government and private sector for the past 20 years.

Right off the bat, David wanted to compliment Singapore as a nation and a government because their digital transformation and innovation journey is significantly ahead of many other countries in the region.

San Diego is well known for its work on IoT and for its innovative companies that are part of the city’s innovation ecosystem – which has led to the county’s transformation journey. For example, the region has the world’s first all-electric car fleet and the largest deployment of smart streetlights and is consistently addressing climate change from all fronts. Adoption of technology in the county is high and the appetite for more keeps growing.

Carlsbad explored the development of digital tools for citizens and the insights were provided by the citizens or residents themselves – assisting the government to drive change using those insights.

David elaborated on a strategy they call “Connected Carlsbad” that is built on 5 pillars:

  1. Pursue community-wide digital transformation
  2. Build capacity for Data-driven Decision making
  3. Foster a vibrant civic engagement culture
  4. Enhance accessibility and transparency
  5. Promote safety and sustainability through connectivity

Ultimately, Carlsbad is still looking for its “moon-shot.” Some of the greatest things that have happened in the world today have occurred as a result of problems and challenges, but they have been done collectively, and that is the type of moon-shot that Carlsbad is looking for.

One way to assess how an organisation or country is doing is a digital maturity model that has levels of where organisations is that ranges from digital novice to best in class. Several factors contribute to the success of a digital transformation strategy and creativity. Skills, resources, infrastructure; even culture can be either an accelerant or a detriment to innovation.

Singapore, too, has consistently ranked extremely high in the Asian Pacific region in terms of transformation. “One might wonder what there is to learn if we are already there?” David ponders, “Now that innovation has advanced, what do organisations do on their transformation journey?

He answerers that with a quote from Mark Zuckerberg – move fast and break things – and then exhorts the delegates, “Now you do good, and you can also break things.”

Organisations, he believes, should put all of their learning in the context of what they are trying to achieve, taking an inclusive approach to development or innovation that is being implemented. It should not only be collaborative but have a greater level of inclusivity, equity, understanding and empathy.

David stresses that the common thread when governments and organisations have been successful is when they have put people first. “All of this collaboration and connection, followed by shared understanding and information, are really some of the best ways for us to be able to drive change in our organisation and communities throughout our country. So why stop there? Why don’t we work together to change the world?”

Interactive Discussion

After the informative presentations, delegates participated in interactive discussions facilitated by polling questions. This activity is designed to provide live-audience interaction, promote engagement, hear real-life experiences, and impart professional learning and development for participants.

The first question asked what the biggest challenge in the organisation’s digital transformation strategy was. Over 70% of the participants indicated that culture was their main challenge while 24% felt skills were a concern.

Andrew felt that these two issues are connected. There is often a group that has attached their identity to their tasks, and this creates resistance to doing work in new ways with new skills. Organisational barriers can be one of the most difficult to challenge and silo-busting is often bandied about. While it is a nice sentiment, it’s usually a mess if it’s even achieved at all.

Andrew prefers to think about creating windows, doors and door maps into silos. It is helpful to have a culture of openness where leadership values and praises employees who support others.

David opined that when leadership demonstrates openness and transparency and praises those who collaborate there becomes a more welcoming culture that invites more natural collaboration and innovation.

When asked what percentage of the overall IT investment the organisations see being committed to its digital transformation strategy over the next 3 years, almost two-thirds (65%) said between 30% – 50% while just over a third indicated more than 50%.

The third question asked what is the most important outcome that the organisation is seeking in the digital transformation journey? 42% of the participants had answered operational efficiency, 29% of them answered reliability of newly deployed changes and another 29% stated the speed of developing and deploying changes.

Participants were polled on what their top consideration in choosing a cloud provider was. More than half (53%) went with tools and services available on the cloud. Just under a quarter (23%) opted for the complexity of migrating existing apps while 12% said skill sets available to navigate the cloud was their top priority. The remaining delegates were even split (6% each) between cost and mobility within multi-clouds.

The last question asked what the biggest benefit that Edge Computing brings to the organisation as part of their digital transformation strategy. About 41% of the participants stated fast-to-adopt IoT solutions while 35% went with AI and computer vision expertise. Just under a fifth (18%) answered no fast, affordable networks at the edge and 6% opted for hardware-based security leadership.


As more organisations and agencies accelerate towards digital transformation, challenges and difficulties are a given on the journey. Continuing pressure on resources entails higher legislative priority, budget limits and maintaining an existing system. It is apparent that the future of government is digital to address these and other difficulties.

Expectations from citizens play an essential role in all this and governments around the world are making sure that they try and meet these. Innovative technology must be used to empower and enhance agencies’ business practices while reducing costs and making the citizen experience as smooth and efficient as possible.

True transformation should be understood from a digital-by-design perspective, in which digital technologies are embedded from the start in the design, development, delivery and monitoring of frameworks and systems.

Mohit and the speakers had expressed their appreciation to the participants for attending the event and appreciated the robust discussion and keen insights. “The tech is there,” he said, “Organisations just need to help consumers understand what they really need.”

David congratulated delegates on the innovations and projects that they have implemented and that they are planning down the road. He was confident that the session would go a long way in informing their plans and thinking.

Kenny Sng, Intel Corporation’s Staff Solution Architect, said his company would be delighted to assist organisations in areas that they are working on and would be happy to walk with them on their digital transformation strategies.

Sean was eager to have Red Hat involved in making sure Singapore remained the smartest city in the region and confirmed that his organisation was available to be part of the public sector’s journey.

Red Hat, ultimately, is always ready to assist customers to modernise their existing systems and construct new infrastructure, while adhering to budgets, complying with regulations and ensuring the citizen could have the best experience possible. He invited delegates to reach out to his team and him to explore ways they could be involved with their plans.


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