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GovTech’s fast acting citizen-centric response amid COVID-19 Outbreak

On 24 January 2020, the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Singapore was reported, shortly after stocks of surgical masks were sold out throughout retail outlets across Singapore. In response, the Singapore government announced on 30 January 2020 that it would be giving each household four surgical masks, to be collected from specific distribution centres between 1-9 February 2020.

GovTech Agency quickly worked to help keep citizens informed and updated on the Government’s mask distribution

The Agency recognised the importance of getting timely and accurate information about the distribution centres to citizens, a team of developers at the Government Technology Agency of Singapore (GovTech) mobilised to develop MaskGoWhere – a website providing information on mask collection points.

The MaskGoWhere website allowed citizens to key in their postal code to learn about their respective mask collection points. Led by Mr Lim Eyung, director of Government Digital Services at GovTech, the team built and designed the first version of the site in less than 12 hours.

When the government announced that they would distribute facemasks to every household in Singapore on 30 January, GovTech was already working on an information resource website about mask collection points.

Some of the challenges they faced included mapping postal codes to distribution centres and making sure information was accurate and finding a single reliable reference source for details of collection points.

The GovTech team collaborated with the People’s Association and the Public Service Division to find a solution. Since each constituency had its own posters created by the People’s Association outlining the latest mask collection points, the GovTech team could launch MaskGoWhere so that when users input their postal code, they would be redirected to an image of a poster with all the relevant information for their constituency.

At the same time, cybersecurity specialists at GovTech began preparations to ensure that MaskGoWhere would be secure when it went live.

MaskGoWhere functional within 48 hours

The first version of MaskGoWhere was up and running although not yet live by 30 January. Cybersecurity specialists at GovTech were also carrying out penetration testing. Tests which had to be completed quickly before user volume on MaskGoWhere was expected to spike.

“Typically, penetrating testing would require at least two weeks to complete. We finished the process within a few hours,” Mr Thomas Lim explained, adding that a separate cybersecurity team accomplished the same feat with securing the government chatbot AskJamie, which was also being updated to deal with queries about the latest information on COVID-19.

“Since the COVID-19 outbreak, we have seen an increase in engagements from project teams across the whole of government working on other COVID-19 related applications,” Mr Thomas Lim said. “We have since reprioritised our resources to support these engagements.”

Lessons learnt from MaskGoWhere Application

Mr Lim Eyung said that although the development of MaskGoWhere was not technically demanding, the tight time constraints meant that there were some learning points to be had from the experience.

For example, the team left out organisational logos, mastheads or footers when the site was first published, which quickly raised suspicions of it being a malicious site.

“It was a mistake on our part, but we managed to rectify it quickly,” he said. “The other point to highlight is the fact that everyone on the team was very mission-centric,” Mr Lim Eyung said. “In this case, we were very clear: the mission is to allow citizens to get hold of the latest information over a web-based medium.”

He also added that technology was not the only determinant of mission success. “Working closely with PA allowed for optimal OpsTech (operations-technology) integration, where we could use real-time feedback to learn about user needs, and the Agile approach to deliver continuous improvements.”

The project was completed within 48 hours, but the team continued to monitor, enhance and stabilise MaskGoWhere by keeping the operation going throughout the mask distribution period, which was extended until the end of February.

Mr Lim Eyung said he is already thinking about how the design and functions of MaskGoWhere could be applicable to other contexts, such as for national events or emergencies.

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