Integrated Health Information Systems (IHiS), the public healthcare IT shared services provider and subsidiary of Ministry of Health Holdings (MOHH), helps integrate IT into health care services and operations across Singapore. As the Singapore healthcare ecosystem is fairly complex, there is a great demand for more efficient and expedited services.
IHIS hosts a bevy of tech solutions and gadgets, specifically catered to the health industry. There are different solutions created for patients and healthcare staff. Some of which include: Outpatient Pharmacy Automated System, Digital Pathology System, Real-Time Ambulatory Patient Information Deployment Enabler (RAPIDE) system, Electronic Health Intelligence System, Tele-Geriatics, Mobile Apps, and other such services.
Recently, IHIS opened up its own ‘Innovation Space’ which showcases some of the latest healthcare innovations and aims to promote innovation culture amongst the staff and visitors.
The Innovation Space serves as a testbed for the latest healthcare technologies to produce solutions which will shape the SMART Community Care, SMART Clinic, SMART Ward, and SMART Homecare.
OpenGov spoke to Noah Tay, Senior Programme Manager, IHIS, about the recent developments within his team and how the Innovation Space will play a role in educating and inspiring those who walk through it.
IoT and other connected devices in Healthcare
IoT has proven to be a great avenue for healthcare support and innovation. Through IoT and connected devices, health related information is gathered via a body worn or home wireless sensors and transmitted to the caregiver via an information gateway such as a mobile phone. IHIS is actively looking at a range of IoT solutions which they can integrate within the healthcare sector.
“We are trying to adopt some different methodology for IoT, because IoT is something we can use at the hospital and in home care,” said Mr. Tay, “With IoT, we could use for elderlywho are staying alone and for chronic disease patients. We often think how can we use IoT to extend the care outside of the hospital.”
IoT has proven to be especially useful for those ageing-in-place as we have seen in multiple projects across Singapore, like the ShineSeniors program. IHIS is collaborating with IDA to see how they can further improve elderly care, focusing especially on factors of sociability and communication.
“We are working with government research agencies on Smart Eldercare projects. We are seeing how we can use technology to make the elderly more communicable,” said Mr. Tay, “How can we integrate them into the community using frontier technologies? For example, they could use table top projections to play a game of mah-jong with others. Gaming helps them be more active and be connected to the community”
The team at IHIS is also looking at Google Glass to develop apps that will help doctors receive critical information on-the-go. As it is hands-free, doctors can operate Google Glass using voice commands if they are moving from one ward to another, making it more functional than a mobile phone.
“To me, this is probably one of the best designed wearables that can allow the doctor to see the patient demographics, x-rays, lab results, and other such patient information. We have developed such prototypes to help the users think further, this will start to generate more ideas for Google Glass applications,” Mr. Tay told us.
Mr. Tay told us that he often encourages people to come into the Innovation Space to test out the Google Glass so they get a better feel for it, how to operate it, and they can share what they would intend to use the technology for. This has helped the team develop new apps which would are catered to the health care workflow and demands of health care professionals.
There is also the Oculus which uses Virtual Reality Technology, which IHIS is looking to use for patient rehab.
Gesture Based Solutions and Drones make their way on the scene
IHIS is looking at Gesture Based Solutions that will prove useful to Doctors during certain procedures. Gesture Based Solutions allow for hands-free interaction with hospital applications through natural movements and gestures.
“Gesture Based Technology is something we would really like to use in the hospital. Especially for infection control reasons, doctors can interact with software applications using hand gestures,” said Mr. Tay.
Another area where gesture based solutions can be used, is for remote rehab. When patients are unable or unavailable to meet their caregiver in person, they can use gesture based applications and have their results reported to them.
“For example, a patient will be able to use gesture based solutions to perform rehab activities at home. From this, the healthcare provider will be able to monitor their activity and see if the patient requires follow up therapies,” Mr. Tay stated.
Recently, OpenGov reported on an example of remote rehab solutions, witnessed at the IDA IExperience Centre. Here, we played a basketball video game created for patient at-home rehab.
Drones are an increasingly popular area of technology which could help in delivering hospital items such as medicine, documents, etc.
“A COO from one of the hospitals reached out to us to explore the option of using drones. At this hospital, there is a clinic which is located across a highway, too far for a nurse to walk to and too near to use a vehicle to drive over,” Mr. Tay told us.
Drones may also be deployed to check on building structure to detect cracks, smokes, leakages and also locate specific items/ equipment within the campus.
“Drones are commonly used to reduce manpower for risky maintenance of the building exteriors,” stated Mr. Tay, “Other countries are using heavy duty drones to deliver medications to villages through humanitarian work. We also see Amazon using drones to make deliveries to the home.”
Emerging Technologies on IHIS Radar
IHIS continues to track down the latest in frontier technologies which have shown opportunities in the healthcare sector. At the moment, IHIS is developing solutions using IoT solutions, contact tracing, robots for teleprescence, virtual reality, and other such technologies.
“We are continuously looking at leading technologies, that will innovate and transform healthcare in the public sector,” said Mr. Tay, “We work with research partners and industry experts to build solutions that will improve patient care and quality.”
Android Device Contact Tracing is an area which IHIS is working to develop solutions for. Through Contact Tracing, user contact data can be collected based on a pre-set distance and contact duration. This would prove useful during outbreak of certain pandemic.
“We will use this space to test certain apps with certain environments,” Mr. Tay told us, “For example, if they want to test android tablets being used with Google Glass. This would be the innovation space.”
In addition to technology development and testing, IHIS plans to introduce an in-house hackathon so as to encourage staffers to innovate and come up with their own ideas to improve health care through ICT.
“We are going to introduce an in-house hackathon, so as to inspire and bring out the innovators in everybody,” Mr. Tay said, “This will give them a chance to share their ideas and see what others are doing.”
Is happiness quantifiable? This is an age-old question that ancient philosophers have tried to answer. Even the meaning of happiness and motivation eludes an exact definition. For utilitarians, happiness is, in its rudimentary sense, the absence of pain and the existence of pleasure. For Aristotle, happiness is the highest good and is closely equated with virtue and purpose, a concept which he referred to as eudaimonia or an activity expressing virtue.
There is still no single meaning of happiness, more so now that the global economy is struggling to adapt to changes brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. In the realm of business, most companies are sustaining their momentum in digital transformation. They are scaling up their operational blueprints and adapting to the new normal of implementing remote workstations.
They visualise investments in technology and infrastructure to level up their game. However, many of these organisations delay investing in one key area of the workforce – the mental wellness of their employees, their level of happiness.
An Oxford study shows that a happy worker is 13% more productive. This increased productivity does not just benefit employees; it spills over to company profits and return of investments. Hence, the well-being of employees is equally important as other areas in business operations.
This is the same sentiment that Joye Founder and CEO Sanjeev Magotra lays on the table. Leveraging this perception, he found an innovative method to use artificial intelligence in tapping into the mental well-being of employees.
During an exclusive interview with OpenGov Asia, Sanjeev discussed that they have launched an AI-powered digital service to help map out employees’ level of satisfaction, as well as their emotional and mental state.
Joye was created alongside the company’s vision to attain what Sanjeev referred to as the “10,000-step mental health habit” which is equivalent to taking care of one’s self physically. Joye’s AI is trained to recognise users’ unique situations with extreme privacy, and it will guide you to the right care at the right time.
These suggestions include mood analytics and contextual behaviour tips, podcasts and mindfulness audios. This service tries to understand employees’ feelings through contextual nudges and uses data gathered from these interactions to formulate a plan that would help employees address their life stresses. It also allows them to keep track of their emotional and mental well-being on a daily or weekly basis.
Sanjeev further explained, “Our vision is that when you finish your video conference, and there’s a lot of stress in that video conference, we’ll pop up the Joye button to help you as opposed to staying stressed and becoming unproductive. We’ll help you immediately express yourself, self-reassess yourself and we will give you behavioural nudges to help you immediately turn positive.”
The idea behind the Joye application is not new. Sanjeev said that employers have long realised the importance of investing in employees. Employees have also formulated their routines in keeping themselves emotionally predisposed to life and workplace stresses by hanging onto their support systems and social networks.
What sets apart the Joye application is three-fold. At the outset, Joye is the first company to integrate a voice-enabled interface where individuals can express their feelings. This is in contrast to other apps that rely heavily on chatbots and not on systems that use voice responses.
It is also the first firm to insert this type of programme into a company’s existing mental health and employee engagement apps. Sanjeev said that they are looking at enhancing this feature of the Joye app by embedding it in enterprises’ video conferencing programmes especially during the new normal.
The more important distinction is that while most health platforms bank on mindfulness content or digital therapy and counselling, the Joye app employs a contextual behavioural nudge approach. Sanjeev stressed that “you say what is happening to you and we will tell you what you should do. We try to find out what is happening in your mind and what you should do at that point in time.”
He was quick to add that the Joye application puts a premium on privacy. Although it uses digital methods to gather and analyse employee data, there is still a cloak of anonymity that keeps these data private.
Sanjeev added, “Privacy is an important element of our design. We anonymise the data of the employee immediately after the session is finished, but we will keep the analytics so that the employee can see these data from time to time and that is a good way for the employee to manage their fitness over a period of time.”
Additional challenges during the new normal
The new normal is shaping the way many enterprises work, including looking for innovative ways to run their business workstations. Sanjeev emphasised that remote work opens up additional challenges that piles on top of existing stresses an individual is experiencing. This is where the magic of Joye comes in.
He also mentioned that the mind is the trigger of all actions and behaviour. The scenario is more amplified when working in a remote environment, as there are lots of new stresses and isolation working in the minds of the employees. This, he said, becomes an additional challenge to address.
The Joye application tries to nip future issues in the bud by addressing them at a time when they are small and inconsequential before they balloon into bigger problems that are harder to address.
As the world continues to trudge on during the new normal, some enterprises are adamant in investing in employee support technology like Joye, as they put more value on digital tools that can help streamline their operations. Sanjeev dispelled this notion by saying that investing in employee productivity does wonders to improve profits.
The Founder of Joye explained that: “if we invest in something like this, first of all, it’s a necessity in the remote working environment. Second, this investment has a very good return on investment in terms of improved productivity for the enterprise.”
Sanjeev concluded the discussion by leaving food for thought to employers. He reiterated that ultimately, employees’ mental health and well-being are crucial, more now as enterprises embrace a new remote working environment. To ensure that employees’ well-being is prioritised, Joye offers a quality solution. What differentiates it from other apps is that it helps the whole employee population and not just a small number of employees who are in most need of support. Their tool, he added, is for all 100% of employees who experience stress and anxiety daily and this can be overcome by engaging the workforce through a platform like Joye.
Singapore’s smart nation initiative was launched with the vision of better living, stronger communities and the creation of more opportunities for all. A technology-driven, up-to-date healthcare system with the capability to ensure the wellbeing of all its citizens is a pre-requisite to support this powerful mission. Such healthcare infrastructure takes on added relevance and urgency in the light of the current global crisis.
To better understand how the government of Singapore is utilising technology to realise this vision of better living and a stronger community for the nation, OpenGov Asia had an in-depth conversation with Sutowo Wong, Director, Analytics and Information Management Division, Ministry of Health.
Sutowo confirmed that technology and innovation in healthcare procedure and processes support MOH’s strategic shift from Healthcare to Health. Wearable technology, healthcare mobile applications, digitising in-person transactions like payments and on-line registrations are all technology use cases that help the government track and ensure the good health of its citizens.
It was fascinating to know how technology has enabled supporting senior citizens through user-friendly apps like the Moments of Life App (a smart nation and Digital Government office initiative) and has taken healthcare beyond the hospital walls into homes and community of patients using TeleHealth.
Sutowo acknowledged that the Singapore healthcare sector harnesses innovative technologies like Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) in various health care applications and models. AI and ML-driven solutions are, in fact, the key to many of their initiatives and strategies.
- No-Show Predictive Model: Using ML, this model identifies patients who are potential no-shows. This allows administrators to send them reminders or to allocate their slot to another patient. The solution optimises clinic resources as well as maximise available time.
- Multiple Readmission Predictive Model: This model analyses data to create a list of high-risk patients for care teams to focus on. Patients within the elevated risk category are automatically identified for enrolment into intervention programs eliminating up to 90% of nurses’ manual assessment workload, freeing them up to spend more time in taking direct care of patients.
- Singapore Eye Lesion Analyser Plus (SELENA+): Based on a deep learning, artificial intelligence software system, the solution can detect three major eye conditions by highlighting areas with potential vision-threatening eye diseases. This technology has proven to be highly efficient in delivering fast and accurate results.
- National University Health System (NUHS) Automated Diagnosis Engine: The engine helps diagnose appendicitis using clinical notes.The objective of this work is to develop an automated diagnosis system that can predict the probability of appendicitis given a free-text emergency department note and additional structures information(e.g. lab test results). The model can learn important features, and symptoms of patients from unstructured free text notes from doctors helping to make better diagnosis.
It was interesting to learn that the Ministry of Health follows a 2-pronged approach to better respond to rapid changes in the technological landscape.
The first prong is a top-down approach through the National AI Strategy, which maps out how Singapore will develop and use AI to transform the economy and improve people’s lives. AI can also be used to analyse clinical and genomic data, medical images, and health behaviours to better assess the risk profile of patients.
Second is the bottom-up approach which comprises initiatives like AI in Health Grand Challenge. Such programmes and initiatives encourage the development of innovative approaches that use AI to enhance primary care and disease management in Singapore and the world. It supports groundbreaking research ideas that adopt AI technologies and innovations to address current challenges in the medical field.
Speaking about the future for robotic doctors /nurses for treatment and surgeries and the current proximity to achieving this, Sutowo shared that “with the declining old-age support ratio coupled with low birth rates, it is imperative that healthcare is made more proactive to guide people to take pre-emptive steps to keep themselves healthy or to better manage their well-being”.
Leveraging assistive technology and robotics in healthcare is one way of doing it. Explaining further, he shared the example of RoboCoach Xian. A robot trainer enhanced with sensors, it imitates human movements and can teach a range of exercises to senior citizens. It can also help provide cognitive therapy to seniors who have suffered strokes or have other age-related disorders.
The Centre for Healthcare Assistive & Robotics Technology (CHART) has been established with the support of Ministry of Health and Economic Development Board to enable health care professionals to work closely with industry, academia and research institutions to co-develop and testbed impactful healthcare solutions in assistive technologies and robotics.
One such technological enabler is the development of the Robotic Middleware for healthcare (RoMi-H). It standardises communication messages among heterogeneous robotic systems, sensors and information systems, thus facilitating interoperability among multiple systems and easing system integration effort in a bid to digitalise healthcare and automate processes.
Apart from CHART, other bodies or organisations that contribute to creating tech innovations for the healthcare industry are the MOH Office for Healthcare Transformation (MOHT) and Integrated Health Information Systems (IHiS). Both the organisations have pushed boundaries in the digitalisation of healthcare, architecting the national IT strategies and roadmaps for healthcare, connecting and analysing complex systems across Singapore’s health ecosystem.
Sutowo concluded the conversation by reiterating MOH’s vision to be a leader in developing and deploying scalable, impactful technology-driven healthcare solutions to the nation’s citizens. The Ministry continues to relentlessly work towards this vision in future as well.
Digital transformation in governance is not new and has been laid out early on in many governance blueprints. A decade ago, digitalisation became an effective strategy and continues to amplify business frameworks and trigger economic stability in many markets today. In fact, notable achievements in government transactions have been recorded as far back as 2009, thanks to a shift to innovative digital methods.
While the term ‘digital technology’ may not have an exact definition, the term broadly encompasses technological advancement and its impacts on organisations. One of the goals of government agencies across the globe as information technology or IT gets more sophisticated, is to scale up procedures while decreasing costs.
Nonetheless, despite the plethora of benefits brought by technology, several key challenges continue to hinder digital transformation strategies. In a survey released in 2018, federal IT heads voiced concerns about security regarding the adoption of cloud technology. They also encountered difficulty in transferring legacy programmes to the cloud. Lack of skills in the workforce likewise constituted a major hurdle.
Necessity is the mother of invention, says the adage. In less than a year, the world saw the COVID-19 pandemic reshaping the digital landscape and accelerating digital transformation. The onslaught of the pandemic put governments on their toes to adjust their operational models and adapt rapidly to an innovative ‘remote everything’ mindset.
Pre-pandemic, the shift was meant to be gradual and incorporate standard change-management timelines. The reality today is that governments are trying to complete their digital journey, not within the coming years, but in months.
For this to happen, cloud computing and data sharing are necessary and irreplaceable lynchpins. The scope expansion and speed needed to serve and meet the demands of their citizens in the new normal can only be done by strategies that rest solidly on these two pillars.
To get a deeper insight on cloud technology and its adoption by government organisations during the pandemic, OpenGov Asia spoke with top executives of cloud tech giants Microsoft and SUSE for an in-depth interview.
Restrictions due to COVID-19 resulted in disruptions that fuelled the need for cloud technologies to ensure operational continuity. Sherie Ng, General Manager for Public Sector in the Asia Pacific at Microsoft, confirmed that digital technology is at its height with organisations accelerating their digital transformation in the last couple of months. This is particularly the case in public healthcare but is also being witnessed in other government sectors.
The pandemic accelerated the need for the digitalisation of public services for operational and business continuity. Governments needed to urgently cultivate a growth mindset, alongside efforts to ramp up relief operations and recover the economic landscape. The good news is that many governments have partnered with the company to move into the cloud platform.
In fact, in countries like Singapore, a billion-dollar increase in IT spending has been recorded. Similarly, government leaders in Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines have been vocal about the need for e-government that is heavily backed by cloud solutions.
To allow rapid uptake and migration, Sherie explained that experts at Microsoft have deployed cloud solutions in different arenas to help governments transform their processes and services. One such area is ‘e-citizen services’, which deals with the tracking of critical resources and contact tracing for clients in the healthcare industry.
Microsoft has so far supported agencies in this area through a holistic and secure platform that enables businesses to configure patient profiles and incorporate them into the entire value chain. They have also organised envisioning workshops that help customers digitise current operational processes and transform their customer experience.
Sherie added that in healthcare, it isn’t just about adopting Microsoft Azure, but a re-evaluation of the entire digital infrastructure to ensure the organisation is able to manage the current crisis and become resilient to future incidents.
Sherie detailed the intricacies of cloud economics, quashing the misconception that upgrading to the cloud would have a massive impact on expenses. In fact, organisations save more from the flexibility provided by cloud technologies like Microsoft Azure. Organisations can optimise costs by seamlessly moving their existing on-prem investments, whether open-source software or proprietary, by leveraging a hybrid cloud model.
Sherie likened the concept of cloud economics to governments going up a ladder as improvements in the cloud are recorded. The cost decreases as agencies go up this ladder. The key is to think big but start small. The secret is not going all out at the outset but incremental investments in infrastructure as the needs of the organisation grow.
The most important thing, Sherie indicated, is for every business to have a paradigm shift in organisational perspective. Leaders must be stewards of innovation, with employees re-skilled and re-trained. Governments must also empower the next generation with the digital skills needed for a resilient economic future.
To address trust, security and confidentiality, Sherie added that Microsoft believes in the timeless value of privacy and preserves the ability for customers to control their data. She shared three areas that are paramount to boosting confidentiality.
- Compliance – Microsoft respects local laws and regulations and meeting compliance obligations in a dynamic regulatory environment is complex. Consulting a team of legal experts to oversee compliance is one of the methods used by the company to help businesses navigate this ever-changing landscape.
- Agility is essential – what started as a slow transition toward digital transformation pre-pandemic is now marked with speed, flexibility and adaptivity.
- Scale – although governments have proven that they can initiate a whole value chain of operations management in a few months, there must be a correlative obligation on governments to ramp up operations to scale responsibly and in line with sustainable development goals.
Studies have also shown that the transition to Microsoft Azure has resulted in 93% better energy efficiency, all thanks to a much-needed shift to automation and cloud tech.
According to Ng Hak Beng, Sales Engineer Manager, Asia at SUSE, COVID-19 is one of the major triggers for governments to fast-track their investments in cloud technology. However, this journey continues to be marred by challenges.
One of these issues is apprehension due to data security. To address this, Hak Beng stressed that some government agencies have taken the initiative in teaming up with expert public cloud service providers. He cited the current situation in Singapore, where agencies have banked on secure cloud infrastructure to streamline their transactions.
While Hak Beng admitted that issues on confidentiality may linger and that it may take a while before people change and trust the system, he emphasised that technology is gradually evolving into a hybrid cloud environment that can help address issues on confidential data.
There is now a marked improvement in the time it takes for applications to be developed. Application development used to take years when done through traditional application design methodologies. Today, native cloud programmes have enabled faster turnaround time.
The same is true in terms of scalability. Governments with large populations face scalability issues. The challenge has been addressed by cloud-native apps which are designed primarily to scale as demand increases.
In terms of costs, Hak Beng agreed with the points raised by Sherie. He dispelled the common notion that cloud technology will put a big dent in capital expenditure. The opposite, he said, is true. Cloud systems decrease operational costs because they adapt quickly to changes in the work environment. New features can be dropped and added at little to no extra cost.
This is especially true for clients of SUSE, who are reaping the benefits of using open source software for free and pay only for charges when the need arises. Hak Beng shared the advantages of open cloud technology through SUSE’s acquisition of Rancher Labs earlier this year. With this type of system, products are developed collaboratively. This makes open source technology applicable to a wide variety of industries, including the public sector.
Simplify, modernise and accelerate. Hak Beng added that this motto resonates as SUSE strives to lend a helping hand to governments who wish to simplify existing infrastructure while achieving agility and scalability to meet increasing demands.
To further explain, Hak Beng proposed that government entities consider shifting to Platform as a Service (PaaS). Agencies can dispatch non-core company functions to cloud service providers, allowing agencies to prioritise their core services. Software as a Service (SaaS) further boosts this agility by outsourcing software operation and maintenance.
OpenGov Asia also had the opportunity to get more insights from SUSE on deterring cyber threats. As cybercrime continues to take on new and more sophisticated forms, governments have become adamant about shifting to innovative operational solutions.
For SUSE, which has been at the fore of the cyber frontlines, the answer is simple. Organisations must embrace artificial intelligence which can help in detecting potential cyber threats. Additionally, security products that can scan software source codes for malware-installing multi-cloud programmes can help prevent critical cyberattacks.
When it comes to confidentiality concerns, cloud experts at SUSE believe a hybrid cloud model can assist in allaying these doubts. Under this system, data can be stored safely in one location while other applications can be stored in another cloud infrastructure. This way, the confidentiality of data can be preserved while allowing greater flexibility of services.
The enlightening conversation concluded with both SUSE and Microsoft strongly reaffirming the benefits of shifting to cloud technology in terms of agility, scalability, and flexibility. With the pandemic far from over, for now, the journey of governments across the world toward digitalisation must continue aggressively. The role of cloud service providers, then, remains critical to improving public service and sustaining economic growth.
The ongoing pandemic caused much chaos and upheaval across the world – in personal lives, businesses and governments. Many organisations, especially those proving necessary goods and services, needed to rapidly transform and adapt to the challenges posed by COVID-19. In times like these, vision and agility of top leadership are what is needed the most.
To get a deeper insight into the challenges and opportunities of rapid digital transformation in an organisation attending to the everyday needs of an average Singaporean, OpenGov Asia spoke with Ramesh Munamarty, CIO Advisor at TBM Partners and former Group CIO (Digital and Technology) at NTUC Enterprises Singapore and International SOS.
Right off the bat, Ramesh credited the agility of the business, innovation culture and business processes enabled by the right technology for ensuring the survival and success of organisations in these unprecedented times. Beyond doubt, survival has been to a large extent because of an agile business mindset coupled with cutting-edge technology and the highly innovative solutions created from them.
On his organisation’s journey of transforming as necessitated by the pandemic and the tools and technology that came to rescue, Ramesh shared, like numerous other organisations, his prior organisation, too, had begun its digital transformation journey to an extent before the pandemic.
In any organisation working together in an obvious must. The pandemic could have put an end to this, and, indeed, it was the case for several organisations. In their favour, one powerful tool that had been in place, which significantly helped employees work together efficiently, in his opinion, was an effective collaboration suite. Facilitating simultaneous editing and doing away with the need for sharing multiple copies of the same document as attachments, these platforms immensely assisted employees to work collaboratively on documents and presentations from remote locations.
Another major factor to manage for efficient remote work was ensuring a safe and secure working environment for all employees. Without a plethora of tech-driven tools and solutions, it would have been nigh impossible for organisations to facilitate remote work or even to survive for long. Various digital strategies, platforms and applications allowed for safe remote access, data sharing and confidential communication between staff working from geographically diverse locations, on various devices, using different ISPs.
The third practice that significantly helped them better serve their customers was the adoption of cloud. Without doubt, it was their comprehensive cloud adoption that helped them manage the tremendous online traffic spikes. With people being forced to transition life almost entirely online – work, education, business, shopping, banking and entertainment – the load on the internet, and consequently businesses, shot up astronomically almost overnight.
Speaking from experience, Ramesh feels that the intelligent use of technology can help organisations and enterprises, not only survive, but thrive. With a range of agile, scalable and abundantly available technology at hand, organisations must decide what works best for them. They must determine which tools can help them work effectively and securely and invest in them wisely.
Expanding on some of the learnings from his experience that can help leaders and organisations be better prepared for the next critical event, Ramesh was of the view that leaders need to be more agile and prepare outside the box.
A good example to understand this better would be the concept of business continuity plans (BCPs). While most organisations, pre-COVID, had business continuity plans in place, a number of them necessitated employees to be physically present in the office. The pandemic made short work of these contingencies, forcing organisations to scramble and come up with reactive, stop-gap arrangements.
The pandemic has taught us, as much a cliché as it may be, to expect the unexpected. Organisations must consider all different scenarios and look to make their BCP’s as comprehensive as can be. They need to have a growth mindset and learn from their mistakes. Enterprises need to constantly test their systems and processes to ensure that it is comprehensive and a number of different (including currently unexpected) scenarios are incorporated.
Ramesh observed that organisations that could not transition quickly, resorted to short cuts, throw away solutions or put together a patchwork of ad-hoc solutions which they later had to revisit and reinvest in, leading to wastage of time and resources.
With work, business and life moving online, data has become one of the most important assets of a company. But this resource is only as valuable as the actionable insights that can be derived from it. Data analytics can empower enterprises to be better informed about their customers, their markets and the environment at large – enabling better decision-making and creating customer-centric products and services. . Data can also be monetized to create an additional source of revenue. As technology becomes more accessible and cheaper, there really is no excuse for organisations to digitally lag.
In addition to having the agile mindset, innovation culture and the right technology, Ramesh felt that the boards of the organisations should enhance their role from being focused on fiduciary and compliance to broader technology oversight and assessing the risk associated with the digital transformation. This will necessitate the directors to be more digitally savvy and potentially have a technology committee where they can dive deeper into the transformation initiatives and provide oversight to reduce risks and align them to the broader strategic objectives.
As organisations become more flexible and cloud-based, the need to operate in a safe and secure network becomes even more important. Data breaches are becoming more frequent and have become disproportionately more expensive. As digitalisation comes to the fore and takes centre stage from organisations, security becomes extremely critical. Enterprises must improve their information security maturity and make sure that not only are they protected, but the products and services they offer are secure and scalable. Organisations need to rethink their cybersecurity and more from a reactive to a proactive stance. This will allow them to quickly to roll out solutions for a diverse, remote workforce while simultaneously protecting data, client information and trade secrets.
With almost a full year behind, organisations now seem to be gradually adapting to the “new normal”. Ramesh is optimistic that businesses will look to convert this crisis into an opportunity, tapping into the massive online market that the pandemic had created. One such opportunity is the ability of enterprises to harness and utilize global talent and the gig economy more easily. Remote working has enabled organisations willing and capable to source the best skillset at the most optimal price from across the globe.
As enterprises accelerate their digital transformations, it is also vital that organisations take a more outside-in approach to augment their current teams. This would mean getting a perspective from experts from in and out of one’s industry to provide an unbiased view and to help maximise the success of the initiatives. This will help the organisation become more disruptive and better equipped to take on challenges.
Finally, Ramesh emphasised the need to be more data-driven, a culture shift that needs to come from top leadership to and percolate across the organisation to all employees. In the past, decisions would be made by the leaders based on their instinct as they were not necessarily equipped with the right data. Significant advances have been made in the data analytics space now that enable organisations to get actionable insights in a proactive manner and also elevate to predictive analytics. This will not only enable organisations to make better decisions but will also prepare them for any unexpected eventuality.
A recent report released by the World Bank and the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) reveals that integrating digital technologies into everyday activities like online payments, e-commerce, telemedicine, online education, etc. can significantly accelerate the Philippine’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report, “A Better Normal Under Covid-19: Digitalizing the Philippine Economy Now”, says the use of digital technologies in the country has been on a rise since the social distancing measures and limited social interactions have been in place due to the pandemic. Technology has helped individuals, businesses and the government sail through these tough times.
“As we are now living with the new normal, the use of digital technology and digital transformation have become important for Filipinos in coping with the present crisis, moving towards economic recovery, and getting us back on track towards our long-term aspirations,” acknowledged NEDA Undersecretary Rosemarie G. Edillon.
Even though the report confirms a rapid rise in the adoption of digital technologies, the Philippines has a long way to go in its digital transformation journey. The colossal digital disparity between those with and without the internet has lead to severely skewed access to social services and economic opportunities.
For the Philippines government, the biggest challenge for digital transformation is rudimentary digital infrastructure and poor internet connectivity. A clear example is its rural population. These areas rarely have connectivity and, where available, the service is very expensive and of poor quality.
The report indicates that the efforts to update the digital infrastructure are hindered by numerous issues including a lack of competition in the industry, designation of telecommunications as a public utility, restrictions on foreign ownership, etc.
These basic challenges coupled with low transactional account ownership, a lack of national IDs, perceived risk of digital transactions and nascent payment infrastructure restrict the spread of digital banking and commerce technologies.
World Bank economist and the lead author on this report, Kevin Chua suggests that the best way to overcome the above challenges is increasing digital adoption by government agencies.
“In this society-wide digital transformation, the government can take the lead by speeding up e-governance projects, such as the foundational identification system and the digitisation of its processes and procedures, which will help promote greater inclusion, improve efficiency, and enhance security,” said Chua.
He also added that the government needed to “take an active role in fostering policies that reduce the digital divide and create a more conducive business environment for the digital economy to flourish”.
The World Bank too has played its part by formally approved a USD$ 600 million grant for digital transformation initiatives that will enhance the nation’s resilience against natural disasters and pandemics.
Apart from government efforts, industry innovators and businesses also have a major role to play in supporting Philippines digital vision. The report stresses the importance of digitalising the Philippines economy as not just a way to adapt to the new normal, but also to achieve its vision of becoming a society free of poverty by 2040.
In collaboration with
From 16 December 2020, SingPass users will have two new Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) options when transacting with government digital services.
The introduction of SingPass Face Verification and Multi-User SMS 2FA will provide more convenience and accessibility to government digital services securely. This is in line with the government’s efforts to build a digitally inclusive society by enabling digital access to government digital services for people from all walks of life.
With SingPass Face Verification, users can log in by entering their SingPass ID and password, followed by scanning their face on an Internet-enabled computer with a web camera, or a mobile device with a front-facing camera. Users without such devices can visit selected public locations equipped with this service, and more locations will be added progressively.
This technology is embedded with security measures to protect against fraud. For example, liveness detection technology is used to detect and block the use of a photograph, video, or mask during the verification process.
“We recognise that there are users who might not be as digitally savvy or able to navigate computers or smartphones. SingPass Face Verification as an alternative 2FA will be especially useful as it reduces the need to key in additional information like One-Time Passwords (OTPs). This option also serves our overseas Singaporean community who might not have a locally-registered number and are unable to receive SMS-OTPs,” said Mr Kwok Quek Sin, Senior Director, National Digital Identity.
Multi-User SMS 2FA
The Multi-User SMS 2FA is an extension of the existing SMS-OTP 2FA method. Users – who may require the assistance of others when transacting online – can opt to have their SMS-OTP sent to another SingPass user’s mobile number. For example, an elderly parent can choose to link his account to his child’s mobile number. With this, the child receives his parent’s SMS-OTP when the parent is transacting with SingPass. The child can then assist his parent in providing the 2FA to complete the transaction.
SingPass Face Verification and Multi-User SMS 2FA were launched ahead of the decommissioning of OneKey token in end-March 2021 – which was announced earlier on 31 March 2020. Together with SingPass Mobile and SMS-OTP, there are now four other 2FA options for the current OneKey token users. We are actively facilitating the remaining 120,000 OneKey token users to transit to these alternative 2FA methods, through direct mail, digital clinics and digital ambassadors.
There are currently three 2FA options for SingPass users – SingPass Mobile, SMS-OTP, OneKey token (to be decommissioned by 31 March 2021). These locations currently include IRAS Taxpayer and Business Service Centre, Our Tampines Hub’s Public Service Centre and CPFB’s Bishan Service Centre, and more locations will be rolled out progressively.
Even though the public sector was well on the path of digitisation and moving to the cloud before COVID-19, the pandemic has forced governments to rethink their cloud strategy. To delve deeper into the rapid cloud transition and its impact on the public sector, OpenGov Asia spoke with Peter Moore, Regional Managing Director, Asia Pacific and Japan, Worldwide Public Sector, Amazon Web Services.
Peter began by tracing the public sector’s cloud journey to the time when the public sector was both intrigued and sceptical about adopting cloud systems in day-to-day functioning. Since then, he has seen a tremendous move to cloud among public sector agencies. This was well before the world was hit by the pandemic and remote work became the norm.
Peter opined that the primary driver behind this shift in the pre-COVID era was citizen demand for effective service delivery. Education, healthcare and civil service institutions started putting a web backend to enhance citizen service delivery and better capabilities for government employees.
This led to a major attitudinal change towards cloud and a realisation of its advantages like high performance, agility, and security. Such pioneering public sector institutions started experimenting with cloud solutions in their backend functions as well.
Today, there is a wide spectrum of readiness for cloud in the public sector across the Asia Pacific region depending on policies, procurement, training and internal readiness.
Explaining AWS’s role in this move to the cloud, Peter shared that training and educating both users and developers of cloud and helping them overcome fears and doubts have been their major goal. AWS is all about supporting its customers at every step in their cloud journey. They don’t consider a job (well) done till their customers get the services they signed up for.
Peter, jokingly, said that users have had a love-hate relationship with cloud historically. But they are gradually coming to realise the ease of securing, monitoring and analysing data on the cloud that they never had at a data centre.
The cloud journey took a sharp turn when the pandemic hit. The compulsions of lockdowns and remote working paved the way for moving to cloud for everything at a pace faster than it had ever been in the last 6 years. Peter also shared that public sector organisations that had already made the transition to cloud and established the capabilities to work remotely had a huge advantage when the world was locked down.
This spiked demand for cloud is a trend that will not slow down as the world recovers from the pandemic. In fact, it will likely continue to accelerate and further deepen the realisation of security, agility, and reliability that cloud brings.
On being asked about how cloud can help the economy on its road to recovery from the pandemic, Peter believes that cloud helps enhance efficiency in service delivery by the public sector. Cloud assists governments in providing financial and healthcare services to their citizens remotely.
Today people are hungry to learn the skills and use solutions that help them remain relevant in these times. And cloud is a very powerful tool that can help entrepreneurs run businesses, doctors reach patients and teachers teach their students without being in physical contact with one another.
For the citizens, services have become more cost-effective and they can interact with their family, friend and colleagues without leaving their homes. Countries all across the Asia Pacific are seeing these advantages of cloud and utilising it to recover both economically and socially.
Peter spoke about the future of cloud and the role that AWS will play in the crucial period over the next six months. The shift of unclassified data to the cloud has already happened and there is an ongoing attempt to move the most valuable applications and workflows to cloud among public sector organisations. The focus for AWS will be to maintain this trust in cloud and strengthen the processes further to ensure the safety of data.
Another goal of AWS will be to rapidly scale up the capabilities of pivoting to cloud irrespective of the availability of policy, money, capabilities and concerns about cloud technology across different levels in the public sector industry.
Max Peterson, Vice President of International Sales for Worldwide Public Sector, Amazon Web Services, delivered a keynote at AWS Public Sector Summit Online highlighting four guiding principles that can help public sector organisations overcome COVID-19 challenges while remaining focused on delivering their missions.
Peter shared some highlights that online summit hosted by AWS which earlier used to be a physical event. The summit covered ground on how to move forward in the cloud journey, have an agile platform, how to keep innovating it and how to think big. Apart from expert speakers, the online summit brought together a number of AWS customers who shared their stories with the audience, strengthening belief in the power of cloud technology.
Peter exhorts governments and public sector enterprises all over the world to respond to their citizens’ needs effectively and efficiently, especially in unprecedented times like the last six months.
He is a strong advocate of digitisation of governments; considering it to be the biggest asset a nation could have in ensuring the overall wellbeing of its citizens. He validated this with the examples of Japan and Singapore who have done an exceptional job at keeping their countries resilient over the last few months.
The Japan Government Common Platform was launched on AWS on October 8. The Japanese government will be using AWS to modernize IT and strengthen governance by integrating disparate applications and data across the cabinet office, thirteen ministries and agencies to centralize management, enhance security, and reduce operational costs. This will allow government ministries to move quickly in innovating and delivering digital citizen services.
In Singapore, the Government Technology Agency (GovTech) has been pioneering the use of cloud services to drive the Singapore Government’s digital transformation. Over a five-year period till 2023, the Singapore Government will systematically shift less sensitive Government ICT systems onto the commercial cloud, to allow public agencies to use leading-edge private sector capabilities to develop digital services. Most recently, in response to COVID-19, GovTech has used AWS cloud technology to quickly build the SafeEntry application, Singapore’s national digital check-in system, to prevent and control the spread of the pandemic.
As Regional Managing Director, Asia Pacific and Japan, Worldwide Public Sector, Amazon Web Services, Peter has been intrinsically involved in building and growing the public sector business for AWS and he has seen trends rapidly change for cloud adoption. Paradigm shifts in perceptions of what cloud can do, its advantages, agility and security have driven organisations, agencies and institutions – be it government, education, healthcare or non-profit organisations – to make cloud a cornerstone of their strategy.
Amazon is committed to becoming a trusted partner for the public sector in moving to public commercial cloud for increasingly complex and mission-critical workloads. He firmly believes that they pave the way for change and development by offering disruptive innovation, agility, twenty-first-century capability, new skills and efficiencies.
Peter assured us that AWS is set and eager to support the public sector on their future cloud journeys. Dedicated to their mission and their clients, Peter believes they have fun and simultaneously, create history every day– making the world a better place by enabling world-changing projects, driving economic development, facilitating citizen services and engagement and through cutting edge research and education.