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CELEBRATING SUCCESS: How the Cloud Can Enable Digital Government Services – Lessons from Singapore’s GovTech

Cloud computing enables governments to change how they build solutions for their citizen services. GovTech showcases how governments can move forward with cloud computing

The public sector needs to catch up. Citizens now expect a level of service that can match the digital native businesses they often interact with on daily basis. Consider e-hailing, e-commerce, and e-wallet players — they provide a comprehensive service completely through digital means. Coupled with the advancements in e-KYC for digital onboarding, it comes with no surprise; citizens expect the public sector to follow suit.

The governments of today recognise this trend. In order to meet their citizen’s expectations, many government agencies are adopting Cloud computing progressively to enable their digital transformation. Recently, more than 60% of the governments’ Cloud initiatives have been successful, proving the effectiveness of this strategy.1

Some of the key benefits driving Cloud adoption among governments are:

  1. The ability to leverage up-to-date technology
  2. Faster production, deployment, and time-to-market for government services
  3. The ability to streamline workflows, data management, and computing resources across ministries
  4. Reduces costs and improves the scalability of government services
  5. Allow ecosystem partners to collaborate with the public sector

By outlining the clear benefits of the Cloud, we want you to understand how governments are using it. Here, we will provide insights into how Singapore government agencies implement their Cloud strategy and share examples of services hosted on the Cloud.

GovTech Singapore

In order to understand Singapore’s Cloud transformation, it is important to understand the role of GovTech first. Established in 2016, GovTech is the main entity spearheading the digital transformation of Singapore’s government services.

Parked under the Prime Minister’s Office, GovTech oversees the digitalisation of all the ministries and agencies of the government. It plays a central role in the 5-year plan (initiated in 2018) to migrate the government’s IT systems onto the commercial Cloud. GovTech has since migrated nearly 600 systems to the commercial Cloud.2

The role that GovTech plays here is vital; it helps the country’s agencies and ministries to move away from the traditional silos that government agencies typically operate under. Moreover, having a centralised agency to implement the digital transformation ensures that all ministries advance consistently.

Building the Singapore Government Tech Stack

A very distinctive feature of GovTech’s role is the development of the Singapore Government Tech Stack (SGTS).

Here, GovTech built a centralised technology stack hosted on a commercial Cloud. This technology stack acts as the backbone of all the government agencies’ digital services. It consists of three (3) main components –

  • infrastructure (e.g., AWS)
  • middleware (APIs, application testing, DevOps)
  • microservices.3

All these components make it easier for Singapore government agencies to deploy and maintain applications.

For example, in the past, each government agency would typically build their applications on top of their dedicated infrastructure.

These layered steps severely limited the speed and scalability of building applications for the public sector. The agencies had to maintain each application individually with different sets of architectures. With time, this gets harder to sustain.

With SGTS in place, the base application becomes easily reproducible. Depending on the service that the agency wishes to provide, they can now customise the solutions on top of that base application.

As such, this substantially speeds up and eases the process for Singapore government agencies to provide digital services. More importantly, the agencies can focus primarily on delivering value without the need to manage its underlying infrastructure.

The benefits don’t end there. Here are some other key benefits of this approach:

1. Shifting from a monolithic model to a microservices model with SGTS

In simple terms, a monolithic model application works as a single unit. This means that the agency must make any updates and maintenance to the entire application’s codebase. The model essentially limits the scalability and agility for pushing out new services.

In contrast, a microservices model breaks down the application into smaller independent components. Hence, agencies can apply updates without the need to deploy a new version of the whole application.

The shift to a microservices model provides the much-needed agility for Singapore government agencies to develop digital services faster. Moreover, this approach is crucial; the public sector needs to adopt agile software development practices, similar to what the private sector is already using.

  • Ability to use up-to-date technologies

Running on legacy systems with outdated security practices may leave the government applications vulnerable to cyberattacks. SGTS ensures that all government applications come with modernised security practices and data protection policies.

This situation extends to services beyond security. For example, having a modern architecture with SGTS allows government agencies to adopt advanced analytics tools similar to those used in the private sector.

With the speed and agility provided by SGTS, the public sector can now keep up with technology developments. Moreover, this can also benefit the public sector by attracting and retaining top tech talents.

  • Integrating data across government agencies to improve digital services

Traditional application infrastructures meant that Singapore government applications operate in silos. Hence, they were not able to integrate data across agencies.

SGTS’s architecture loosens these barriers. Using a set of secured Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), the agencies can now share confidential data securely. Furthermore, GovTech complements this initiative with the development of the Application Programming Interface Exchange (APEX).4

APEX enables the secure transmission of confidential citizen data. It is a centralised API exchange that allows government agencies to tap into the wealth of data acquired across the government. This ability significantly improves the speed at which data can be shared and creates a more streamlined business process.

  • Ability to co-develop solutions with industry players

Another game-changing benefit is the ability to enable collaborations. The technology industry is a rapid race. Open-source tools are dominating the scene with innovations every day. Without access to these tools, the public sector may inevitably fall behind.

Having a common platform with SGTS creates the opportunity for the government to co-create solutions with the ecosystem players. In 2020, GovTech chose 17 companies to co-develop solutions using the SGTS platform.5

This was simply impossible in the past. The private sector typically worked as outsourced contractors but not as collaborators. This approach changes that dynamic by allowing the government to foster closer relationships with the private sector to build valuable citizen services.

Example applications hosted on commercial Cloud

Let us see how these developments have advanced Singapore’s citizen services. We cover the top three (3) applications that work on SGTS. This will give you an understanding of how impactful cloud can be for improving government services.

a. Singpass

Singpass is Singapore’s national digital identity system. Through this system, citizens can gain access to over 340 government agencies with over 1400 digital services. This singular platform eliminates the traditional customer experience of having separate logins for different government services.

Singapore citizens widely recognise Singpass as one of the best government services. It is ranked as the fourth (4th) most popular app in Google Play Store there, with an average rating of 4.8 stars. To date, there are more than 2.5 million users, with over 90% of them having at least one interaction per month.4

b. LifeSG (formerly known as Moments of Life)

LifeSG consolidates the best of Singapore’s government services onto one common platform – like a super app. Previously named Moments in Life, the updated app personalises a citizen’s journey based on their life stage. The services include birth registration, school registration, job-seeking portals, parking services, taxations, etc.

LifeSG simplifies the citizens’ search for information on relevant services. In addition, the app also has a user-friendly interface, giving an easy overview of important information. The application is widely in use, with over 140,000 downloads and 7 out of 10 Singaporeans registering births via LifeSG.

c. Health Hub

Health Hub aims to make it easier for Singapore citizens to access their health information and services under one platform. Built in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and the Health Promotion Board, this service contains information like immunisation records, medical appointments, prescriptions, dental appointments, etc.

This was possible by integrating several systems, ranging from the National Electronic Record System, School Dental System, School Health System to the National Immunisation Registry. The integration of multiple systems is a clear feature of how Cloud services have enabled the government to build this service. To date, the application has over 730,000 downloads and scores an average rating of 4.8 out of 5 stars on the Google Play Store.6

Meeting the expectations of citizens

Ultimately, customer experience matters the most. For the public sector, results are not as quantifiable in comparison to the private sector. Hence, metrics such as delivery time, user satisfaction surveys, and application ratings are applicable in performance reviews.

Singapore conducts the Survey on Satisfaction with Government Digital Services (Citizens) annually. Its recent results showed that their citizens rated the government digital services at the highest since FY2012. 86% of respondents said that they were extremely satisfied with the digital services. In addition, over 90% of respondents rated the government digital services as one of the best digital services they have used.

Lessons from GovTech

The approach taken by the Singapore government acts as a prime example of how governments can move forward in this digital era.

Singapore placed a strong priority on truly understanding their citizens’ pain points, which takes precedence over tools. For instance, each application goes through several rounds of pilots and surveys. Based on the feedback, the government agencies then apply amendments.

This is where migrating to the Cloud becomes valuable. It is not merely a ‘lift and shift’ process, but it enables the government to change how they build solutions for their citizens. Initiatives such as SGTS, APEX, data sharing, and fostering collaborations with the private sector are vital components of this renewed approach of building citizen services.

References

  1. Gartner_Inc. (2021, June). 5 actions to bolster cloud adoption among governments. Retrieved October 07, 2021, from https://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/how-can-governments-scale-up-cloud-adoption
  2. Increased ICT spending in FY2021 to accelerate government digitalisation. (2021, June 23). Retrieved October 08, 2021, from https://www.tech.gov.sg/media/media-releases/2021-06-23-increased-ict-spending-in-fy2021-to-accelerate-government-digitalisation
  3. Media Factsheet Singapore Government Tech Stack. (2018, September). Retrieved October 5, 2021, from https://www.tech.gov.sg/files/products-and-services/sg-tech-stack-media-factsheet-sep-2018.pdf
  4. Getting to know nectar and Apex. (2018, July). Retrieved October 07, 2021, from https://www.tech.gov.sg/media/technews/getting-to-know-nectar-and-apex
  5. GovTech Annual Report 2019/2020. (2020, July). Retrieved October 3, 2021, from https://www.tech.gov.sg/files/media/corporatepublications/GovTech%20AR%202019_MAIN.pdf
  6. Enriching – HPB. (2020). Retrieved October 7, 2021, from https://www.hpb.gov.sg/docs/default-source/pdf/hpb-annual-report-2019-2020.pdf?sfvrsn=9ae640ef_2
  7. Asian Development Bank. (2021.). Cloud computing as a key enabler for digital government. Retrieved October 7, 2021, from https://www.adb.org/sites/default/files/publication/707786/sdwp-077-cloud-computing-digital-government.pdf.
  8. Tham, I. (2018, July 27). GovTech launched to lead digital transformation in the public sector. Retrieved October 04, 2021, from https://www.straitstimes.com/tech/govtech-launched-to-lead-digital-transformation-in-public-sector
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