Source: Government of Singapore Posted on: 14th June 2010
Social networking tools have empowered citizens, and they could also be harnessed by the public sector to deliver efficient and effective services, said Head of Civil Service Peter Ho at the iGOV Global Forum.
He also gave a preview of Singapore’s next e-Government masterplan, to facilitate a collaborative government that co-creates and connects with the people.
Keynote Speech by Mr Peter Ho, Head of Civil Service and Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Singapore at iGOV Global Forum, 14 June 2010, Suntec Singapore International Convention & Exhibition Centre
“e-Government: The Next Quantum Leap”
First, I would like to extend a very warm welcome all delegates to the second iGov Global Forum. In particular, I welcome delegates who have travelled from overseas to join us in Singapore for this Forum.
We have many prominent speakers, senior government officials and industry leaders in our midst today. I hope that today’s forum will provide a conducive platform for human networking and co-creation.
Trends and Challenges Facing Public Sector Today
The public sector operates in an increasingly complex and uncertain environment. Today, we deal with many issues that cannot be simply compartmentalised and parcelled out to individual agencies. Increasingly, issues tend to be multi-dimensional, cutting across jurisdictions. In response, public officers have to work together collaboratively and innovatively, across agencies, to come up with solutions to such wicked problems.
Public officers also have to contend with higher expectations of their customers – both citizens as well as businesses. Unlike in the past, today’s public officers can expect to face public scrutiny for their actions and policies.
But, we should not be surprised. With the accelerating development of information and communication technologies, access to information has increased dramatically. Internet technologies – more specifically, social networking media – have caused a disruptive shift in the balance of knowledge, between the government and its citizens. Largely enabled by the prolific use of social networking tools, we now see a growing constituency of empowered citizens who do not necessarily subscribe to the notion of “Government knows best”. This disruptive shift calls for a fundamental re-think of how governments make policies and implement them.
The same disruptive technologies that are empowering citizens can also be harnessed by the public sector to deliver efficient and effective services. The use of blogs and twitters featured prominently in United States Presidential campaign in the year 2008. It demonstrated the power of social networking or viral marketing. While many politicians have started to leverage on social networking tools for campaigning, using them for the purposes of government is less well-developed or understood. But, we cannot avoid using them. However, when we do, we will be sailing into uncharted waters.
Preview of the next Singapore e-Government Masterplan
Set against this backdrop of change and uncertainty, the Ministry of Finance and IDA’s Government CIO Office have started to develop the masterplan for the next phase of e-Government. The Singapore e-Government journey started some 30 years ago. The early years of computerisation laid the foundation that has enabled us to stay ahead of the curve. We were able to realise the benefits of e-Government when the Internet came on the scene.
Now, practically all public services are delivered electronically. So the question on everyone’s mind is, “What’s next?” We are heading for a sea change – a change that will be powered by the social networking technologies that are already pervasive today. This will lead to a quantum leap in the way that the public sector serves and interacts with its stakeholders.
Singapore’s next e-Government masterplan will facilitate and enable this major shift from a “Gov-to-You” mindset to a “Gov-With-You” mindset – to fuel innovation and to encourage co-creation. The vision for the next masterplan is of a collaborative government that co-creates and connects with the people. To achieve this vision, the new masterplan will focus on three strategic thrusts.
Thrust 1: Co-creating for Higher Value
Firstly, the public sector will work together with the private and people sectors to co-create for higher value. Today’s public services are pre-dominantly delivered in one direction – from government to the customer. Although there are processes for public consultation and feedback from the ground, for the most part, public services are largely conceptualised and developed within and by the public sector. However, this mindset of “Government knows best” is irrelevant in today’s world where citizens and businesses can easily access much of the information that governments used to monopolise and control in the past.
In his 1980 book, “The Third Wave”, the noted futurologist Alvin Toffler (who also authored the book “Future Shock”) coined the term “prosumer”. He predicted that the role of producers and consumers would blur and merge. Indeed, today’s consumers and citizens are much more sophisticated than in the past. They are no longer satisfied to passively accept generic products and services. They know better and they demand better – and they want to have a say in how things are done. This is the reality that public sector agencies will have to come to terms with. To this end, they will have to tap into the wisdom of crowds, into the knowledge and capabilities that reside in the private and people sectors. Together they will co-develop and deliver effective services to meet the customers’ needs.
Collectively, government agencies are custodians of vast databases of information that can be tapped on to create useful services. ACRA, which is the Singapore government agency that regulates companies and businesses, has a long and successful track record in opening up business data to private sector to provide value-added information services. One of their more recent innovations is BizFinx, under which ACRA makes use of standard xBRL data formats to collaborate with private sector companies to provide business analytics services.
Another example is the Land Transport Authority which collaborated with Google to combine live traffic feeds and public transportation data with Google Maps to provide an integrated service for commuters and motorists for travel planning.
These are examples of co-creation and innovative PPP models. There is scope to do much more. There is potential to open up common applications. An example is SingPass, the single authentication for government e-services. SingPass has been extended to private sector transactions as well for the benefit of consumers. DP Credit Bureau uses SingPass to verify the identity of the person requesting for an online personal credit report. This is a non-government service by a private sector company.
Under the next e-government masterplan, the idea of government-as-a-platform will be further advanced to enable more data – both spatial and textual data – to be shared. Programmes, schemes and even contests will be held to encourage the use of such public data to create innovative services to bring greater value to citizens and businesses.
Thrust 2: Connecting for Active Participation
Besides seeking to co-create in service delivery, a collaborative government actively seeks to connect with its citizens and involve them in shaping public policies. This is our second thrust – Connecting for Active Participation.
Social networking tools such as blogs, Youtube, Facebook and Twitter are excellent channels for mass collaboration and reaching out to large segments of the population quickly and efficiently. Singapore government agencies are beginning to use such social networking tools to extend their reach to connect with citizens – in spite of uncertainties, unknowns and even risks involved. Even some of our government ministers are discussing their respective ministry’s plans and thinking through blogs.
But as we push the envelope to exploit technology, we must also look out for the pitfalls. At the end of the day, technology is just an enabling tool that can equally be exploited for either the good or the bad. For instance, while the Internet provides an excellent platform for disseminating information and getting feedback from the ground, public officers need to develop the instinct to separate the “noise” from genuine feedback. There is also the danger of succumbing to pressure from the vocal minority and doing what is popular as opposed to what is right for the country.
We also need to be mindful of the new digital divide separating the digital natives and the digital migrants. There may be segments of the population that may not be able to, or prefer not to use, such new media for engaging the government. So we should exploit the new media in such as way that no one is left out or left behind.
Thrust 3: Catalyzing WOG Transformation
While the first two thrusts are focused on the people and private sectors, the third thrust is focused on the public sector itself. It is aimed at catalyzing transformation within the whole-of-government. The public sector must itself lead by example. It must be immersed in the same enabling technologies and culture.
In tandem with the rollout of the Next Generation National Broadband Network, the IDA will design the next generation ICT infrastructure for the whole-of-government. This infrastructure will facilitate mass collaboration, shared systems, services and processes under a Whole-of-Government Enterprise Architecture.
Cloud computing is a concept that is not new to us. For many years, we have operated our own private government cloud providing common ICT infrastructure, applications and services. We will continue to explore and leverage cloud computing and energy-efficient technologies.
Beyond the underlying ICT infrastructure, we will drive innovative applications that will bring about new and enhanced capabilities within the public sector. One focus area will be the use of business analytics to help public sector agencies make sense of the information that they have so as to enhance efficiency and effectiveness as well as deliver new services to the public.
While technology evolves at Internet speed, policy changes tend to lag behind. As a result, organisations and the people’s capacity to embrace and effect change also lag behind. But we are moving into a new era of mass collaboration. There is no turning back – the public sector must keep pace and change with the times. This is quite a big shift in our approach – public sector agencies and officers need to reflect and think about what this means and how it translates into the way they work and interact within agencies, across agencies and with the public.
Public officers and agencies need to be agile and innovative in this complex and fast-changing operating environment. They must be able to deal with uncertainty; to sense and respond; and to be prepared to take calculated risks. To this end, the Singapore Government has been investing in human capital development as well as organisation development.
This is not unique to Singapore and I venture to say that many other governments and public sector administrations are grappling with similar issues. Forums such as this iGov Global Forum create opportunities for us to discuss, share experience and to co-create.
On that note, I wish you all a good day ahead with many interesting and fruitful discussions.