The future of citizenship is digital, says Singapore’s CIO

13th June 2018 Jack Aldane

If digitalisation means one thing for cities, it’s government platforms serving citizen customers, according to Chan Cheow Hoe, Singapore’s Chief Information Officer.

In a keynote speech at this week’s IoT World Europe conference in London, Chan said that as digitalisation moves control over information from local governments to local citizenries, municipalities must see their role as service providers in cooperation with both their communities as well as industry.

“For the longest time, governments have focused on information and transaction,” he said. “When you need something, you go to the government, and you probably have to go through ten agencies to get anything done, which is horrible. People don’t go to governments because they want to, but because they have to.”

Tracing the evolution of digital technology through four stages of progress, from computerisation in the 1980s, to automation in the 1990s, to e-services at the turn of the millennium until today, Chan said local governments can no longer afford to work vertically in silos but must work horizontally to manage feedback and deliver solutions to the public as one domain. He added that each government agency used to provide its own service, but now Singapore offers a range of services packaged together for citizens to access as and when they need them.

Like many cities, Singapore has moved from outsourcing industries to co-sourcing with value chain partners. The city-state’s redesign of its international trade platform, which clears customs for goods coming in and out of Singapore, shares simultaneous data of each outgoing shipment with partnering banks, insurance companies and logistics providers. For Singapore–a trans-shipment centre of the globe where 85 percent of entering trade exits its ports–this is especially important, Chan said.

Speaking to Cities Today, Chan commented that one of local governments’ biggest problems in working with industry remains finding ways to attract small businesses.

“A lot of start-ups find it almost impossible to work with governments. Governments come in and say ‘Look, I need to build this thing. It’s going to cost 20 million bucks.’ No start-up in the world can do that. That’s why I speak a lot about platforms, because without this democratisation, technology and government is very much monopolised by the big guys.”

Communities are also becoming digitised. By installing sensors in municipal infrastructure, the Singaporean government is combining harvested data with crowd-sourced feedback from citizens to build social responsibility into public facilities, such as swimming pools that can detect when someone is drowning. This development also has ramifications for how networked communities fulfil their civil duties towards one another in the case of medical emergencies.

Two years ago, the Singapore Civil Defence Force that runs emergencies for ambulances struggled to meet optimal response times of ten minutes or less. Rather than invest in more ambulances, the local government created myResponder, a platform that empowers qualified citizens to act rapidly when needed.

The app is available to download by anyone who has basic medical training. When an emergency occurs within a 400-metre radius of the user, they receive an alert on their smartphone. MyResponder now has 300,000 volunteers.

“This is where I think the government need not do everything itself. The government instead needs to work together with the people,” Chan concluded.

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