Singapore targets talent to “re-engineer” government

3rd October 2018 Jonathan Andrews

The Singaporean government will actively look to start-ups, developers and enterprise to overhaul and streamline government services and ICT infrastructure.

The call for talent, from both within and outside of Singapore, came during the city’s first government-hosted developers’ conference, STACK.

Lee Hsien Loong, the prime minister, outlined the plans to government heads, industry and the tech community, stating that the main objective was to “re-engineer” the city-state’s government.

“Because we were early adopters of technology, we now have many IT legacy systems built up over the years in different government agencies,” he said. “In some corners of government, we still have code that is written in COBOL and PCs using Windows 98.”

At the foundation of the Digital Government Blueprint is CODEX, a new platform that will aim to deliver better digital services to citizens and allow the public and private sector to work together to develop more user-centric services.

Key components include establishing common data standards and formats across agencies, moving non-sensitive data to the cloud, and expanding the Singapore Government Technology Stack–a suite of shared software components and infrastructure–to better build digital applications.

Chan Cheow Hoe, Government CIO and Deputy Chief Executive of GovTech, said that, in the past, every agency wanted to build and run its own system, creating inefficiencies.

“We need to move from an ego-centric approach to an eco-centric approach,” he said. “The most important component is industry.”

Chan Cheow Hoe, Government CIO and Deputy Chief Executive, GovTech

His work in establishing the city’s innovation lab, Hive, has helped prove that a start-up culture in government can work. He outlined that most apps and services developed in Hive have mostly used commercial open-source software.

“Hive helped create a start-up culture that was deemed impossible before,” he added. “We now need to move this to other areas of government.”

To ensure this is achieved, the city is targeting top talent–like Singaporeans working in Silicon Valley–and is investing in early education including scholarships, leadership training, providing an attractive workplace culture, and overhauling its remuneration schemes.

“If we are successful, we will be able to attract and recruit engineers of the calibre of Google, Netflix, Dropbox… whether fresh out of university or already mid-career,” added Lee.

Cybersecurity will not be treated as an afterthought in the new structures, particularly given the July hacking of the government’s SingHealth IT system. One-and-a-half million records were stolen, including the prime minister’s.

Lee concluded: “We don’t know if all of our initiatives will go as we plan, but as a GovTech officer said to me, we are rebuilding the aeroplane even as we are flying it.”

CODEX comprises:

  • A government data architecture for common data standards and formats that better enable seamless data sharing between agencies;
  • A systematic shift of less sensitive government systems and data onto the commercial cloud, enabling the use of private sector capabilities to develop digital services; and
  • A Singapore Government Technology Stack (SGTS) comprising a suite of shared software components and infrastructure to enable more efficient and focused building of digital applications.

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