Published: Jul 20, 2022

how governments can share data to meet the digital needs of citizens

This article was first published by GovInsider.

In microbiology, the amoeba cell is able to sense environmental threats and opportunities, and form extensions of its cytoplasm, known as pseudopodia. These adaptable “false feet” help amoebas to move about and capture food, and can shape-shift or disappear altogether when needed.

This fascinating versatility is what gives amoebas their survival advantage. In the same way, governments need to undergo digital transformation in order to keep up with the increasingly complex challenges that are posed to them today.

Andy Sim, Transformation Director at NCS Government Strategic Business Group, explains the need for transformation to be centred around citizen-centric technology. Besides that, he also shares how open data sharing and public-private partnerships are key to this transformation.

The need for citizen-centric services

The government can draw lessons from the private sector and cater to citizens better by thinking of them as customers, Sim says. When governments have a deep understanding of citizens’ needs and aspirations, they can design more citizen-centric services.

Even though technology can be a good enabler of change, managers need to integrate it with people and cultures to achieve its intended outcomes. “The citizen journey should be anchored in what the user thinks about the experience, rather than in how the government agencies work,” he says.

To counter this inertia, Sim believes a major mindset shift needs to be involved. Governments need to develop societal solutions with external collaborations, rather than solve problems only from the inside, he says.

For example, NCS collaborated with the Singapore Prison Service (SPS) to create a Prison Operations and Rehabilitation System. Prison inmates are influenced by a variety of social or environmental factors which may cause them to re-offend.

NCS has created a data-driven system to support prison operations with real-time inmate information. With this system, SPS can better manage its operations and track the inmates’ risk patterns, rehabilitation and behavioural progress, leveraging an evidence-based approach to tailor intervention efforts according to the needs of the inmates.

Public-private partnerships: The catalyst to digital transformation

Sim believes that government agencies need to overcome the “silo mentality” – the reluctance to share information and ideas – in order to promote collaboration and innovation.

This requires a “fundamental culture shift”, wherein data sharing should be seen as a necessity rather than a bonus. A trust-based mechanism needs to be established so that this can happen, he further adds.

At this year’s Smart Nation and Digital Government Industry in June 2022, GovTech’s Chief Executive, Kok Ping Soon announced the agency’s commitment to deepening industry partnerships between the public and private sectors. To facilitate such collaborations, the Singapore government has set up a centralised Developer Portal for private developers to co-develop solutions with government developers.

Increasingly, technology has opened up opportunities for public-private partnerships to help promote this culture shift towards open collaboration and innovation. Case in point, NCS has helped a nation’s government develop an open innovation platform to aid the work of developers, researchers, and journey planners in the transport sector.

The platform provides developers with a variety of datasets and interfaces which allow apps to “talk” to each other. Developers have used this platform to create third-party transport applications. These applications help citizens navigate their transport options around the city, bringing greater convenience to the lives of citizens.

Similarly, cross-ministry data sharing in Malaysia has allowed the government to record which of its Halal products are the most popular internationally, shared GovInsider. These insights helped smoothen trade processes and boost the state’s economy.

Developing agile digital services

Globally disruptive events such as the Covid-19 pandemic have spotlighted the need for agility in governments’ digital services. This is where data sharing plays a crucial role in accelerating the innovation process.

During the pandemic, governments needed to develop solutions quickly when faced with the challenge of managing a rapidly changing outbreak. For instance, Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower (MOM) had to manage an outbreak among hundreds of thousands of migrant workers living in dormitories islandwide.

NCS helped by speedily developing a user-friendly digital programme to monitor migrant workers’ health, provide them with prompt medical advice, and help MOM optimise the deployment of its medical teams, shares Sim.

This agility would not be possible without the adoption of a composable service approach, he says. Composability is a design principle which allows for older systems to be easily reassembled for the needs of today. A highly composable system would have building blocks which can be adjusted easily, depending on what users presently need.

Composable design can also help governments migrate smoothly out of their existing IT infrastructures, onto public cloud platforms – an important first step in developing agility in citizen digital services, shares Sim. “Adopting a composable service approach enables governments to extend the reuse of capabilities as much as possible,” he says.

With these lessons in mind, governments will undoubtedly find a citizen-centric approach when creating public services. Coupled with a versatile attitude towards public-private partnership, this is sure to deliver a kaleidoscope of positive outcomes for the citizen experience.

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