Opinions

Singapore Smart Nation initiative is slow because government & private sector top management can’t work fast enough

Overview

Update 19/6/2016: spelling/grammer corrections, clarification of opinion & headers to make for easier reading

I’ve just read this piece at ZDNet titled “Singapore needs mindset change for smart nation success.” The piece is about Singapore (residents) needing to change their mindset to ensure Singapore can stay competitive.

There are so many things I disagree with in this piece. Let me explain.

Singapore aunties & uncles also use Smartphones

The smartphone penetration rate is very high in Singapore. (This is why hackers love to target Singapore users.) So why is that? It’s because PC & broadband(fixed/mobile) penetration is also super high. The Singapore people is used to technology in their lives and now that you can bring the power of a PC inside your pocket, we all naturally want that capability & flexibility.

The problem is NOT with Singapore residents’ resistance to doing things the Smart Nation way. Instead, bureaucracy & outdated law/compliance standards are to blame. This usually happens at the top level of government & the private-sector. Since top-level government is pushing change, I’m sensing mid-higher government agency/stat-board resistance. Top-level Private-sector officers may also be resistant due to potential compliancy issues & probably lack of funding for large and complex government functions. Software development is a VERY expensive undertaking after all.

Examples of grassroot & SME support of a (Smarter Nation)

I can give 2 examples, my children’s childcare teachers started using WhatsApp Groups many years ago instead of the Comm-book to communication with parents, and the principal acted as the moderator. It was super efficient and has a level of engagement, including support amongst the childcare operator and parents. It brought us closer and any issues can be resolved quickly. (And since the entire history can be retrieved from anyone’s phone, keeping of records is not much of an issue.)

There’s even a sense of camaradie between the teachers, principal and parents, not to mention a sense of respect, sadness & understanding for the principal, which poured out from everyone when she left the school. (Due in no small part in what I think is her disagreement with the management style of the new owner.)

When the center was bought over by a “high-end” government accredited operator, we soon went back to the comm-book, which was a hassle to follow and update the teacher-in-charge. Because of that, we missed a few notification when our child forget to let us read it at the end of the day when we were all tired.

The operator’s excuse is the management has to follow the government’s guideline to qualify for subsidies to the center and the comm-book is part of that requirement. Naturally I wrote in to the new principal to “complain” but to no avail.

If the center management actual reason is to prevent parents from “ganging up” against the center, they’re sadly mistaken because almost all of the parents still continue to participate in the WhatsApp Group even without the center’s participation. We have also created parents’ WhatsApp Group for each new class that our kids move into. The primary purpose is to help parents in the class to keep up with all the homework/activities/reminders that our young kids easily forget.

Example 2: Many readers know I’m a financial advisor but besides providing financial advisory to clients, I also provide IT consultancy services to my insurance clients if they ask for it. (I used to be a *systems programmer when I was a Product Development Engineer. *it means I talk to machines)

One of my triumphs was when I help my SME client selected a WMS system and converted his entire operation to Microsoft Office 365 Business due to cost vs reliability/scalability considerations for his high email volume. As his operations expanded, OneDrive for Business is increasingly important in disaster recovery scenarios as well. All these from a company last than 20 strong.

Much of his operations were made easier because MOM & LTA has made a lot of issues easy to complete or resolve online.

How Singapore Smart Nation initiative can take off

The ball is in the government court for sure. CPF, LTA, MOM, IRAS, Sport Singapore services have been getting easier to use over the past 3 years and should be applauded. Other government agencies like HDB, Traffic Police/SPF, NEA, HPB need to catch up. (The list is not exhaustive since it’s from the top of my head those .gov services I used in the last 3 months.)

Besides providing e-Application & e-Payment portals, the website performance also needs to be upgraded and possibly move to the cloud where it’s easier to scale and is potentially cheaper in the long run when you factor in maintenance contracts. (Microsoft Azure resources can be dynamically scaled/priced and Amazon is cheap.)

Of course, sensitive portals like CPF, ICA & IRAS may never move to the public cloud but I’m sure parts of the website that doesn’t directly access sensitive databases can be moved to Microsoft Azure or even Amazon AWS.

Heck, Microsoft Azure can even be deployed in your Private cloud, as are solutions from VmWare & IBM Watson.

Conclusion

So my point is, on the ground-level, people (including elderly in their 50-60s) are ready if the change simplifies their lives by making things more convenient and secure. (2FA is VERY important, go activate your SingPass!)

Appeal for traffic offense online? Yes, great! Updating your child immunization record online at NIR? Not working! HPB take note! Reporting broken lamps to town council? Yes, awesome!

 

All the people need is a website for desktop & smartphone to transact with the government and it’ll make these agencies more transparent to everyone! You don’t even need to develop an app for each platform (Windows 10/IOS/Android 2-7/BlackBerry) when a mobile website that renders properly in HTML5 is sufficient.

If there is to be a mindset change, it’s not with the people. The people are ready.

Agree or disagree with my opinions? I’d like to hear from you!

Advertisements