The secret to delivering better digital government services

GCIO Asia finds out from Mark Lim, Director of GovTech’s GDS, how his team is helping Singapore's public sector digitally transform.

By Nurdianah Md Nur
Nov. 22, 2016

The Digital Transformation of Government Services topic will be discussed at the GCIO Forum Singapore on 24 November 2016. For more information about the event and to register, click here

Mark Lim, Director, Government Digital Services (GDS) at GovTech
Mark Lim, Director, Government Digital Services (GDS) at GovTech. Credit: GovTech

Even though Singapore's Smart Nation goal requires everyone's effort, the government needs to take the lead in encouraging and enabling citizens and businesses to help realise the vision.

One way of encouraging co-creation is to deliver better digital government services. Why? As citizens increasingly rely on intuitive and easy-to-use apps developed by businesses and startups in their daily lives, they expect the same experience when interacting with the government.  

This is the challenge for governments. Simple and popular apps are built based on the "outside in"/design thinking approach, which means that they are designed with the needs of the citizens or consumers in mind. However, government web apps are traditionally built using the "inside out" approach, where services are organised based on internal government structures and delivered accordingly to citizens, Chan Cheow Hoe, Government Chief Information Officer of Singapore's Government Technology Agency (GovTech), wrote in a commentary on local media Today.

Echoing Chan, Mark Lim, Director, Government Digital Services (GDS) at GovTech, told GCIO Asia that the role of IT has evolved as we enter the digital age. "Traditionally, IT is very much focused on information systems, IT management, database management; and the systems are usually designed in a systems view to provide an ability to store records and information. In the digital world, tech is used to connect people instead of simply storing information.  So there is a focus on user experience, behaviour modification and how to use digital technologies to bring communities together."

This is why the GDS team-which is responsible for helping government agencies build reliable, functional and contextualised digital government services - differs from the traditional set up of an IT department. GDS is a cross-functional team of product development, data science, user experience and geo-spatial technology specialists.

"Digital requires us to think from a human perspective so you need people who are psychologists or sociologists to start thinking how a particular technology can change the way users will interact with each other. [Our team is thus structured] such that engineering is not isolated from design team. This approach is similar to what Google and Facebook are doing," Lim shared.

There are two ways in which the GDS team is helping the Singapore government become a digital government that will support its Smart Nation vision.

"Firstly, GDS works closely with a few central agencies. Projects that have a wide impact on people in Singapore will usually get first priority as they can literally change our GDP, improve productivity or change the experience of groups of Singaporeans," Lim said.

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