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


GDS also works with government agencies directly. Lim said: "Some people misunderstand that digital is all about fancy apps but what you really need for it to work is to redesign the entire workflow, which might impact organisational structure. So what I want to do is not to just jump into creating an app. Instead, we will use this digital experience lab in Hive (where GDS is based) to assist government agencies to suss out the problem and use design thinking to discover the potential solution."

"[Should the solution requires building an app], we will then go to the next step of architecturing the app, building a high fidelity prototype and testing its usability. The high fidelity prototype looks like the end product, except that it is not connected to the real database. This allows [the agency] to test with real users - be it government officers or public - to see if it really solves the problem," he explained.

Lim added that his team uses applications programming interface (APIs) to ensure that new apps can be easily integrated to the existing IT infrastructure. "We don't want to rip off the existing infrastructure and rebuild the whole system as that is too risky and time consuming. So we take the agile approach: we wrap systems of records - which are the standard IT systems - around APIs, while building user-centric systems of engagement (ie. new apps) to enable the two systems talk to each other via APIs.  This way, you can now offer [reliable] data in a mobile app for users to self-service."

However, it doesn't stop there. Systems of insights, which allow the government agencies to analyse, will also be integrated in using microservices.

Agile: All about discipline
To ensure that digital government services get rolled out or improved on quickly, GDS adopts the agile methodology instead of the waterfall approach. "Because we're not building 50 features at one go, we are able to deliver an app in less than three months and make sure that those features are built well. [This is also in line with] most successful apps, which are lightweight - they just do one or two things very well," Lim reasoned.

Debunking a myth on the agile concept, he said that agile will not lead to a scope creep as the timeline and budget can be fixed. "Agile requires [the government agency] to be disciplined; they need to prioritise the features they need in the app. For example, each [government] agency gets 100 story points. Since every feature they request to add in their app will cost them story points, they need to carefully prioritise the features they want."

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