In an era of pandemic-induced unpredictability, can governments in Asia look to digitalization and data-driven collaboration to build citizen trust?

What is crucial in gaining citizen trust today? Governments in Asia know they need to make better-informed decisions that meet the demands of a rapidly changing citizenry.

That’s why digitalization has been a key pillar of the Singapore government’s Smart Nation initiative.

Over the years, the island-state has implemented various policies, including the Digital Government Blueprint (DGB) and Government Data Architecture (GDA), to support digitalization and data sharing across the public sector. Among other goals, the government has set a KPI to share data within 7 working days for cross-agency projects by 2023.

Initiatives like these empower public agencies to embrace data and harness new technologies that address citizen and business needs to better measure the effectiveness of policies and interventions.

To garner citizen trust, government leaders need an integrated approach to data – one that empowers governments in Asia to deliver solutions, quickly respond to crises and steward resources, while respecting privacy and confidentiality.

Easier said than done! DigiconAsia discussed the issues with Geoff Soon, Senior District Manager, South Asia, Snowflake.

Geoff Soon, Senior District Manager, South Asia, Snowflake

In your opinion, how important or useful are digital government initiatives such as Singapore’s DGB and GDA?

Soon: Launched in June 2018, the Digital Government Blueprint (DGB) is a statement of the Singapore government’s ambition to leverage data and harness new technologies to deliver better services for citizens, businesses, and public officers.

The Government Data Architecture (GDA) is one of the initiatives under the DGB to re-engineer the government’s infrastructure. It was created to develop common data standards and formats for seamless data-sharing between agencies, which requires simultaneously tackling legislative, policy, capability and technical challenges.

As governments continue to accelerate digital transformation, especially amid the pandemic when digitalization has become critical and urgent, it needs a solidified plan on how to progress through the journey.

Both the DGB and the GDA are useful and important to building a digital government to help citizens in Singapore. Through both policies, progress has been made. It empowers the government agencies to redesign how to govern and share data across different agencies to collect insights efficiently and make better informed decisions. Achieving the KPIs require significant improvements in how Singapore currently deliver digital services, as well as the delivery of new tools and platforms.

Reviewing KPIs regularly allows the government to assess their performance and identify areas for improvement. As of the end of 2019, 86% of citizens and 77% of businesses are very/extremely satisfied with government digital services, surpassing the target of 75%-80%. 20,000 officers have also been trained in data analytics and data science, meeting the initial target set and a new KPI reviewed.

How could governments in Asia improve data-driven collaboration across teams, departments, agencies and even citizens, especially at a time of pandemic-induced uncertainty and unpredictability?

Soon: Among the top issues of data-sharing is handling data silos across agencies and offices, which can hurt cross-agency collaboration, resulting in fragmented citizen services or excessive cost. To improve data-driven collaboration across teams, departments, agencies and even citizens, there is a great need for these organisations to work out structural issues.

Amid their efforts for digitalisation and although the benefits are clear, government agencies across Asia continue to face other challenges including incomplete data inventories, meeting data standards, legacy IT platforms, security and compliance implementation, and limited workforce capacity and expertise.

A Data Cloud can eliminate these obstacles and allow agencies to focus on putting data to use, rather than managing infrastructure. The platform easily brings together data from diverse sources and delivers easy access to and sharing of data through a single solution designed to enable better collaboration and faster decision-making.

It does this by transferring all the information from transactional legacy systems into a modern data platform with built-in performance, security and scalability. Governments can then deliver a modern citizen experience and implement intuitive, efficient services and communication between government and its citizens based on the deepest insights.

By having a single platform providing a single source of truth, governments can drive business intelligence, analytics, data science, and visualization to make informed decisions.

For instance, the Philippines’ Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) and local analytics company, Intellection, has recently built a single unified view of vaccine data in support of the Philippine government’s mass vaccination program. To date, the platform built by Intellection that is powered by Snowflake has processed 45 million vaccine records and 160,000 input files coming from 1,600 local government units (LGUs) with zero maintenance staff, zero downtime, and a 24×7 operation that is fully automated.

What are the challenges public service officers face when adopting a data-first mindset and culture to support innovation?

Soon: The adoption of a data-first mindset will require all public officers to take ownership and drive innovation from within their own agencies, starting with their own immediate sphere of work. This will require a fundamental shift in mindset: public service is not just doing a prescribed job but engaging in entrepreneurship at the national level.

Public officers should be cultivated to be proactive about identifying problems that need solving, engage with users to understand their ground challenges, rally support and marshal resources for their ideas, and implement it.

It is not easy to adopt a data-first mindset as there is an inertia to relying on old practices and ways. The adoption and implementation of effective data culture won’t happen overnight, but with the right resources, tools and policies, agencies will be well-positioned for future success.

Like any culture, a data-driven culture must start at the top. It’s up to agency leaders to take the first steps toward developing and implementing a data culture throughout the entire organisation.

How would a single and unified cloud data platform help the Singapore government achieve its KPI of sharing data within 7 working days for cross-agency projects by 2023?

Soon: Singapore’s Digital Government Blueprint details 14 key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure the Government’s digitalization progress. Of which, there is a KPI of sharing data within 7 working days for cross-agency projects by 2023.

To achieve this KPI, the government needs to expand its IT infrastructure and invest in a single and unified modern data platform that delivers seamless data collaboration while reducing costs and revealing new business insights.

Having centralized, shareable data is useful for various ministries to look at a consistent, integrated view of intra-agency and cross-agency structured and semi-structured data, and supports the delivery of data as a service. It helps organizations to instantly and securely share live, governed data without having to move shared data.

Local governments need secure data exchange to deliver services efficiently and securely for their users and citizens. However, making internal and external data available to different departments, partners, and citizens is difficult and error-prone with legacy data sharing methods such as FTP, cloud buckets, APIs, ETL processes that are manual, spreadsheet-based, and time-consuming.

As such, government agencies can benefit from an IT infrastructure with built-in scale and flexibility that makes it easy to add or reduce users, data, and workloads as needed. Consistent availability and performance at scale lead to minimal downtime and effortless productivity and efficiency as the data and scope grow. It also enables users to easily combine and distribute data across departments and business units and provides everyone with a single, live, governed copy of data.  It can thus accelerate time-to-insight to derive business intelligence and advanced analytics.

By going on the cloud and using a unified platform, governments, including Singapore’s, can securely share governed data for collaboration across and between departments, and with partners and citizens. Inviting other parts of the organisations to securely access and contribute data, without copying or moving data.

In 2020, the Singapore government reported 108 data security incidents. Government organizations are trusted to be good stewards of data. How should government agencies better secure data against cyber-attacks?

Soon: Data, accountability, and transparency initiatives must provide the tools to deliver visibly better results to the public while improving accountability to taxpayers for sound fiscal stewardship and results. The digitalisation of the public sector requires cross-agency cooperation to ensure an integrated data strategy that encompasses all relevant governance, standards, infrastructure, and commercialisation challenges of operating in a data-driven world.

Securing citizens’ data is critical to maintaining the trust of the citizens they serve. To ensure data protection and privacy, it boils down to utilising a reliable and secure cloud platform that offers solid protection from various kinds of cyber-attacks and enables users to enhance data governance and controls. For stronger data security, the platform they use must also enable them to control what data is made available, who can access that data, and view metrics to track data access and usage.

In addition, governments also need a platform that enables them to govern data collaboration and data analytics within data exchange to ensure compliance with government regulations and policies as well as provide secure data access and analytics.