Government must tap private sector's best solutions to serve citizens' digital needs: Vivian Balakrishnan

SINGAPORE – People today expect digital services to be immediate and customised, and the Government must be ready to incorporate the best solutions from the private sector to meet these expectations, Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation initiative Vivian Balakrishnan said on Wednesday (Dec 2).

This in turn allows the Government to become a “reference customer” for private companies selling services to the public sector, opening up more opportunities for them, Dr Balakrishnan said at the Stack 2020 Developer Conference organised by GovTech.

He pointed to two recent initiatives as examples of how the Government intends to foster public-private collaboration in “both action and words”, including efforts to tap commercial cloud services.

“We are working with three leading providers – Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform – to bring the cutting edge of cloud technology to bear in the digital services we provide our citizens,” Dr Balakrishnan said.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had announced in 2018 that the Government would begin to move some of its IT systems to a commercial cloud service.

More than 150 systems have been moved to the cloud service as of June this year, including those involving tax administration and electronic examinations.

Dr Balakrishnan, who is also Foreign Minister, also drew attention to the Singapore Government Developer Portal, soft-launched earlier this year, which gives software developers key information on government tech solutions and the ability to build on and integrate them into their own applications.

“What we really hope is that you will use these tools to build, test and improve your digital products, and also to pitch them to us,” he told the developers. “Because if it works, we want to incorporate that into our suite of services as well.”

During a dialogue at the conference, Dr Balakrishnan said that both PM Lee and him took a keen interest in the developments on the portal, and “will always be there to ask the awkward questions”.

Government chief digital technology officer Chan Cheow Hoe, who was also part of the dialogue, said a supportive leadership has been “very important” in helping Singapore to move quickly and effectively in the tech space, adding that the government tech ecosystem has come a long way since he joined the agency in 2014.

“When I first joined the biggest challenge was that we didn’t have the platforms. So my poor engineers had to code on their computers, put in a thumb drive, take a bus to the data centre and then plug the thumb drive in (in order to upload the code),” he said.

“So the democratisation of technology in terms of (solutions like) the cloud has made us a lot more effective and able to deliver (results) in weeks which was impossible before.”

This year’s Stack conference is being held from Dec 2-3 in a virtual format, and is the second after the inaugural edition in 2018.

The conference brings together developers from the public and private sectors to share knowledge on a wide variety of topics, such as cloud technology, app development and a new segment on Covid-19 tech.

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