From the creation of an autonomous wheelchair prototype to the investigation of the Circle Line breakdown, GovTech looks set to transform the digital landscape in Singapore. In this issue, The IT Society checks in with Jacqueline Poh, Chief Executive, GovTech, on her game plan for the agency as well as her take on the evolution of the local tech scene.
Q: Question, JP: Jacqueline Poh
Q: What is GovTech?
JP: GovTech impacts every person in different ways and to different extent. Through collaborating with partner agencies and actively seeking out and understanding the needs of Singaporeans, we are engaged in delivering whole-of-government projects in a timely manner. Although you may not always see our names behind these projects, we have touched the lives of every Singaporean – be it through the Health Promotion Board’s National Steps Challenge, the user interface design of the Inland Revenue Authority’s income tax portal or the SingPass system. Even for a person who is ignorant about tech, he or she would have benefited from a more efficient transport system or a shorter waiting time at the hospitals through our data scientists’ work in route planning and system design.
Q: What does GovTech really do?
JP: Well, we do a wide variety of things here. At any one time, we deal with topics ranging from manpower and education to healthcare, transport and environment. Besides providing support to over 60 different government agencies, we also try and shape standards. Be it cybersecurity standards, resilience standards or digital experience standards, we work with different partner agencies to raise the level of digital experience. Through our work, we hope to change the way government services are delivered and make a positive difference by empowering greater productivity and improving the quality of life for Singaporeans.
Q: How is GovTech different from the IDA we knew?
JP: When we started GovTech, we decided to build part of the government’s engineering capabilities here. We want to create platforms that enable us to reuse code, share data and have API exchanges – because such an environment is necessary for application developments for the public sector. While we will continue to outsource or co-source things like during the IDA days, we will buy different things – for example, bulk tenders for data analytics, DDoS mitigation services or cloud solutions for unclassified systems.
I see the role of GovTech to be that of a smart and ambitious buyer. We need to have courage and imagination to develop Smart Nation projects using technology in ways that challenge the industry. In so doing, we hope to encourage new companies to grow and support us, as well as provide existing companies a test bed which they can use to improve their capabilities in producing products that can be sold anywhere else.
Q: What do you see to be GovTech’s role in the local tech scene?
JP: We have a platform called govBuy where we package projects into smaller parts such as testing a system or writing a piece of code, and put them up for bidding. Through this system, individual programmers or even freelancers can now work with us.
We are also very big on transparency. One of the things we encourage our engineers and the tech community to do is to be transparent about what they are working on and how they are going about it. GovTech leads the open data movement in Singapore so we publish over 900 government data sets. We believe that an open, bold and collaborative environment will enable us to grow ourselves and the tech community, as well as get the best results for our citizens.
On the Local Tech Scene
Q: How different is the tech industry today compared to five years ago?
JP: The tech industry has changed a great deal in the short time I have been in the industry. The industry is seeing an increasing number of people from diverse backgrounds – business, law, etc . And you wonder what they are doing here. But the answer is simple. To succeed, the industry has to become more multidisciplinary so that it can come out with products that resonate with people. There has also been a significant perceptual shift within the industry. For the longest time, programmers are regarded to be of a lower value than project managers. In recent times, however, the entire dichotomy has turned on its head – programming jobs now yield higher salaries and are in greater demand.