Covid-19 may have paralysed businesses and societies worldwide but it is opportunistic too. The 200 senior ICT leaders from 15 countries attending the virtual ConnectGov V summit on Nov 15 were urged to move from reaction to action by Govtech Singapore CEO Koh Ping Soon. 

The digital transformation agenda must not only continue but be stepped up to capture the new opportunities that will emerge from this crisis.  The Singapore government has set an example, he said. Government ICT budgets have not been cut. Instead it has been increased in FY20 by 30 per cent to S$3.5 billion to accelerate the country’s digitalisation plans. 

What resonated with everyone was the three areas Koh highlighted where ICT leaders can act on to ensure that there are deep seated benefits of digitalisation are felt over the long-term.  

First, digitalisation must not be “a digital lipstick”, good to look at but no more digitally advanced than for example a PDF menu, he pointed out. Take the “Go Business” solution. Singapore did not just put all the application forms online. It reviewed and streamlined the business licensing processes of 14 agencies, reduced the number of form fields needed to complete a food licence application from 845 to just 90, cut down the turnaround time for licence applications by 10 to 14 days and more importantly, trimmed the total fees by up to $500. 

Secondly, part of accelerating digital transformation requires that the backend infrastructure must be modernised to focus on agility, scalability and resilience. This means cloud by default. In fact, the government is migrating 70 per cent of existing government ICT systems onto the commercial cloud, says Koh. 

One example of a cloud application he highlighted was “Postman”, the backend platform used to send messages to the 1 million Gov.sg Whatsapp subscribers which was built using Twilio SMS platform. He pointed out that SaaS solutions are in while custom-built on-premise solutions is gradually eased out. Moving forward, the plan is to invest in an infrastructure that better supports a hybrid work environment, he says, where meetings and collaborations can still be effective with remote participation. 

Lastly, the new normal is all about co-creation with the community. If Covid-19 has one lesson, it is that everyone must work together to weather the pandemic. There will be opportunities for industry and communities to collaborate with the Government to develop  more platforms to service government needs as well as improve business processes. 

The industry must be heartened that a new Singapore government developer portal has been set up as a centralised resource to help industry and developers learn more about its tech products and find opportunities. 

The message not only from Koh but from the rest of the speakers at Day 1 of the virtual ConnectGov V summit was that business leadership including CIOs must pull out all the stops for the country and community to successfully beat Covid-19.