Tech success: Singapore builds e-gov runway

Combined back-end infrastructure tailors front-end services<@VM>IT solutions in action

"When people think of e-gov, they think of service to the citizen," said Tan Swee Hua, director of the electronic services division for Singapore's Infocomm Development Authority. "But e-gov is not just enhancing the delivery of government services. It is also about looking at the effect information technology has on governance."

Singapore is using this approach to meet an ambitious deadline for getting all appropriate government services online by 2005. By doing so, IDA officials discovered that some back-office consolidation speeds front-end service to the citizen.

The IDA, along with Singapore integrator National Computer Systems Pte Ltd., assembled a set of typically needed, ready-made online applications into a common platform, called the Public Service Infrastructure, which agencies can draw from to easily build their own e-services.

In June 2000, Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister Tony Tan made a commitment that every government service that could be made available electronically would be so by 2005. It fell to the country's newly formed IDA office, under the Ministry of Finance, to coordinate online services delivery.

Singapore is in a good position to blaze new e-trails. Approximately 50 percent of its some 4 million people have Internet connections, and 63 percent have computers, making Singapore one of the most wired populaces of the world. Occupying about 423 square miles ? or about half the size of Rhode Island ? the country is home to more than 6,000 multinational companies and houses the regional offices of another 3,600.

Tan wanted the country's citizens to be able to do everything online from paying taxes to renewing driver's licenses. And like the e-gov services of other countries, such as Canada, all of these services ideally would be available from one central portal, organized in broad categories such as "elections," "housing" and "business," rather than by the specific agency offering the service, a bureaucratic distinction not always clear to citizens.

To help agencies get all their services under one portal, the IDA established the Public Service Infrastructure. This infrastructure would feature "common modules," such as payment gateways, data exchanges, authentication and security services, which agencies may roll into their own online services, saving the cost of developing or purchasing them independently.
For instance, an agency can use a service such as PSI's eService generator to build electronic forms, rather than develop them in-house.

"All agencies have to do is a simple design of the form-based application. Usually, it takes two to three months. Using this application, that time can be reduced to about two weeks," Hua said.
While the U.S. Office of Management and Budget's 24 e-gov initiatives include a number of projects, such as e-authentication, that all agencies can tap into, Singapore goes a step further by planning to offer the services to agencies itself, as would an application service provider.

In 2001, the IDA awarded $825,000 to NCS to develop and maintain the infrastructure. NCS beat out other bidders such as IBM Corp., Armonk, N.Y., as well as local companies, according to Ng Tong Seng, general manager for NCS' government, health care and education office. A central portal for the eCitizen Web site (www.ecitizen.gov.sg) was developed by Ecquaria Ltd., Singapore.

The infrastructure operates over the government's data network, SGNet. A thin-client, Web-services approach is used to ensure that both citizens and agencies can use the Internet-ready computer of their choice.

Open standards and specifications, such as extensible markup language and Java Enterprise Edition, were also chosen to assure PSI services would be able to connect to the widest possible variety of back-end databases, Hua said.

Although the Public Services Infrastructure is in the second year of a three-year rollout, IDA's work has already paid off handsomely. The country's goal to get services online is ahead of schedule. IDA plans to have 1,800 e-services running by the end of 2002, or about 93 percent of all services marked for an online presence, Hua said.

One service, GeBiz, an e-procurement system that pools government purchasing orders into a one-stop marketplace for suppliers, has thus far hosted more than $111 million in sales.

Singapore's efforts have also been praised by Accenture Ltd., Hamilton, Bermuda, in its annual survey of e-gov initiatives of 23 countries. The survey ranked Singapore as having the second most mature e-gov offering for both 2001 and 2002, coming only after Canada both years. In the 2002 edition, "eGovernment Leadership ? Realizing the Vision," Accenture's report praised the breadth and depth of the services offered.

"Every year, Singapore has continued to add new levels of interactivity and transactional capabilities to their services," said Vivienne Jupp, managing partner for global e-government services for Accenture and co-author of the report.

She has seen PSI-like approaches used by other countries, such as the United Kingdom and Ireland. The U.K.'s Government Gateway, for instance, allows transaction requests coming through a central gateway to be routed to the relevant department.

"Obviously, you have to get buy-in from a number of agencies, but once it's done, it then can be used by a myriad of government departments," Jupp said. "They can be redeveloped once and be reused by all the different government departments and by the citizens."

Tan Swee Hua, director of the electronic services division for Singapore's Infocomm Development Authority.

(Washington Technology photo by Olivier Douliery)

The country plans to have 1,800 e-services running by the end of 2002, or about 93 percent of all the services marked for online.

Project: Singapore's Public Service Infrastructure

Agency: Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore Partners

Partners:

  • Integrator: National Computer Systems Pte Ltd., Singapore

  • Portal: Ecquaria Ltd., Singapore

Goal

To have all appropriate government services for citizens and businesses online by 2005.

Obstacle

A large rollout of government services may produce redundancy, incompatibilities and general confusion, especially given the ambitious goal.

Solution

An infrastructure that consolidates many commonly used back-end
services, such as payment gateways and authentication, that agencies
can use to offer services through a centralized portal.

Payoff

Thanks to this unified infrastructure, the project is ahead of schedule. The country plans to have 1,800 e-services running by the end of 2002, or about 93 percent of all the services marked for online.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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