Singapore Government looks to accelerate digitalisation and tackle COVID-19 with $3.5 billion ICT spend increase

The Singapore Government has announced it will spend $3.5 billion on information and communications technology in 2020 to accelerate digitalisation and support businesses.

This is an increase of 30% from 2019’s spend of $2.7 billion. The money will be used to help citizens and workers in Singapore resume normal activities, said the Government Technology Agency (GovTech) in a press release on Monday 8 June.

Mr Kok Ping Soon, the Chief Executive of GovTech, said: “As we take on the new normal of COVID-19, we are re-engineering our back-end digital infrastructure, which underpins the delivery of front-end government digital services to citizens, businesses and public officers.”

The movement to digitally transform Singapore has been going on for quite some time by developing plans for the Future Economy and investing heavily to upgrade workers through SkillsFuture, digitalising the public and private sectors and building innovation capabilities. 

Singapore’s Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, addressed the nation on Sunday 7 June: “All this has enabled us to stand out in Asia and the world. Nobody can predict what exactly the world will look like after COVID-19 but however things turn out, these Future Economy strategies will stand us in good stead.”

Singapore’s modernised digital infrastructure helps to fight COVID-19

The Singapore Government’s investment in digitalisation, focusing on leveraging cloud and modernising ICT infrastructure, has been instrumental in the country’s technological response to the pandemic.

By using cloud infrastructure, GovTech engineers were able to build the TraceTogether contact tracing application and wearable technology. 

The wearable technology known as the TraceTogether token has been met with controversy, as some online have labelled this a “GPS tracking device”.

Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, who is in charge of Singapore’s Smart Nation Initiative, reassured users in a press conference: “It is not a tracking device. There is no GPS chip on the device. There isn’t even any Internet or mobile telephone connectivity.”

The data on the device is ‘only bluetooth proximity data’, which is encrypted and stays on the device. The data is only uploaded to the Ministry of Health if a user tests positive for COVID-19.

Along with TraceTogether, the Government has also used digital infrastructures and artificial intelligence to roll out services, including SafeEntry for a National Digital Check-in System, MaskGoWhere to help Singaporeans find mask collection points and SPOTON to support safe social distancing operations using an AI-powered robot.

GovTech said: “By modernising its ICT infrastructure, the Government enabled the large number of public officers to continue to serve the public by working from home seamlessly, aided by digital tools.”

The pandemic accelerated digitalisation plans in Singapore

The COVID-19 outbreak has brought forward ICT projects by agencies, including tech solutions to the pandemic as well as Sport Singapore’s ActiveSG Circle, which was launched in April 2020.

The Active SG Circle initiative looks to elevate the sporting industry in Singapore by offering a ‘virtual super sport club’ with a ‘rich repository to inspire and enable citizens to live better and maintain their active lifestyles’ beyond the pandemic.

On top of this, the Singapore Government will carry forward digitalisation for the whole nation by investing heavily in projects like the National Digital Identity and Moments of Life, which will integrate public services onto a single digital platform.

Migration of eligible ICT systems onto commercial cloud will continue as part of the five-year Government on Commercial Cloud initiative that began in 2018. The Digital Workplace Programme will also encourage modernisation of ICT infrastructures, which hopes to empower public officers.

Supporting the digital transformation of Singapore’s SMEs

As part of the Government’s increase in ICT spending, small and medium-sized enterprises will be eligible to participate in 80% of these potential procurement opportunities.

The Government will put up bulk tenders with a projected value of $1.2 billion with the hopes of broadening the chance for SMEs to participate in and win ICT contracts with government agencies.

GovTech has sought to streamline and improve SMEs access to these opportunities by working with the Ministry of Finance to incorporate dynamic contracting and shortening the ICT procurement process.

Bulk tenders will include services such as User Experience Design, Agile Development, Application Development, Data Science, AI and more.

In the last financial year, SMEs were awarded nearly 70% of the total ICT contracts.

SimplifyNext was awarded the robotics process automation bulk tender for the whole of the Singapore Government. Their work looked to help customers deploy software that automated business processes.

“Unlike larger companies, SMEs like us have limited resources and we used to spend more time trying to win contracts than to deliver them,” said Mayank Gupta, the Managing Director of SimplifyNext.

The bulk tender has since helped SimplifyNext open many doors for the company to do business with Government agencies.

Strengthening the future tech community and digital economy

GovTech has set up a number of initiatives to strengthen the technology community.

The Singapore Government Developer Portal has been soft-launched in order to help developers learn more about GovTech’s products and how they can work to co-create digital solutions with the agency.

GovTech said: “The portal will be a platform for the tech community to engage and share ideas on technology and their possible applications for public good.”

The technology community will also be given the chance to strengthen their engagement through more STACK-X meet-ups, which focus on topics like Cybersecurity, Cloud Strategy, Data Science, User Experience Design and Software Engineering.

To further develop the community and accelerate the pace of digitalisation in Singapore, GovTech is actively recruiting fresh graduates and experienced technology professionals as part of the SGUnited Jobs initiative.

There are currently more than 400 vacancies available in roles such as software engineers, digital business analysts, cybersecurity specialists, data scientists, AI engineers and infrastructure specialists.

This search for talent will be enhanced by GovTech’s five-week recruitment drive known as TechHunt to find ‘applicants who believe in tech for public good’.

Overall, the Government’s ICT expenditure will focus on five key areas to accelerate digitalisation in Singapore:

  • Development of new tech tools to respond to COVID-19
  • Development of citizen- and business-centric digital services
  • Development of ICT systems on cloud
  • Modernisation of government ICT infrastructure
  • Use of data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI) and sensors within the public sector.

More details on the Government’s digitalisation efforts and areas for spending will be provided from Wednesday 10 June onwards.

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