Singapore government continues to make progress on its shift to the cloud

Singapore government continues to make progress on its shift to the cloud
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Image: Chris Duckett/ZDNet

It has been just over six years since the Singapore government began to look at technology differently. For Chan Cheow Hoe, Singapore government’s chief digital technology officer, he believes it has delivered some significant — and positive — changes so far.

“IT was very much just a small support base for what government does,” he said, but these days technology has become “front and centre and not just play backstage as far as government is concerned”.

As a testament to that, the IT team within the Singapore government has grown from just seven people to a group of 800 engineers and developers over that period.

At the same time, the Singapore government is ploughing at its plans to transition 70% of workloads to the commercial cloud.

Chan, who also concurrently serves as the deputy chief executive of the Government Technology Agency of Singapore (GovTech), said the government’s decision to shift to a commercial cloud was sparked by the realisation that monolithic and vertically built systems did not cater to citizens.

“The sad thing is that government was spending hundreds of millions of dollars on huge projects of system integrators, and many of these projects were failing quite badly in terms of delivery, quality, and time to market,” Chan said, speaking during the digital Gartner 2020 IT Symposium/XPO APAC last week.

Chan believes the transition to the cloud was made possible partly by the shift in how government classifies data.

“For the longest time, most government classification systems have been based on national security … but the same system has been used by government to classify everything else, and that’s where the problem starts,” he said.

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“You realise that actually most of government data do not have national security implications; they have privacy implications … of course, I would concede the fact that if the data is national security implications then I think they should be stored differently. We have the infrastructure for them.

“But if you look through the entire government system, you’ll realise that, at least 70-80% of all the data has very little national security implications … so we kind of broke that deadlock over a period of three years.

“Now, we are merrily going along and adopting the cloud cycle, and getting people to be a lot more sophisticated about using cloud.”

The Singapore government is currently training 30,000 civil servants on using data and how to do it within its self-service API platform, called Apex, which is underpinned by the government’s cloud-based data architecture featuring clean and verified core data.

“All of a sudden people started realising how important an infrastructure like that is. In the past, most government agencies had to request for data, get approvals, and then a vendor would probably do an FTP transfer to them, and that could take six to nine months,” Chan continued. “Today, we’ve built all these APIs and people can just request for [the data], and if it’s approved by the so-called data producing agency, they can just open up the API and there you go.”  

Chan also detailed that the Singapore government has been building out its tech talent pipeline.

Some of the initiatives have included introducing technology boot camps and internships in high schools, as well as providing scholarships and graduate programs for university students where they have the opportunity to build technology that contributes to the public sector.

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“If you don’t get top talent in your force, you won’t be able to motivate good people to join you and you won’t be able to keep developing your capabilities,” Chan said.

The Singapore government is also focused on maintaining a relationship with industry. 

“Community development is very important. We have this thing called Stack and Stack X whereby we bring the ecosystem together very often, almost every month … and this is really the key to keep people engaged with the community and working together as one,” Chan said.

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