SINGAPORE (Oct 2): Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong highlighted four main areas that the government will focus on as it works on several projects to renew its IT systems amid Singapore’s Smart Nation drive.

As keen and early adopters of technology, the government has over the years built many legacy IT systems in various agencies. Over time, however, updates are required along with modifications and fixes. This has resulted in more difficulties in system maintenance, says Lee at the inaugural Stack 2018 Developer Conference organised by the Government Technology Agency of Singapore (GovTech).

According to Lee, the first step in the renewal process will involve a re-engineering of the government. This means new technologies must be introduced to develop solutions for new problems, he says.

Referring to the parking.sg app which was launched last year, Lee says the app has helped motorists do away with parking coupons and pay electronically for as long as they want to park. They also do not have to rush back to add another coupon.

“With technology, we can go beyond tweaking existing ways of doing things, to reduce bureaucracy and simplify the paperwork and verification procedures,” says Lee.

The technology for these applications are usually not complex, but the re-engineering and redesign of processes require much more work and a deep understanding of the end user’s perspective and psychology.

So, a lot of work has yet to be done on this front.

Secondly, existing IT infrastructure has to be revamped to fully exploit the potential of new technology, says Lee.

Take cloud technology for example. Although the technology has gained widespread adoption, nearly all of Singapore’s government IT systems are located on-premise. This is because the government systems were built when cloud technology did not exist.

But before the government can implement this technology, it must think about security and data protection which is the third major consideration.

“So the question for the government is not whether we do it but to what extent we can use the cloud, and how we can overcome the problems and minimise the risks,” says Lee.

As for systems that cannot go onto the commercial cloud, the government may have to design and build its own government cloud.

“Cybersecurity is a long and unending journey. Our cyber defences will never be absolutely impregnable against those who wish to do us harm. We must continually strike the right balance between security and usability,” says Lee, pointing to the recent hacking of SingHealth’s IT system which saw 1.5 million outpatient records stolen.

The incident has led the government to redouble its efforts to reinforce cybersecurity, adds Lee.

Finally, by leveraging on past work done by engineers, new systems could be built without reinventing the wheel. And this can fundamentally transform how the government develops its software and applications.

In light of this, the government will be building the Singapore Government Technology Stack (SGTS), a suite of common software components that will be used in application development.

This will help bring about reusable software, which will run much faster but at a fraction of the cost.