Moves to speed up smart nation projects

A customer paying with Android Pay, Google’s mobile payment and digital wallet service, at a ToastBox outlet.
A customer paying with Android Pay, Google’s mobile payment and digital wallet service, at a ToastBox outlet.PHOTO: ST FILE

GovTech and two technology planning units to come under PMO to improve coordination

Smart nation projects such as e-identity, e-payment and an islandwide wireless sensor network have been earmarked for some "turbocharging" following an announcement yesterday to fold a government agency and two technology planning units under the Prime Minister's Office (PMO).

From May 1, the Government Technology Agency (GovTech) - the 1,800 people-strong crack team behind tech transformation in the public sector - will come under the PMO. GovTech is currently a statutory board under the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI).

Whole-of-government technology planning teams from the Ministry of Finance and MCI will also come under the PMO. The teams will join the Smart Nation Programme Office - formed in late 2014 to spearhead smart nation project planning - to form a new Smart Nation and Digital Government Office (SNDGO), which will have a combined headcount of 40.

Both GovTech and SNDGO will report to a new Smart Nation and Digital Government Group (SNDGG).

"In this way, we will be more coordinated and move forward on the key digital government (and smart nation) programmes in the coming year or two," said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.

He added that the reorganisation will provide better central management and accountability, and will have "a greater ability to pull together all the government agencies".

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said last month at the annual Camp Sequoia tech summit that Singapore was not moving as fast as it ought to on digital transformation.

A ministerial committee, chaired by DPM Teo, will oversee the new SNDGG. The committee's deputy chairman is Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim. The committee also comprises Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung and Minister of State for Communications and Information Janil Puthucheary.

GovTech chairman Ng Chee Khern will be Permanent Secretary (Smart Nation and Digital Government) while continuing his current role as Permanent Secretary (Defence Development).

Describing the reorganisation as a way of "turbocharging" smart nation projects, Dr Balakrishnan said: "Over the next year, I hope to see major progress in three signature programmes: digital identity, e-payments and a national sensor system."

In July last year, GovTech engaged digital security systems maker Gemalto to trial a mobile digital ID system in the healthcare and banking sectors to securely identify every Internet user, just like the NRIC does.

On the e-payment front, a Central Addressing Scheme is slated for launch by the middle of this year to allow fund transfers to one's mobile number without having to enter a bank account number.

Meanwhile, GovTech is working with the Land Transport Authority to test the concept of a national sensor network for collecting and aggregating all sorts of data, from traffic to temperature and humidity. The project could see sensors deployed on 95,000 street lights islandwide.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 21, 2017, with the headline 'Moves to speed up smart nation projects'. Print Edition | Subscribe