Singapore is doubling down on its "cloud-first" efforts to better develop digital applications and services for citizens.
In late 2018, the Government announced a five-year plan to migrate most of its information technology (IT) systems from on-premise infrastructure to the commercial cloud to speed up the delivery and improve the quality of services for citizens and businesses here.
Since then, it has moved more than 150 systems classified "restricted" and below to the commercial cloud. This year, over $870 million worth of contracts have been earmarked to double the number of systems on the commercial cloud.
One of the key benefits of the cloud is its ability to connect a wider ecosystem of partners, including users and developers, with government agencies.
Leveraging the cloud capabilities and services of commercial cloud systems also helps the Government to develop applications and services for citizens in a faster and more scalable way, said Mr Kevin Ng, director of Core Operations, Development Environment and eXchange (CODEX) at the Government Technology Agency (GovTech).
Government agencies can access a global ecosystem of ready-made solutions to add advanced features to their digital services, instead of trying to create a brand-new solution from scratch. Application testing and deployment can also be automated and done in real-time, speeding up the delivery of high-quality digital services to citizens and businesses.
Ahead in the cloud
The Inland Revenue Interactive Network (IRIN), the main infocomm technology (ICT) system that underpins Singapore's tax administration and revenue collection service, is an example of how migrating to the commercial cloud can help to improve the agility of government digital services.
Used by close to 5 million entities and 2,000 officers yearly, IRIN is being updated from a second- to third-generation system to improve the experiences of taxpayers and officers.
The redeveloped system will be hosted on the government commercial cloud through collaboration with GovTech, while DevOps tools and structure will be adopted to increase automation.
Key changes planned for the system's infrastructure include a shift from its current monolithic architecture to microservices - independent deployment of functions and services instead of as a single unit - for scalability, agility and reliability.
When completed, the redeveloped system will enable taxpayers to complete their tax obligations, from assessment to payment, in a single sitting. Corporate taxpayers' tax submission processes will also be simplified and more integrated with their systems and accounting software.
Other systems that will be hosted on the commercial cloud include the Infocomm Media Development Authority's Integrated Regulatory Info System (IRIS) and PUB's smart water meter programme.
IRIS is scheduled to launch in 2021. It will eliminate the need for infocomm and media industry players to make physical submissions of their content for classification and provide updates on application statuses, among other features.
The latter will see PUB install Singapore's first smart water meters in 2021. PUB will be able to read household water usage readings wirelessly and provide households with information on water-saving adjustments early via a customer portal.
Building blocks for development
To support the increased use of the commercial cloud in developing government IT systems, GovTech will enhance the Singapore Government Tech Stack (SGTS).
The centralised platform that enables quick and efficient deployment of digital services to the Government will offer a suite of services and tools that public agencies can use to maintain the consistency and quality of applications.
Mr Bernard Tan, director of Cybersecurity Consulting Services at GovTech, added that as a centralised platform SGTS will be able to ensure that cybersecurity and data security measures are incorporated into IT systems development.
This is especially important with government and citizens' data stored on commercial cloud systems.
"To support end-to-end application development in the cloud, the Government adopts the security-by-design principle that builds security into every step of the development. Furthermore, the confidentiality and integrity of the Government and citizens' data are protected via a common cybersecurity technology stack," he said.
"Moving to the commercial cloud also allows agencies to utilise cloud-native security services to enhance security, as well as modernise and secure their deployment, while achieving higher resiliency through cloud-native auto-scaling capabilities."
The Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board's eExam2 system is an example of a project that will tap the SGTS, using components such as the Secure Hybrid Integrated Pipeline (SHIP) and Hive Agile Testing Solutions for faster and more secured development, and leverage best practices for automated testing.
The eExam2 system will also be hosted on the government commercial cloud, allowing the system to automatically adjust its capability levels to cater to higher usage during peak examination periods.
SEAB has implemented electronic exams (e-exams) for oral assessments in all language subjects since 2013, with video clips used as stimuli to evaluate students' oral skills. Computer-based written exams were also used for some subjects.
These e-exams are supported by SEAB's eExam system, which allows assessment specialists to set e-exam papers and mark them and for students to submit answers electronically.
The eExam2 system is an enhanced version and is slated to be ready by March 2022. It will allow teachers to better gauge students' critical thinking and better assess their application skills through the use of multimedia content, such as videos, simulations and interactive tasks.
The system will also provide more support for students with learning needs and will be compatible with most operating systems and devices. In the future, it could be integrated with artificial intelligence to automate marking and generate insights to improve teaching.
More will be done to provide opportunities for the private sector to support the cloud-first drive.
This year, GovTech awarded 17 companies in a co-development tender to support public agencies embarking on agile-based projects by leveraging the SGTS - with requirements to develop applications that can be hosted on the cloud.
One of the companies, Ufinity, an IT solutions engineering company, welcomed the focus on government-industry collaboration.
The company's chief executive Tung Teck Lee said: "We are glad to have the continued opportunity to work collaboratively with government agencies on various agile projects to contribute to the nation's various digital initiatives.
"We are also excited that small and medium-sized enterprises will have more access to various procurement opportunities."
GovTech has also outlined a broad plan to modernise application development practices.
"This is necessary to overcome many existing application challenges and build capabilities required to support the delivery of our Digital Government initiatives," said Mr Tan Eng Pheng, assistant chief executive of GovTech's services group.
For this financial year, the agency will focus on promoting Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery (CI/CD), where development teams make and deliver changes to applications' code frequently to improve them and test automation and software reusability.
Agencies' application tenders will also increasingly require firms to use modern application development practices, the SHIP CI/CD platform, and SGTS.
"Companies should keep a lookout for opportunities to apply these modern practices when delivering bespoke application systems for government agencies," said Mr Tan.
This article is part of a series by GovTech on the re-engineering of the Government's operating system to provide faster and better public services.