Exciting times in civil service amid technological changes

Smart Nation Programme Office head Tan Kok Yam was one of 83 Administrative Service officers promoted on April 6.
Smart Nation Programme Office head Tan Kok Yam was one of 83 Administrative Service officers promoted on April 6.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

SINGAPORE - To get a better idea of what current technology can do, Smart Nation Programme Office (SNPO) head Tan Kok Yam, 42, took an online course on programming language Swift last year.

The engineer by training said it helped him appreciate how fast technology moves.

"I may not be the best programmer, but I know that with common libraries like Github (where people can upload coding for others to review), many things can be done very fast. It adds to the urgency and the understanding that the old method of designing IT systems doesn't work today," said Mr Tan, one of 83 Administrative Service officers promoted on Thursday (AprIL 6).

The SNPO was formed under the Prime Minister's Office in 2014 to help Singapore go digital. It will be part of the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office from May 1.

His experience highlights two challenges the public service faces.

First, the need to be more agile. "Technology marches to a different beat. You don't change housing, tax, national service policies regularly or so fast," he said.

"But if you're too slow and too deliberate, by the time you agree to move, technology will have moved somewhere else already."

Second, getting a pool of talented officers.

But excitement is spreading as more agencies use tech in new ways, said Mr Tan, who has worked in the defence, education and national development ministries.

He called the national network of sensors Singapore is working on "an engineer's dream" as it means anything with a power source can be a wireless node. For example, a lamp post can also be used for better traffic management.

If Singapore can make the best use of its existing infrastructure, the possibilities are endless. He said: "That's exciting."