Why app for new parents is taking longer to develop

Dr Janil Puthucheary said the Moments of Life app is taking longer to develop than other Smart Nation projects as there are legacy systems to be replaced.
Dr Janil Puthucheary said the Moments of Life app is taking longer to develop than other Smart Nation projects as there are legacy systems to be replaced.PHOTO: LIN ZHAOWEI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

By June next year, registering the birth of your child at the hospital will trigger the sending of admission data for the Baby Bonus scheme, and information on infant care and kindergarten entry, to new parents.

Such an anticipatory service - which involves the heavy analysis of citizens' personal data from across multiple government agencies - will come in the form of a Moments of Life (MOL) app.

First announced in April last year, the app lets parents skip the hassle of going to different agencies to fill in forms.

But the app is taking longer to develop than other Smart Nation projects as it exists at the intersection of multiple policies and there are legacy systems to be replaced, said Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information Janil Puthucheary.

Comparing the progress of Singapore's five key Smart Nation projects for the first time, Dr Janil said in an interview that the MOL app is "the least mature" of the five due to an extensive amount of re-engineering of existing processes.

"If we were a new country with no e-government legacy, we would be able to roll it out very quickly," said Dr Janil, who is one of the five ministers who oversee the newly formed Smart Nation and Digital Government Office.

"The reality is, we have a high level of e-government services. We can't turn all of them off. We have to transition all of them very carefully to ensure that services, security and trust in the system are maintained."

 
 

Forerunners of such anticipatory services include New Zealand and Estonia, which have launched predictive services for new parents.

Earlier this year, New Zealand also launched an end-of-life service to help people wind up their affairs and organise a funeral when there is a death in the family.

"Really, it is an opportunity at the backend to break down silos and have proper data-sharing among different agencies," Dr Janil said, adding that other MOL services will be introduced over time.

The other four Smart Nation projects previously announced are for a national digital identity, e-payments, a sensor network and smart urban mobility - with all of them already making some progress.

For instance, in May, MyInfo, a government-backed digital vault of personal data, was extended to four banks to allow customers to auto-fill forms for 19 digital services, including the opening of bank accounts.

And by the year end, all 3.3 million SingPass users will be automatically enrolled in MyInfo, paving the way for the creation of a national digital identity for every citizen.

Dr Janil also said Smart Nation projects are not a "should do" but a "must do", because Singapore is highly connected and is thus exposed to rapid changes around the world, making it the first to feel any impact.

"For us to remain competitive and continue to be a land of opportunity, we must keep reinventing ourselves," he said.

Asked about the criticism that Singapore has an "education of yesterday" problem that has to be tackled for it to stay relevant, given that coding is not a mandatory subject in Singapore - like it is in Britain, Dr Janil disagreed.

"Learning one coding language does not make you an expert at another coding language. What's far more important is to learn the basics - computational thinking... critical analysis and problem solving," he said.

"They are already an integral part of our mathematics and science curriculum, which is one of the reasons we have the success we've had so far."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 11, 2017, with the headline 'Why app for new parents is taking longer to develop'. Print Edition | Subscribe