New agency GovTech to lead tech push in public sector

GovTech aims to harness latest technology to make life easier for residents

Minister for Communications and Information Dr Yaacob Ibrahim (centre) and Minister of State for Ministry of Communications and Information Chee Hong Tat (second from left) touring the exhibitions during the launch of GovTech on Oct 7, 2016. ST PHOTO: KELVIN LIM

Next year, bank customers may no longer have to print and fill in physical documents. Instead, a digital vault of their personal data will do all the tedious work for them.

Also on the cards is a self-driving wheelchair which, if developed successfully, will help manpower- strapped hospitals channel resources elsewhere. These are part of the cutting-edge plans of a new government agency, which aims to harness the latest technology to make life easier for residents.

The Government Technology Agency, or GovTech, was launched yesterday. Its brain bank includes 1,800 data scientists, technologists and engineers. Said Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim: "Singapore must remain forward-looking and embrace technological change to realise our vision of becoming a smart nation."

The self-driving wheelchair, for instance, will be among the first of its kind in the world. It follows a pre-mapped route to take patients safely from one part of a hospital to another. Another project is a smart walking stick that can send an alert to the caregiver if the user falls.

GovTech was formed after the official merger of the Infocomm Development Authority and the Media Development Authority. It will drive change mainly in the public sector; the merged entity - the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) launched last Friday - will work mainly with the private sector on the digital front.

GovTech will focus on six key areas: application development, data science, government infrastructure, geospatial technology, cyber security and smart sensors.

In the area of data science, the agency has been working on a dashboard called Pulse of the Economy, where high-frequency data - such as electricity consumption and the number of exits from buses and train stations during peak hours - are compared. These can provide non-traditional economic indicators to supplement traditional ones like gross domestic product.

For instance, if electricity and public transport use at an industrial park both fall over the same period, it is probably an indication that business activities have slowed down.

On reducing the need for form filling, the plan is to extend MyInfo, a government-backed digital vault of citizens' personal data launched in May, to the banking industry next year to prove that it works.

Bank customers can give consent for their income tax statements and public housing ownership data to be pulled digitally from MyInfo, which has 100,000 sign-ups so far.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 08, 2016, with the headline New agency GovTech to lead tech push in public sector. Subscribe