This article was originally published on 15 Dec 2023 on govinsider.asia
The 2020s began with a global pandemic that would define digital government trends: the new GovTech was “CovTech”. During this period, governments prioritised the rollout of online services and transactions, establishing online sources of truth, and digital health efforts.
Since then, what new focus areas emerged in 2023? #GovInsiderWrapsItUp and highlights the five trends that have dominated the digital government scene in Asia-Pacific this year.
1. Artificial intelligence
Everywhere we turned this year, AI was at the forefront of digital government developments.
This was particularly true in Singapore, which has been rolling out AI in chatbots, managing port traffic, and in productivity tools for the civil servants. Recently, the Government expanded its machine learning innovation platform to support more agencies in developing AI and ML capabilities using a standard set of tools. The country's new national AI strategy has also prioritised developing AI to meet Smart Nation priorities.
The country has big plans to become an “AI-forward nation”, highlighted Jacqueline Poh, Managing Director of the Economic Development Board at the AWS Public Sector Day Singapore. Generative AI applications are also taking off in the American public sector, highlighted speakers at the AWS Public Sector Summit in Washington D.C., this year.
But AI in public services will require civil service leaders to practise values like empathy and accountability, according to the Australian Government. Thought leaders from the SMU Centre of AI and Data Governance also warned about the unique challenges that public servants will have to monitor when using tools like generative AI.
Singapore has taken on a leading role in nurturing ethical AI through its AI Verify Foundation initiative, which plans to tap on open source to develop AI testing capabilities, said Dr Ong Chen Hui, Assistant Chief Executive of Business Technology, IMDA to GovInsider.
2. Digital sovereignty
Next, concerns around digital sovereignty have become more pressing this year.
In response, government agencies, such as Singapore’s Centre for Strategic Infocomm Technologies, are adopting sovereign cloud solutions developed by private sector players.
Singapore’s Smart Nation and Digital Government Group became the first customer to tap on AWS Dedicated Local Zones, enabling the country to run more sensitive workloads on the cloud while meeting stringent data isolation and security requirements.
The definition of digital sovereignty has also evolved. Rather than just data residency alone, digital sovereignty includes retaining control over encryption keys and having full oversight of the software stack through the use of open source, limiting dependence on third-party proprietary software.
In fact, data residency in the private sector can lead to high costs and reduce trade. This is why Japan has been driving the “Data Free Flow with Trust” initiative, which aims to introduce an international framework for cross-border data transfers undergirded by shared principles.
Software-as-a-Solution (SaaS) services that offer to standardise operations across agencies have emerged in prominence too.
Singapore’s Government Technology Agency has announced a goal to adopt more SaaS in the coming year, allowing agencies to adopt ready-made, subscription-based software to perform operational tasks.
Governments can ensure that such solutions are secure by monitoring access and control and ensuring that data residency requirements are met, says Chetan Sansare, Senior Director for Security and Regulatory Compliance for APAC, Salesforce.
Sandboxes have become important tools for agencies to trial new digital government projects with private sector partners.
Singapore has also partnered with Google Cloud to accelerate the country’s national AI strategy. The Government also led the adoption of generative AI solutions in both the private and public sectors with its AI Trailblazers initiative, which enabled organisations to access Google’s AI tools through innovation sandboxes.
Meanwhile, Indonesia’s new GovTech unit, state-owned enterprise Perum Peruri, has launched a sandbox for innovators and digital ecosystem enablers to develop digital government solutions, encompassing services like digital identity and digital payments.
Singapore’s digital government sandbox, the Tech Acceleration Lab initiative, is now being rolled out to help companies accelerate products for the private sector as well. Since its inception in 2021, the sandbox has supported 46 companies in successfully testing and deploying products for the government through short-term access to the government cloud.
Finally, the appropriate design of public services continues to be a key factor determining the success of digital government projects. Good design can help ensure that services remain inclusive and targeted.
Singapore’s service centres, which help less tech-savvy Singaporeans access digital government services, are currently being redesigned to better empower citizens to use such services independently.
Similarly, Bangladesh has designed their services to be available through both physical and digital touchpoints to ensure last-mile inclusion. San Francisco adopts a philosophy of data minimisation to ensure services are designed in line with citizen preferences.
Meanwhile, design thinking continues to play a role in designing public services, like parks, to better cater to Singapore’s ageing population. The country is also prioritising design thinking in education for tomorrow’s workforce.
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