Cheow Hoe Chan, Government Chief Innovation Officer of Singapore, on user-centered design
Chan Cheow Hoe has been the Government Chief Information Officer/Assistant Chief Executive of Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) of Singapore since his appointment to the position in 2014; he oversees the Singapore government’s central information technology systems and infrastructure, and drives the development and delivery of innovative public services.
With over two decades’ worth of extensive experience in IT development and systems management, most recently as an executive at one of the largest conglomerates in Indonesia, Chan’s expertise is in leading organizations through transformational change.
“It’s about reducing frictions that citizens will encounter when dealing with government; it’s also about becoming more anticipatory,” Chan responded when asked about his work for the IDA.
According to Chan, the IDA covers “everything from running IT from an operation point of view, to infrastructure, to cybersecurity, to analytics, to policy.”
Recently, the IDA has built an app called “MyResponder,” in collaboration with the Singapore Civil Defence Force, which uses a large network of digital volunteers to help reach nearby cardiac arrest victims within 400 m of their location, oftentimes before an ambulance arrives. According to Chan, “many lives have been saved by the app.”
In similar ways, Chan sees huge opportunities for progress in implementing meaningful, innovative public services that focuses on the experience of the services’ users.
“When I came in, it was very much what I would call an ‘inside-out’ attitude — focused on what they want to do, rather than what the citizens want,” said Chan. “So when I came in, we spent a lot of time to say, ‘It’s important to understand what the customer wants — looking from the outside-in. And because of that, our philosophies are more about citizen-centricity.”
He strongly emphasized the need for a greater implementation of user-centered design in the civic space.
In addition to building digital services such as SingPass — a single-identification mechanism which makes citizens’ interaction with digital government services in the country more efficient — the Singapore IDA funds programs to help older people, the underprivileged, and the mentally and physically disabled get digitally connected and use technology to better their lives.
“One thing I always tell people: In the public sector, you can’t choose your customer. In the private sector you can, focusing on customers that have the most economic value to you,” said Chan. “But when you come into the government, you realize that you have to deal with everyone — from the very digitally inclined people, to the people that find it very difficult to even log in to a computer. So whatever you launch is never a case of one-size-fits-all — user-experience design is crucial.”
Despite the obstacles still ahead in modernizing government technology, Chan is optimistic about the future: “All my friends said I was crazy when I said I was going to work in government, because they felt I wouldn’t get anything done; but when I came in I was really surprised by how much we got done in two years. I want to demonstrate that all these things are possible in government.”