Your team, Open Government Products, with the other? The biggest app we have right now is FormSG. I learned a lot about your initiatives, your challenges especially in the beginning, how you overcome that and also make these innovations coming up out of a Singapore government. So maybe for those of us, the listeners, who are not aware of some of the innovations coming from OGP, I know you mentioned some of them already throughout this conversation. We’ll do a small experiment. People are the most important aspects in any software development team or tech startup company. It has accessibility features, and things like that. Now it’s not perfect. So we’re close to 50,000 forms digitized right now. Ailun Xiong, Hongyi Li, Hans Westlund, and Youngjian Pu (2017), “Social networks, job satisfaction and job search behaviour in the Chinese labour market,” China Economic Review, 43, 1-15. If we want to capitalize on the progress that the internet provides, we need to be clearer in separating out and classifying our things, so that we keep our most important stuff protected, but we make progress on a lot of the things that actually aren’t that critical security-wise. And the reason for that is because, like we said before, a lot of the regulations require old web standards and stuff, which were best at the time, but not so good anymore. Start as small as possible, and do that small thing, and once you’ve done the small thing, then you can look into doing bigger things. But because tech moves so quickly, the regulations just hadn’t caught up. ... Covid19: Delisted PCI Limited Awarded Tender To Build TraceTogether Tokens. So let’s see, where should I start? It’s hard to describe, but let me see, let me do my best. Basically government infrastructure costs between, I would say ten to a hundred times more expensive than private sector infrastructure easily. So you take the whole government and digitize it. Hongyi, for one, had initially thought he would go into economics or join the private sector. I went back to Google for a couple of years after graduating. The current limiting factor in societies today is thus not technology capability, but technological understanding. When I got the Data.gov team, that was about four of us. But that really changed my mindset, because I was really amazed that even as an intern, there was so much real work that there was to do. We tried a whole bunch of different things. You need to be able to coordinate. There’s no such thing as a tech company anymore. We can’t change the policy. And you need to reconcile these.” There’s still quite a bit of friction in terms of working through all these problems that we need to resolve. There’s like sort of security, and like scale, and different assurances, and all these other things. The idea here is that the way we work is that, when we build a product, we try to generalize it so that more people can benefit from that product. There may also be a role for more systemic changes. And the thing that was most surprising to me was that even at Google, people didn’t have everything figured out. The reason why we have so much digitization, and the reason why tech can take off, is because computers are cheap. That you build this baseline of tools where governments, not just our government, but governments all around the world can use each other’s tools to run better societies. We’re about 42 people now. It’s pretty good. Because otherwise you get stuck in a deadlock, where we can’t move because we can’t, it’s too risky to move everything all at once. Find the specific use case, solve the problem, and then try to generalise it, and productize it so that more people can benefit. Li Hongyi: [00:31:39] The big thing that we need, that we’re trying to do right now is just sort of build familiarity. And I was thinking about leaving the government, because alright, I’ve done what I can. Not that the cloud is more vulnerable. The big thing that we need is to build familiarity. They were not endorsed. Henry Suryawirawan: [00:25:38] I see. The team’s grown a lot since then. It was the eve of Lunar New Year in January 2020. Henry Suryawirawan: So maybe this is also a good time for you to share about your team, which is Open Government Products. It’s pretty fast. It’s pretty straight forward. We were sort of making apps here and there, but it always felt like there was this whatever progress you made, it was against this tide of bureaucracy and like sort of incumbency that just didn’t want to change. And within GovTech, we have a lot of subdivisions. The largest team we have is six, which is an internal data sharing platform. The QR code generator that you see all over the place, that was from a hackathon. And there’re about 76 million clicks on links so far. If you don’t step up accordingly, you’re just going to get left behind. You sort of have this backlog of new things that you’re trying. And the reason why we have so much digitization, and the reason why tech can take off, is because computers are cheap. Trekking in Nepal and tours Operators takes you that further way to guarantee for Treks Himalaya that you has an unforgettable Trek in Nepal that you have been dream with Acute trek is part of your choice for Nepal Tours.We have your choose of Nepal Trekking for 3 days to 30 or more days it depending of your timetable, sleep under lodges or tent. The app was launched in March 2020 and has since been downloaded by more than 2 million users. A big part of what we’re trying to do right now is not just about building products, but also sharing how we operate, and talking about how we do hackathons, about how we run project meetings, about how we do user studies. Interesting enough, he said: "Today we are going to learn a lot about the country of my birth. OGP is meant to be an experimental unit, which means we take the other direction, which means that we start from a modern tech company position, and then try to figure how to backwards engineer that to the government. One of the things that we do, as a result of this, is that compared to other government agencies, we are far more proactive in figuring out projects. The Lee family feud seems to have made the third-generation Lees determined not to go into politics. But I decided since I’m planning on leaving anyway, I might as well just write up what I want to do. Why Lee Hsien Yang Wants To Leave Singapore. Li Hongyi: [00:45:18] Thanks so much. I was supposed to just write a proposal of how we’re supposed to manage like, which vendor to sort of award the contract to. Henry Suryawirawan: [00:44:50] Yeah, I fully agree with the last one. Li Hongyi: [00:17:29] Yeah. They can spend a lot of money, but their website or their app will be terrible. Within 1.5 days, a new website was out. In order to succeed, it’s not about avoiding bugs, it’s about finding bugs as quickly as possible. This is who we are. You’re going into the ground, figuring out small opportunities proactively identifying them, and experimenting, and seeing what can work, and then going from there. Again, it’s not that the people in the government were bad. “Who does he think he is anyway? Henry Suryawirawan: Singapore I think is one of the most forefront countries in terms of digital adoption. How nice you are, how nice a place you are to work for. Even if people are very unhappy. We don’t know what effect it will have.” And you can see the deadlock forming very tightly, right? " Even the smartest people in the world don’t come up with the correct architecture or the correct design or the correct thing on the first try. You might want to take sort of extra precautionary measures. The 61% love it. And I think similarly along those lines, our focus is very much more user driven rather than top down. Hongyi is the Director of Open Government Products, a division of GovTech Singapore, where he leads an experimental team of engineers, designers, and product managers to build technology for the public good. Even the good people that you have, they’ll start leaving, because it’s a fight. I have seen it work, and I can make that happen. When I started 7 years ago, it was just me. But now, anyone who’s decent is going to go through the people, fighting the hardest for them, and you have to keep up. But most of our teams are five or less. To give you an idea, I think from a hackathon at the start of this year, we had about 25 different projects come out of it. But the problem was that the best practice was best practice in computing like 15 years ago. And I guess the last big turning point was about two years ago. They were going to Google and Amazon and in fact, Microsoft. That’s probably what we’re most famous for today still, like Parking.sg, but it’s actually one of our smaller apps that we do today. The last one I guess I’ll mention is Isomer. I encourage everyone on my team to go and share what we do. Basically government websites are not famous for being very usable. To drive these changes, GovTech and the public sector have been enthusiastic in their efforts to attract and retain a world-class, diverse tech talent pool, many of whom are Singaporeans who have returned to Singapore after gaining valuable skills abroad. But I remember there was one meeting we were at, which was a big deal where we were in a meeting with one of the ministers, and he was talking about how open data and data sharing platforms are going to be a cornerstone of our Smart Nation plan, and all that sort of thing. From there to today, that’s five years ago. It’s not something that someone came to us and told us to build. We talk to users and see what users want and need. And as we figure out what sort of practices work, how we do cloud security, how we do product testing, and things like that. Those are the key differences. We go around. Basically, the government has started moving some services towards sort of hosted solution. And this I think is our biggest selling point. He was speaking at a private funeral service held at Mandai Crematorium on 29 March 2015. It is not just about the next big industry. There’s no such thing as a tech company anymore. Cause there’s no reason why governments nowadays shouldn’t have decent websites and good digital forms. So we still belong to GovTech, but we have some flexibility on certain regulations, and we run our own comms system and email system, and things like that. We’ve digitized, I think, about 50,000 government forms. And similarly along those lines, our focus is very much more user driven rather than top down. But at the same time, running our COVID Management Systems. But we’re still part of GovTech just to be clear. Li Hongyi is Deputy Director (Data Science & Artificial Intelligence Division) at GovTech. If computers cost a hundred times more than it did today, then you’re basically doing computing like it was in 1990s, 1980s. And it’s pretty good. You can just follow the instructions. I was doing some Computer Science in some various other classes. The team is funded as a whole. All these stories that you mentioned and you share, I think it inspired me as well. We will make a lot of these little simple prototypes of ideas of things people would try out, demos of things that we could do. Do you need to do some kind of tracking with the users? The people are the most important part. Join Facebook to connect with Hongyi Li and others you may know. And that’s been pretty big. He previously attended MIT, where he obtained degrees in computer science and economics. It’s actually not that big a product in terms of head count, only like three people. I had this sort of existential crisis, you know, you go to work, you have meetings, you make slides, but you don’t really know if you’re making any progress. Henry Suryawirawan: My last question, as usual for all my guests that I have in the show, would you be able to share with us here, what are three technical leadership wisdom that you have, that you want to share with other people? There’s a whole bunch of these web forms that people do nowadays, that people use in their daily lives. And so the idea was rather than building the same website over and over again in different ways, we will just create one template. You will fail, and the idea is to fail efficiently. And we’ve done, I think fairly useful what we did, but they’re fairly well defined. At GovTech, some designers and developers recently organised an Accessibility (A11y) Awareness Week, and an internal bug bounty focused on accessibility issues. So previously all our projects we were running, they were never part of our portfolio. Maybe like Go.gov. So yeah, those were the main things we wanted to fix, like infrastructure costs, regulations, as we mentioned before, lack of technical influence in decision making, and then finally like we needed to improve our talent recruitment. You need to be able to communicate information. In this episode, I had an inspiring chat with Hongyi about the Singapore government’s challenges in adopting new tech, including some major hurdles that he needed to overcome at the beginning. Tech organizations are less about command and control, and more about relinquishing control, so that you have more brains thinking in more directions all at once. Government officers they do good work, and they handle it. But rather than building that just for MCI, we realized that mass messaging was a problem, not just for MCI. Hongyi has 4 jobs listed on their profile. and Ph.D. degrees from National Taiwan University (NTU), Taipei, Taiwan, in 2010 and 2012, respectively. We need to figure out how we coordinate across different ministries, and like, let’s say social workers, make sure they share information with each other correctly, so that the family who needs support across, let’s say Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, and Ministry of Community, you have a holistic picture of a person, and so that no one slips through the cracks. Join us in building a global network and connecting people around the world, with Singapore at its heart. Welcome to another episode of the Tech Lead Journal with me your host Henry Suryawirawan. But eventually after a year or so, we managed to get something launched. Let alone want to work for you. If this is really a cornerstone of your plan, I’m going to need more than just one person. There are some things which are a very big deal. We don’t know what effect your unit will have.” And even for an experimental unit, almost in a very ironic fashion, this was the biggest concern. If computers are expensive, if a computer costs more per month than a person, there’s no reason to digitize. Accept it, both at the technical level, at the design level, at the product level. Interesting enough, he said: "Today we are going to learn a lot about the country of my birth. The people with the best teams make the decisions and know how to win. In terms of like specific things that we do to do this. I personally think we do some pretty cool things on the team, and some pretty technically impressive stuff. We are very intentionally small in size, so that the risks are very small, and then we try things out. From there til about the end of 2018, we slowly added more and more products, and built like FormSG, and things like that. Elaborating on Parking.sg, Hongyi said the product is particularly meaningful for him as it was one of the first major apps built by the team. It has to be the whole government being, understanding that this is how modern organizations run with technology. So you need to take some effort to be part of the community, share the work that you do, and just let people know that you exist in some form. It costs you almost nothing.” It wasn’t approved straight away. It’s one of these things where I think now we’re realizing, especially during this COVID period, how important having a well functioning government is. Janice and Hongyi are two of the many software engineers, developers, product managers and designers at GovTech who are shaking up the way technology is helping to improve the lives of Singaporeans. And so we basically built a Google Forms-like solution, but tailored towards government agencies. It’s not going to be ideal for every single website’s different designs and needs. Of the 25 different projects, I think maybe 3 of them are now live as real projects, which is pretty good. I think there are a lot of interesting stuff, which I personally didn’t know about as well, and I’m sure there are many people who didn’t know how tough was it to actually start this all innovation within the government. So you take the whole government and digitize it. He enjoyed working on real-world solutions for Google’s mobile Android operating systems, that would eventually be used by millions. I have seen it work and I can make that happen. Because you can imagine that if you’re a government in, let’s say a country which doesn’t have as big a tech team or strong a tech emphasis, let’s say you’re an engineer somewhere in South America or in Europe or in Southeast Asia, and your particular government doesn’t have the resources to give you a big engineering team. This was a gap year before I came back to serve my government bond. It’s a very simple illustration of how you can get stuck. It was the fact that just it was different. The thing that was most surprising to me was that, even at Google, people didn’t have everything figured out, and these people are really smart. Like every step of it is very logical, but it forms a deadlock. I encourage the listeners to actually go check it out, open.gov.sg, if you’re interested to see more and more products coming out of this team. I think that was an issue. He also touched on Singapore government’s challenges in terms of cloud adoption and hiring engineering talent. All these big startups. But the reason why this is really important to me, because Google is sort of very famous for being this full of very smart people and very high functioning company, all of these organizational things figured out. When you have all these ideas, prototypes, you mentioned a lot of them through hackathons, or talking to the users, and all that. That was a really big turning point for me, sort of recognizing how much there was to do and how much influence you could have if you build the right things. It was still talking about setting up firewall rules, having a web server, having an application logic server, having a database, all by firewalls between them, and very strict architecture. We look around at the government and see what people are doing. Instead, it is a matter of adapting solutions we already have and applying them to our most important problems. Even at the low level, like just basic things, like bringing in really good mobile developers, really good front end engineers. Similarly for FormSG, we just used an open source library, put it together and did something from there. And I think similarly for the government. However, she chose to join GovTech because she wanted to not only immerse herself in the tech industry, but also use her skills to “make life just a little bit better for someone out there”. The long term goal is that you build this baseline of tools where governments, not just our government, but governments all around the world can use each other’s tools to run better societies. Henry Suryawirawan: [00:42:03] I fully agree with that. Henry Suryawirawan: [00:35:44] That is truly inspirational! You want people to be smarter together as a group, and optimize designs for that, as opposed to a military design, which is more about command and control. To give you sort of an idea of the team sizes we have in this. You will fail, and the idea is to fail efficiently. It just doesn’t. We’ll test to see if this works.” And they’ll say, “No, no, no, we can’t do the experiment. It has to be the whole government being, understanding that this is how modern organizations run with technology. It’s not like we go do an individual project, get the project funded, and go for it. There is how nice you are, how nice a place you are to work for. Parking.sg is about two people on it at any one time right now. Soon after that I switched doing Computer Science when I got back to school. So the first one was that, the most obvious was that our infrastructure was just too expensive. Because for a normal tech company, let’s say competing with Google. Maybe I should go back to the private sector. Because you think it will create some benefit. I think that was about 2015, 2016. I was just one guy in the government maintaining one website, and trying to keep it running as fast as possible. It’s not about avoiding failure. Is it like more churning out products? Post was not sent - check your email addresses! Even the good people that you do have, they’ll start leaving. I have never seen a project fail, because it starts too small. This is what we’re trying to get towards. It’s not something that someone came to us and told us to build. This is why we do what we do. He thought he could go to Uncle Chee Hean and complain,” complained one of my friends. We just need to be able to delineate between those two cases, between the national security kind of cases, where you do need to be almost paranoid, and then the important and privacy aware, but otherwise day to day business, where actually you can use cloud services fairly aggressively. But Isomer websites load very quickly and cost very little, because they are basically just the same template over and over again. We emphasize it very strongly. It’s not that they were bad. I hope that you will enjoy this episode, and I’m looking forward to hearing any of your comments and feedback on the social media, or you can go directly also at techleadjournal.dev/feedback. We went to find other examples of similar experimental teams in other countries, as well as in Singapore. How does it differ with other government technology initiatives? It’s just that because everyone else is stepping up their recruitment efforts, if you don’t step up accordingly, you’re just going to get left behind. It wasn’t that. Maybe critical privacy wise, but not national security wise. “It was a time when news of rising numbers of COVID-19 cases was prevalent, and nobody seemed to know how to respond to this incoming crisis. That if you took someone’s code, and you got rid of the team, within one or two years, the code will stop working, because OS updates, security flaws. So you are going two directions. I think a lot of it was just trying to explain to people the deadlock. Once you’ve established existence, then there are three things: You need to start small as far as possible. So FormSG is Google Forms for the government. Then we officially launched on July 2019. You need to be able to get information from people. The big battle in tech is not for markets, but for talent. We need to be able to delineate between the two cases, between the national security kind of cases, where you do need to be almost paranoid, and then the important and privacy aware. Kausmo (derived from the word …, In this Meet Our Expats series, we connect with Vaiva, who’s originally …, Growing up in Singapore as a teenager, Madhu Shalini Iyer shares her …, Our story has the makings of a palace intrigue – a piece …. The software is the least valuable part of a tech organization. Henry Suryawirawan: But initially when you set up this proposal before you obviously try to leave your position, before you start, what problems were you proposing to solve if you can share? You could join Google, Amazon, and get paid like literally ten to a hundred times as much, and have a great work environment. Li has previously called Singapore's courts pliant and the government litigious. We have to break the deadlock by freeing up some extra resources and doing things out of band. The product we’re most well known for is Parking.sg. We launched that a few years ago. For example, we work with MCI to build a mass WhatsApp messaging system to let people know about the COVID updates in Singapore. Because it’s a pain to do this, most people don’t bother. If other people start fighting harder for them, you’re going to start losing them, and you need to fight harder to keep them. And as things become successful, you naturally grow them. OGP on the other hand, because of our proactive, experimental nature, what we do is we go around, we talk to users and see what users want and need. Janice signed up for the challenge. That can be more easily mainstreamed with less bureaucratic fear, if that makes sense. So Isomer is a pretty simple idea. What do you think of it?” So you’re going the other way. And then on the other hand, if you were working in tech, you would propose some ideas to an app or some changes, and within a couple of weeks, they will be live to like millions of people around the world. And then they get so big. And it’s not because they don’t spend that money. And he was told by the quartermaster not to bother putting in a request because they were out of stock. And that people know what was going on. He leads an experimental team of engineers, designers, and product managers who build technology for the public good. And so the regulations essentially not only were not supportive of new architectures, they actually enforced old architectures, which prevented progress. And they’ll say, “No, we can’t do that for everyone. I was feeling stuck in the government. View the profiles of people named Hongyi Li. Hongyi’s idea of what tech for public good looks like is one where Singapore becomes a model of technology-enabled government. If you have other creative ideas on how to grow this community bigger, please feel free to reach out to me and share your ideas. Yeah, you go and work on Google, you can work on making more money from ads, or having people access Gmail a bit faster, which is good and it’s important to do. We emphasize it very strongly. Hongyi rose to greater prominence, alongside his cousin Li … But if you’re a tiny experimental team within the government, people don’t even know you exist. Hongyi also outlined his visions for OGP, that include open sourcing the products that his team has built for other governments to adopt and implement. They can think of that, and they can do that shift over, and you get some gains. That’s one of the things we do. And moving to hosting on a different platform, like hosting on AWS, hosting on Azure, hosting on Google Cloud Platform, that makes sense. It’s not that we are competing. Li Hongyi: [00:25:57] So let’s see, where should I start? And maybe give some stats how impactful those have been to the citizens, the public and the users. Where we want to go next is to help deep dive in some of the more operational systems. You need to be able to get information from people. Whereas Go.gov.sg, you can verify that, “Yup, it is a .gov.sg”, and only government officers can create Go.gov links. They gave me serious work to do. But I think if we want to capitalize on the progress that the internet provides, we do need to be clearer in separating out and classifying our things, so that we keep our most important stuff protected, but we make progress on a lot of the things that actually aren’t that critical security wise. I think the end goal from here, and maybe a few years from now is that once we get really well established, we want to open source a lot of the things that we build. Experimental teams in other countries, as well just write up what I want work... Is just having people think for you to go more in depth: you to! 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