CE’s presentation at the 25th Asian Shared Services and Outsourcing Week
Click HERE to view CE's presentation slides in PDF format.
1. (Slide 1) Ladies and Gentlemen, good morning. My name is Dennis, Chief Executive of VITAL, Ministry of Finance. A warm welcome to all our international delegates! It is good to see so many shared services leaders in person. I hope you get some time to enjoy Singapore!
2. (Slide 1) The topic of my presentation is “Modernising Your Shared Services Digital Infrastructure to Support Hybrid Models and Agile Operations”. This is not going to be a technical talk for CIOs, but more on how VITAL is pushing ourselves to develop digital capabilities, to remain relevant, in the world of endemic COVID.
3. (Slide 2) To do that, I would need to set the context of VITAL and how we have evolved and transformed in the past 3 years.
4. (Slide 3) First, just who or what is VITAL? I dare say that VITAL is one of most important government agencies in Singapore that most people have not heard of. We serve over 100,000 public servants across more than 100 Singapore government agencies, in human resources & payroll, finance and procurement. VITAL is about 500 strong and growing. But now, we are excited to leverage our centre of government position, assume the role of a central agency for corporate shared services as well as the robotics & automation (R&A) lead for our domain.
Standardisation, Streamlining and the Move Towards Digitalisation
5. (Slide 4) VITAL was established in 2006 as a shared services centre for 18 agencies. We had a very difficult task of amalgamating many unique processes across agencies. We were seen like a vendor. But we are not a vendor, we are a department under the Ministry of Finance.
6. (Slide 5) So, we pushed ahead. We increased the standardisation of corporate processes, to improve efficiency. We digitalised corporate processes and harnessed the power of automation for productivity gains.
7. (Slide 6) In 2020, VITAL was appointed central agency, with the mandate to transform corporate services delivery, as well as R&A lead to explore and scale up the adoption of suitable R&A corporate services solutions for Whole-of-Government (WoG).
Our Transformation Journey amidst COVID-19
Keeping the lights on
8. (Slide 7) Then the pandemic hit our shores. Thankfully, VITAL pivoted with great agility to Work-from-Home.
9. (Slide 8) VITAL kept the lights on and ensured that our public sector colleagues continued receiving their salaries, allowances and claim reimbursements.
10. (Slide 8) There were minimal disruptions to VITAL’s operations. We hit 99.90% accuracy and timeliness in our processing; and 95% satisfaction in our Service Partner Satisfaction Survey 2020, our highest ever. A very strong affirmation for VITAL from our service partners. Since then, VITAL never looked back.
Modernising Our Corporate Systems Amidst Constraints
11. (Slide 9) Being a central agency, VITAL was no longer just a transactional backroom. VITAL had to do some heavy lifting.
12. (Slide 9) This began with VITAL playing an integral role in the development and implementation of two Whole-of-Government corporate systems, one for the ministries and the other for statutory boards.
13. (Slide 9) With our familiarity with ops processes, VITAL worked closely with policy and system owners (policy) as well as IT vendors (tech) as part of a policy-ops-tech nexus, to develop and implement these two major systems.
Innovating Amidst COVID-19
14. (Slide 10) Amidst the crisis, there are always opportunities. There was an unprecedented level of cooperation from our stakeholders to embrace digitalisation and explore innovation.
15. (Slide 10) VITAL stepped forward to help fellow public sector agencies design and implement innovative corporate solutions, amidst the challenging backdrop of COVID-19.
16. (Slide 10) For example, on recruitment, we transformed our appointment formalities service from a face-to-face to a fully digital end-to-end process for about 50 agencies, fulfilling over 6,000 appointments between 2020-2021. On retirement, physical briefings were replaced with teleconferencing for pensioners, and wet-inked signatures with e-signatures for pension papers. Digitalisation has reduced processing time by three times, benefiting staff and retiring officers.
Innovating through New Ways of Collaboration
17. (Slide 11) We looked beyond the immediate challenges of the COVID-19 crisis to pilot new technologies with agencies. For example, we organised and led the pilot of a low-code/no-code robotic process automation (RPA) software with 12 agencies. This successful pilot helped make the case that these new low-code technologies could be easily used across different parts of the Singapore Government, and not just VITAL. We piloted cloud-based recruitment technology with seven agencies, and this demonstrated the potential of using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) in the traditional recruitment space.
18. (Slide 12) So, the story here is that we must step up beyond our traditional role of corporate services delivery and use new IT tools as the lever for corporate services transformation. To do this successfully requires us as business leaders to fully understand the power of these new technologies, and to weave them into our corporate strategies. Let me elaborate how tech and digital features deeply in all three of VITAL’s strategic pillars – Platform, Partners and People.
Tech in Our Three Strategic Pillars (Slide 13)
VITAL as a Platform for Corporate Services Transformation
19. (Slide 14) Today, we see VITAL as a Platform. What does this mean? Simply put, it is about bringing together various stakeholders to embark on corporate services transformation and innovation, for which technology would be a key enabler.
20. (Slide 15) Being at the centre of corporate services operations in the Singapore Public Service places VITAL in a unique position to work together with functional leaders, agencies, and non-public sector partners like technology vendors, as part of a policy-ops-tech nexus to transform corporate services in three ways.
i. We serve more than 100 agencies on two core ERP systems – just having that breadth of operations allows VITAL to provide important feedback and constructive suggestions to the policy owners and system owners to improve corporate services. We do not take instructions “as-is”, but ask fundamental questions on how to do better.
ii. We must also go up the value-chain, collaborate with functional leaders to implement new policies as well as proactively influence our partner agencies in terms of how to improve their upstream processes for a better outcome.
i. We see more opportunities to innovate because we sit at the center of all the operations. Already we are doing so, as I had mentioned the two tech-exploration pilots on recruitment SaaS technology and low-code/no-code RPA. More importantly, this innovation goes beyond just making VITAL’s processes better, it also potentially helps our other 100 agencies do their work better.
i. VITAL is building a new core system - VISION, to manage shared services for more than 100 service partners through omni digital channels covering HR, finance, procurement and admin processes. We plan to use an industry leading SaaS solution.
ii. In addition, we will build central systems to facilitate innovation for Whole-of-Government. We recently announced a central RPA platform that would be open to all agencies across the public service. Let me elaborate.
21. (Slide 16) Currently, deployment of RPA bots in VITAL is only established at an enterprise level, with individual products installed for internal use within VITAL. This is not ideal. Setting up new products for new users is cumbersome.
22. (Slide 16) Now, if VITAL faced this problem, then all our other government agencies would also face the same problem. We know that there is wide interest in automation solutions across our government agencies. However, the installation of RPA solutions today is piecemeal. Some agencies want to start using RPA, but they do not know how to.
23. (Slide 16) The solution? VITAL, as the robotics and automation lead, will build it once and let it be used by all. Yes, all 100 agencies and more than 100,000 public officers can potentially benefit. VITAL will invest in a new cloud-native automation platform. This will ensure that we get the most updated versions of the exciting software that the best vendors can provide. So our value-add here is to put automation capabilities at the fingertips of the entire public sector, and let automation bloom!
24. (Slide 17) This slide lays out the benefits of such a Whole-of-Government approach. All these are important points and some issues like barriers to entry and lack of scale are clearly show-stoppers, especially for smaller agencies. One more point to highlight – we are concurrently building a sandbox environment that would facilitate robotics and automation technology exploration.
25. (Slide 17) Through all these efforts, VITAL will help bring in cutting edge digital tools far more quickly into the entire public sector than what we see today. The possibilities are endless!
26. (Slide 18) Let me quote Robert Enslin, co-CEO of UiPath, who wrote “automation-fueled transformation is a game changer for this era”. I agree with him fully. In this era of low-code/no-code tools, the automation possibilities can now be democratized to the citizen developer.
27. (Slide 18) I was privileged to have been invited by UiPath to appear on main stage to talk about VITAL’s citizen developer journey and our central RPA infrastructure.
28. (Slide 18) VITAL is now an important node in the innovation ecosystem. We have a ready platform to scale up and promulgate such capabilities to the entire public sector to make innovation pervasive across Government.
29. (Slide 18) However, I want to stress that VITAL is open to work with all appropriate technology providers that have good solutions for our business problems. UiPath is just one example, and there will be more. At VITAL, we certainly cannot do it alone. We need an ecosystem of partners, which leads me to the second strategic pillar.
Building and Leveraging Strategic Partnerships
30. (Slide 19) VITAL recognises the importance in widening our networks, seeking opportunities, innovating and thriving in this dynamic environment.
31. (Slide 19) We will leverage our ecosystem of partners to gain access to cutting edge technology, conduct sandbox trials/ experimentation and tap on the private sector’s expertise.
32. (Slide 19) In turn, industry partners can leverage and gain access to VITAL’s pool of agencies that we serve, for opportunities to conduct pilots and scale up new products/ services to WOG. This is a win-win partnership for both sides!
33. (Slide 19) Let me move on to our People, the most critical strategic pillar.
Building Capabilities and Upskilling Our People to be Drivers of Corporate Services Transformation
34. (Slide 20) VITAL’s transformation will require us to uplift and upskill our people to enable them to engage partners more effectively.
35. (Slide 20) We want our officers to become corporate services professionals. A huge ambition! They must recommend innovative solutions to help agencies respond to exigencies, contribute suggestions to improve processes. They do not take instructions as-is. To do this, our people must be equipped with skills to leverage digital technology. They must aspire to become policy-ops-tech experts.
36. (Slide 21) To implement our Shared Service Competency Framework, we have partnered Ngee Ann Polytechnic, a local institution of higher learning. Ngee Ann Polytechnic had specially curated two programmes, a Certificate of Data Analytics for our Executives and Senior Executives, and a Specialist Diploma in Data Analytics for our Managers and Assistant Directors. We are sending all our staff back to school! You can see the happy faces of this cohort of staff who have received their Specialist Diploma in Data Analytics.
37. (Slide 21) We want to take advantage of all the new low-code and no-code tools, like RPA. We want to build an army of citizen developers. Hence, we are giving all officers access to such software and supporting infrastructure, to enable them to develop software robots and other low-code solutions. Who says shared services work is mundane and boring? Our officers will be able to use all these new tools to weave a tapestry of automation, and to create huge value for VITAL as they will become very much more productive.
38. (Slide 22) At the heart of our efforts, is a deep focus on our people. It is a fundamental belief that our people can and want to do more. Hence, it is our leadership burden and responsibility to uplift them, to give them the opportunities and the access to all the new digital tools and exciting tech that industry has to offer. This slide shows you the Data Hackathon that Ngee Ann Polytechnic helps us to conduct for our staff at the end of the Certificate in Data Analytics programme. It is always a happy event because staff come to realise that they are empowered to learn and apply all their new skills to VITAL’s business problems.
39. (Slide 22) In VITAL, our officers come from a myriad of backgrounds. Most of them have little or no training in technology during their formal education but I am so inspired by what they can achieve, if given the chance.
40. (Slide 22) Let me cite one example, an office who is a person with disabilities (PwD). Despite physical challenges, this officer has consistently displayed deep passion and proficiency in applying automation to improve operations. His background is in accountancy. He attended the specialist diploma course and excelled. Today, this officer can code from scratch, and is proficient in working with complex automation projects. In fact, he is one of our best ops-tech specialists. I submit to you, neither background nor disability is a limiting factor.
41. (Slide 23) I am proud to share that VITAL is a firm believer in inclusive hiring. We were conferred the Enabling Mark (Gold) last year – this is a Singapore national-level accreditation framework that recognises organisations for their best practices and outcomes in disability-inclusive employment. 6.5% of our total workforce (including vendors) are persons with disabilities.
42. (Slide 23) Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong cited VITAL as an example of how the public service is doing its part to become disability-inclusive, in his speech at the Inclusive Business Forum 2022. Earlier, I shared that the new opportunities provided by low-code and no-code tech solutions can uplift and empower all staff, including our PwD colleagues! Let us be inclusive not just in hiring, but also training and opportunities for all!
43. (Slide 24) Let me conclude. The opportunities provided by the digital and tech space today are extremely exciting. Looking back on the past 2.5 years, digital technology has been a key enabler in allowing VITAL to transform ourselves amidst COVID-19. An industry leader once told me, “business strategy is tech strategy and tech strategy is business strategy”. While this may be oversimplifying things, it is certainly food for thought.
44. (Slide 24) For VITAL, it is very clear that the new technology opportunities have allowed us to define new ways of working, not just within our organisation, but also to help transform the entire corporate services ecosystem, and beyond. The new technology opportunities have allowed VITAL to truly become the central agency for corporate shared services, and the robotics and automation lead in our domain.
45. (Slide 24) The journey has just started. VITAL will focus on our 3 Ps – Platform, Partners, People, and seek to bring even more value to the Singapore Public Service.
46. (Slide 24) Thank you for your kind attention.