Take Risks, or Risk Getting Left Behind, James Kang

A letter from James Kang

Assistant Chief Executive, Government Chief Information Office, Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA)
Take Risks, or Risk Getting Left Behind, James Kang


In my experience, it pays to think ahead and innovate.

When I joined the National Computer Board (NCB) – now known as the IDA – fresh from university, the personal computer (PC) had just been launched. I was sure that it would have a massive impact on the corporate computing landscape in the long run. However, this was in the era of the mainframe computer (a large, central computer that manages the processing of data for up to hundreds of users). IT professionals saw the mainframe as the “main curriculum” while the PC was just a “co-curricular activity”.

So how was a junior staff supposed to change the perception of the senior management?

I “sold” the idea of having a roadshow on employee workplace productivity and sought the help of the Information Technology Institute, a research subsidiary of NCB, to provide PCs, software and laser printers. Hence the inaugural PC Roadshow by the government was launched! It was so successful that the NCB management extended the idea to other ministries.

We are experiencing more and more innovations in increasing frequency. It is highly risky to avoid risks by staying put and missing out on the opportunities for innovation and improvement.

For example, with the advent of smartphone technology, rights to develop applications were given to the masses, resulting in a plethora of ideas, opportunities and products. The wave of acceptance and demand for smartphones grew and the volume of applications swelled exponentially.

One of our most recent game-changing efforts has been in developing citizen-facing applications faster, better and cheaper. Though there were risks going against the traditional policy of outsourcing application development, we went ahead with the Agile Development journey. A small experimental team of IDA staff has been working closely with partner agencies to create new user-centric and better quality digital services through rapid prototyping and enhancing the user experience.

Knowing where and how to get help is more important than building the ability to solve everything yourself.

We tried the Agile method with a few high-profile projects from agencies to create early buy-in. With these successful projects and excellent feedback from users, we had a discussion with the Ministry of Finance on the strategic value of Agile and they helped to incorporate it as a programme under the eGov2015 Masterplan. There’s been no looking back since. Since the inception of the Agile team this year, more than 10 applications for various agencies have been developed.

Content knowledge and technical competencies alone aren’t enough. People skills, or EQ, are imperative to understanding what customers, businesses and companies need. You must consider, “Why are you doing this? Who is it for?” before embarking on the development of any service.

Change is always constant, so bear this in mind as you embark on a career in the Public Service. As the former CEO of General Electric Jack Welch used to say, “If the rate of change on the outside (of your organisation) exceeds the rate of change on the inside, then the end is near.”

So have the courage to initiate change because opportunities come and go. If you don’t make use of these windows, they will be gone. Also, you won’t have all the answers or solutions on your own. Knowing where and how to get help is more important than building the ability to solve everything yourself.

    Nov 28, 2013
    James Kang
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