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Singapore wants to share its learnings on digital ID, so does World Bank

Singapore wants to share its learnings on digital ID, so does World Bank

The World Bank has worked with Singapore’s Government Technology Agency (GovTech) to create a case study of the island nation’s digital identity scheme Singpass and information-sharing mechanism MyInfo as a resource for other countries.

National Digital Identity and Government Data Sharing in Singapore’ (PDF) explores the journey and successes of the digital identity and APEX, the data-sharing API gateway developed to share initially government data internally and then brought in private services.

Singpass has received plenty of coverage recently, with lists of achievements such as 97 percent penetration rate and US$36 savings for financial account onboarding. Here the World Bank and its ID4D division laud Singpass and the MyInfo platform as clear example of a necessary step towards further digital economic transformation and Singapore sees its project and this case study as a way to collaborate with other countries and even develop identity interoperability.

Finding a case study is one of the recommendations of this case study from the World Bank. Singapore’s success will appeal, but as its staff always acknowledge, comparable countries are few and far between.

Singapore: Build digital public infrastructure

“We don’t make money and we’re not afraid to share,” explained Cheow Hoe Chan, Singapore’s Government Chief Digital Technology Officer, speaking at the launch for the case study.

“The challenge is huge and when you build a platform like this you’re always a target,” he acknowledged. Singapore has a national digital strategy and was making headway with digital identity services, but Chan noted that if his department was serious about digital government, they needed an API gateway.

And so they built one. Initially only for the internal sharing of information already held by the government (which could sometimes take many months to share). “We found it was overwhelmingly successful,” he said, as the decision was taken to open it to private companies and service providers to harness the API gateway’s full potential.

“If the government can share data in a very progressive way, that should apply to the economy,” Chan notes. “It’s hopefully the start of collaboration with other governments as we move forward.”

World Bank: ‘Digital identity is not enough’

“Digital identity is not enough,” read a slide in the presentation by lead author of the case study, Adam Cooper, a World Bank Consultant.

“Digital identity is great, but what we really want here is digital transformation – we want better services – and that’s certainly what citizens need,” said Cooper. “And to be able to do that, you need access to that data.”

This is difficult to achieve anywhere in the world, no matter how developed an economy is, which has made Singapore such a fascinating case study. “Knowing it’s Adam is fine, but knowing about me is the real key to all this,” noted Cooper on the richness that MyInfo brings with safe access to trusted data – beyond just digital ID verification.

Cooper praised Singapore for having a strategy, the Smart Nation Initiative, and giving its teams the agency to deliver. He also commended the island-state’s thought-through and evolutionary rather than revolutionary approach that incorporates new technologies in due course without rushing.

Singapore case study findings

The case study concludes with recommending the successful elements of Singapore’s approach.

Evolution: gradually improving products and services, based on experiences and lessons, rather than trying to solve too many problems at the same time

Prioritizing user experience: investing time and other resources across the development lifecycle to understand what users want and expect, especially among vulnerable users

Focusing on use cases: driving adoption by identifying where the most value will be generated

Identifying authoritative sources of data in government: developing common data standards and identifying the most reliable sources for each data attribute, rather than replicating information across databases

Technology and skillsets: adopting open technologies where appropriate and continuously investing in people

Responsibly adopting technologies: using new technologies when relevant rather than when they become available

Updates from Indonesia and Rwanda

Also speaking at the launch were participants from Indonesia and Rwanda who spoke on experiences in the same areas, providing some updates.

Prof. Dr. Zudan Arif Fakrulloh, Director-General for Population and Civil Registration of Indonesia’s Ministry of Home Affairs, described progress on biometric enrollment and their first steps into digital identity registration.

Indonesia is the world’s fourth most populous nation. 201,000,000 of its 275,000,000 population are eligible for its national ID. 198,915,196 of those have now undergone biometric enrollment, making 98.94 percent.

Dr. Fakrulloh’s presentation shared more of the trajectory as the identity system digitizes. The number of relying parties is up from 716 institutions 2017 to 5,365 in 2022. Total access to the Single Identity Number (Nomor Induk Kependudukan, NIK), used for elections, allocation of funds, social grants, has grown from 2017’s 467m requests to  2.43 billion in 2022.

The digital identity scheme is comparatively nascent. It offers digital identity with signature, service montiroring, family data access. After beginning with pilot projects of government  employees in Ditjen Dukcapil, it has since been opened to central government employees. 277,341 have the digital credential.

The next target sector are students, in 2023, before being opened up to the general public in the final stage later that year. Indonesia could collaborate with its neighbor Singapore on interoperability, noted Dr. Fakrulloh.

Josephine Nyiranzeyimana, Government Chief Information Officer at the Rwanda Information Society Authority (RISA), brought updates on Rwanda’s digital transformation. RISA brings together ICT-related strands of government such as the National ID Agency.

ICT offices have been established in each government sector, such as education, and report back to RISA. As the national digital backbone has grown, RISA now has a point of presence in all 30 districts of Rwanda.

This in itself has promoted digital transformation. More than 95 percent of the country has broadband coverage and fiber is reaching more areas, including nine border posts.

The government has a strategy to “ask once and once only” for information from its citizens, as in Singapore and Estonia. It is now “leveraging data to make informed decisions” said Nyiranzeyimana, and to tackle data access failures and backlogs such as in the ID agency, RISA developed and launched in April the Government Enterprise Service Bus for unified, secure approach for cross-institutional data sharing with compliance with data protection and privacy.

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