Aida Yuvienco, CIO, Department of Education, Philippines

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How do you use technology to improve citizens’ lives? Tell us about your role or organisation.

I am the Director for Information and Communications Technology Service of the Department of Education (DepEd) in the Philippines.

We have implemented the DepEd Computerisation Programme, providing technologies and equipment to establish and maintain ICT-enabled learning environments in schools.

We also help build up teachers’ skills in integrating ICT for teaching and learning, and their administrative work.

We setup and maintain the necessary infrastructure and information systems for effective and efficient business processes, to enhance office productivity, and support planning and decision-making at all levels of management.

A very interesting part of my role is being involved in the implementation of the Learner Information System and the Enhanced Basic Education Information System which maintains relevant data on all the 24 million students and 47,000 schools, respectively.

It is very heartwarming to see teachers in far-flung areas without electricity or even internet service go out of their way and travel to update data on their students and school. 74% of schools in the Philippines or about 35,000 do not have internet connection. The teachers’ dedication allows us to use the data to plan the hiring of teachers, provision of classrooms and interventions to improve students’ learning experience.

What has been the most exciting thing that you worked on in 2016?

Training teachers on the use of ICT tools to enhance their teaching is very exciting because we can see the immediate effect this has on their students once they use these tools.

Many of the students in the provinces and remote would only have access to computers in the schools. And using these has made great impact on improving the engagement of the students and their excitement in learning new things.

What tool or technique particularly interests you for 2017?

In 2017, we intend to fully explore the use of business intelligence tools so that we can maximise the use of the great volume of data that we have at DepED.

If you were to share one piece of advice that you learned in 2016, what would it be?

It is very important that we are able to strategically lay out a very good map of how the different applications are linked to each other. It is particularly the case for large organisations like ours – the Department of Education has 800,000 employees nationwide.

This way we can develop and implement bite-sized modules of the applications, and ensure that in the end everything ties in closely together like a jigsaw puzzle.

Who is your hero and why?

My hero is a teacher in a remote area who walks several kilometres a day to reach her students. She still finds the time to learn new things to improve her teaching and better impart knowledge to her students. This teacher would have no qualms about spending her own money and sacrificing her time to ensure that her students learn.

And finally, if you could recommend us one place to eat, where would it be?

I would recommend trying one of the small restaurants overlooking the Taal Volcano in Tagaytay City on a cold December evening, and ordering the ‘Bulalo’ (beef shank) and the fried ‘tawilis’ (caught in the Taal Lake).

Lena Goh, Chief Marketing Officer, GovTech, Singaporezz

How do you use technology to improve citizens’ lives? Tell us about your role or organisation.

Technology is an enabler that helps make things easier and more intuitive for our people and businesses. It’s exciting to see how tech has transitioned from being enterprise-led with big complex systems to where people are empowered with data and powerful mobile devices to be part of a generation of crowd-sourced co-creators to choose what they want and when they want it.

As the CMO of the newly formed GovTech, my job is to help us work closely with our fellow agency partners and market useful digital services to our people and businesses. And we believe that we need to adopt an outside-in approach of listening to what our people want – by focusing on the citizen’s journey of when they need information or when to transact with the Government. We need to engage citizens more in the upstream process of co-creating such digital solutions and get their input across the whole user experience journey.

One of the services that will provide this empowerment to our people is the newly launched MyInfo service. It helps people to save time by auto-populating their online government forms with personal data that they already have with us. The user has the final say on which government agencies they share their personal data with, as they need to provide consent for every single transaction that they authorise us with. And with trials starting with the banks, MyInfo could potentially help people auto-fill or authorise banks to retrieve their personal data without having to repeat the tedious form-filling tasks again.

What has been the most exciting thing that you worked on in 2016?

It has been a tremendously busy year for us as we transitioned from the then-Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) to GovTech and worked on identifying applied innovations that would matter most to our people. Some of the key areas that we are focusing on include cybersecurity, data analytics, IoT and sensors, user experience and geospatial technology. In particular, with the proliferation of millions of sensors in a Smart Nation comes the arduous task of making sense of these huge amounts of data through analytics and also securing these “things”.

I am privileged to have the chance to work with some of the most talented and passionate software engineers and data scientists who are constantly using their specialised know-how to help solve real problems that we face. For example, instead of waiting for the annual industry reports, our data scientists have developed a Pulse of the Economy dashboard. This enables economic agencies to get a more real-time sense of the economy with indicators such as utilities usage, transport data, population density to nowcast the state of certain industrial zones. This will aid policy makers in getting a quicker sense of the issues and work on providing the right help to the impacted industries.

What is most exciting is the advent of artificial intelligence and deep machine learning as we gather more data. Our virtual assistant Ask Jamie is an early step in this direction, providing users real-time help on some of our government websites. But as Ask Jamie continues to “learn”, one day, it can be personalised and become more interactive, providing citizens with answers to more complex queries.

What tool or technique particularly interests you for 2017?

In the tech world, the pace of change is really fast and I really don’t think we have a lack of new tools but are rather looking for the most cost effective and scalable way to provide simple solutions to our people and businesses.

At GovTech, we emphasise a lot on “applied innovation” because it really isn’t about the tech but how it can be practically used to help solve real world problems. However, I am really excited about the potential of chatbots. And not just in government, but with the use of open data and hopefully more open APIs, we can see more active citizenry and creations, such as the Bus Uncle chatbot which is so useful and can easily be adopted by anyone.

If you were to share one piece of advice that you learned in 2016, what would it be?

This year, we have started a Citizen Digital Engagement Office to ensure that we listen to and engage even more with citizens to hear their perspectives, and make them part of our co-creation process. I have attended the focus groups and am inspired by the work that our design thinking strategists and behavioural insights teams have built up across various parts of government. I learnt that to solve complex problems for our citizens, it is often not about the tech, but empathy and improving their user journey and experience that matters most. And as the saying goes, it is not the hardware, but the heartware that will make this transformation successful.

Who is your hero and why?

Not so much a hero, but Singaporeans in general. I have worked in quite a few countries and I really admire the work ethic that we have in Singapore. The honesty, transparency and tenacity to deliver is inborn in us. While I know there has been quite a lot of feedback on our education system, I grew up with it, and am proud that my education stood me well when I worked in some of the world’s largest MNCs. The kind of discipline and methodological thought process we are taught is something we should be proud of. After travelling overseas for work, everytime I come back, I still feel a deep sense of pride in what our forefathers have built and treasure how far we have come. It’s up to us to build upon their success for the next 50 years. And one of the mantras I have learnt is: successful people take action. Don’t wait around for things to happen.

And finally, if you could recommend us one place to eat, where would it be?

I’m quite an Easterner and I think all the good food exists in the east of Singapore or rather in the Katong area. You can take your pick of the best prata along Joo Chiat Road to Peranakan food at Glory Catering, the new Baba Chew at Katong Square, the best hokkien mee (Geylang Hokkien Mee, coffeeshop next to Alforno) or the now so famous fried carrot cake at Marine Terrace Market that Joseph Schooling (and my family!) grew up eating.

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