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Deloitte’s Cheong Chew Wai offers insights on digital transformation challenges, opportunities, and strategies in Asia Pacific

Cheong Chew Wai provides his perspective on navigating the evolving landscape of technological advancement.

Technological innovation, at the forefront of societal progress, encompasses the relentless pursuit of creative solutions. From artificial intelligence and data analytics to robotics and blockchain, technological innovation serves as a catalyst for efficiencies and novel capabilities. Innovation within government and public services, in particular, is one with both challenges and opportunities.

Cheong Chew Wai is a Partner with Deloitte Consulting based in Southeast Asia. He has more than 18 years of consulting experience, specialising in business and digital transformation.

His expertise includes transformative projects ranging from business process re-engineering to managing complex transformation programmes, contributing significantly to the advancement of digital initiatives in the public sector and healthcare industries.

In this interview, Chew Wai sheds light on the intricate balance between data privacy and innovation, the significance of agile approaches in meeting evolving citizen expectations, and the pivotal role of collaboration in fostering innovation.

With your extensive experience in the Asia Pacific region, can you discuss the unique challenges and opportunities that arise in digital transformation for government and public services in this diverse and dynamic geographic area?

There are numerous opportunities that can arise from digital transformation. Today, public services are available online 24/7. Citizens can access information, submit applications, and engage with government agencies from the convenience of their homes or electronic devices. We are also seeing a lot more collection of data, sharing of data, and collaboration between government agencies. Public services are making strides towards providing more personalised services tailored to individual needs, thus fostering a more citizen-centric approach.

Digital innovations like the automation of manual tasks in back-office operations (e.g. human resources and finance) have led to better operational efficiency and performance. As a result, government agencies can operate more efficiently and save time and resources. These cost savings can be reinvested into improving public services as public officers can focus on higher-value work, such as exploring how new technologies can inspire innovative solutions to solve societal challenges.

Furthermore, technological advancements in digital systems enable easy collection of data and centralised and secure storage of data. With proper data management practices, public agencies can break down barriers to data-sharing across the government. Considering the amount of data available in the public sector, agencies can gain greater insights and practice evidence-based policy-making and enhanced decision-making if they leverage the data to its full potential. This will enable them to drive more innovation, deliver better services, and improve the lives of citizens.
In terms of challenges, digital infrastructure and connectivity can vary across the region. Whilst countries like Singapore have a robust digital infrastructure, rural areas in developing countries may still face limitations in accessing reliable internet connectivity.

Data privacy and security are also significant concerns in today’s environment. It is crucial to protect citizens' data as more information is being collected. We have seen many security and data breaches over the years. Hence, it is essential to ensure that there are robust cyber-security measures in place and compliance with data protection regulations in order to maintain public trust.

Finally, navigating complex regulatory environments and legal frameworks when adopting new digital technologies can be challenging for governments in the region. One example is generative AI, which is evolving very rapidly. Generative AI can potentially be used to create realistic and convincing misleading or harmful content, which raises concerns about misinformation and its potential impact on public perception and trust. Therefore, as generative AI continues to evolve rapidly, governments must be able to keep pace and develop policies and regulations to govern the responsible and ethical use of the tool.

Digital transformation often involves a cultural shift within organisations. How do you approach changing mindsets and fostering innovation as part of the transformation process, especially in government and public service contexts?

Today, the region's diverse and growing population sees citizens asking for more as they demand seamless and personalised services. As governments continue to digitise their services, it becomes essential for them to adapt to these evolving needs to remain relevant and effective. It is crucial to acknowledge this and recognise the need for a cultural shift.

Successfully fostering a cultural shift involves strategic leadership, clear communication, and employee empowerment. Leaders should articulate a compelling vision for the digital future, with top-down support ensuring commitment throughout the organisation. Employee engagement is also critical, which can be achieved through transparent communication, training programmes, and the recognition of innovative efforts.

Cultivating an innovative culture involves rewarding creative ideas, creating a “safe-to-fail” environment, and promoting cross-functional collaboration through the creation of platforms for teams to bring diverse perspectives and ideas together. Such platforms should also encourage user-centric design and facilitate experimentation and learning through small-scale pilots.

What strategies have you found most effective in ensuring the successful implementation of large and complex transformation projects, particularly in the public sector and healthcare industries?

Firstly, strong leadership is paramount. Having leaders or project sponsors who champion the change, communicate a clear vision, and secure organisational buy-in is important for any transformation project.  

Secondly, establishing a dedicated joint project and client team with diverse skills and expertise whilst ensuring representation from key stakeholders. A successful team collaborates well and builds trust through transparent communication with a unified focus on project goals. They also regularly solicit feedback throughout the project lifecycle to ensure that the product aligns with the needs and expectations of both internal and external stakeholders.

Finally, leaders can consider breaking down the transformation process into manageable phases or adopting the minimal viable product concept to mitigate delivery risk and allow for refinement based on practical experiences and user feedback. This strategy helps to foster a culture of continuous improvement and supports long-term success.

In the context of digital transformation, how do you see the balance between data privacy and innovation? What considerations should organisations consider when collecting and using data to enhance their services?

It is imperative for organisations to find the right balance between data privacy and innovation. Whilst innovation often relies on the collection and usage of data, there are also increasing concerns about data privacy and protecting individuals’ personal information.

Therefore, organisations should prioritise data governance and adopt best practices when managing data. This includes obtaining consent from users before collecting and processing their data. Additionally, giving users control over their data, including the ability to opt in or opt-out, and empowering them to make informed decisions about how their information will be used. Organisations that maintain transparent communication with users can build trust and help users understand the value proposition of innovations in relation to their data. Finally, it is important to implement robust security measures and conduct regular security audits to safeguard data from unauthorised access or breaches.

The government and public services industry is often under pressure to meet evolving citizen expectations. How do you advise clients to stay agile and responsive to these changing demands whilst maintaining a focus on cost efficiency?

My advice would be to have an open mind and be citizen-centric. It is essential to adopt an agile approach that incorporates user feedback iteratively to make continuous improvements. Data should be used to make decisions, identify areas for optimisation, and measure the value delivered.

Ultimately, the key lies in combining agility, innovation, and data-driven insights to meet evolving expectations whilst making efficient use of resources
Governments are increasingly focusing on collaboration between public agencies and the private sector, as well as the community, and adopting an ecosystem view when dealing with complex challenges in today’s world. This approach promotes innovation through the exchange of ideas and resources and enhances efficiency as specialist organisations within the ecosystem collaborate with one another. This enables a more comprehensive and synergistic approach to problem-solving and value creation.

As a judge at the SBR Technology Excellence Awards, what criteria do you consider when assessing the excellence of technology projects?

I look forward to seeing innovative and sustainable solutions that bring substantial value and impact to their businesses and projects that make a positive impact on Singapore, its people and the communities in which we live.

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