DR. FOONG WAI KEONG, CEO, ECQUARIA
Digital technology has been critical in transforming the way we operate in the world. As a consequence of digital transformation, business operations have become much more efficient; transactions of all kinds have become much more convenient. But there is still a long way to go in utilizing digital technologies to the fullest potential. Especially, many governments are still lagging in leveraging technology to deliver better service to the citizens.
One company that is driving digital transformation in government agencies is Ecquaria. The Singaporean company is harnessing the latest technology to enable the government to unlock their digital assets and improve the way citizens consume government service, facilitating better citizen engagement.
Started to Create a Seamless and Unified Government Platform
Ecquaria was founded by Dr. Foong Wai Keong (the current CEO) along with a few colleagues from the Information Technology Institute (ITI), the Research and Development arm of the National Computer Board of Singapore (NCB). While at ITI, they applied the latest technology to solve challenging problems for the government. During the time, IT systems were built in silos and there were no workflows within or across agencies. Citizens had to use multiple platforms for a transaction with the government. Having understood clearly the issue in the then existing system, they approached the Singapore government to work on the idea of a seamless and unified government platform.
With the vision to create a unified platform, Ecquaria partnered the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) to develop the Public Service Infrastructure (PSI). It served as a common infrastructure for deploying citizen-centric online services, enabling the sharing of common services across and within all government agencies, starting a generation of end-to-end service delivery. PSI was a ground-breaking innovation and was touted by Sun Microsystems as the largest J2EE system with 3E10,000 servers with 64 CPUs each. As J2EE was in its infancy stage then, Ecquaria’s engineers even had to tweak the J2EE application server code to ensure that PSI can scale to handle a large number of transactions.
Today, Ecquaria has over 4 global offices with more than 200 staffs. It continues to focus on exploiting technology to bring value to users. With the foundation of experience in the well-established company and the agility of a technology startup, Ecquaria continues to deliver disruptive digital solutions that are reshaping government engagement with the citizens.
Helping Government to Transform into a Citizen-Centric Digital Agency
Ecquaria has identified a three-step roadmap to help guide governments transform and digitalize into a citizen-centric digital government agency.
Step 1: Implementation of Smart Infrastructure
Governments are facing increasing citizen expectations, especially in the way services are rendered. Transacting digitally is the way of life and citizens are less tolerant of downtime. The systems need to provide business agility and resiliency.
The Company’s Ecquaria Government Platform (EGP) works on a micro-services architecture where each micro-service can be scaled independently and upgrades can be rapidly deployed individually without affecting one another. EGP also comes with Ecquaria Deployment Services (EDS), an automation tool for deployment, monitoring, and auto-scaling. It ensures that digital services are always available by monitoring the resources and handle spikes in load with auto-scaling.
Step 2: Ingrain Disruptive yet Secure Culture
Security has become the topmost concern for businesses and Governments. One effective way to incorporate security into the rapid development of services is DevSecOps. It is about introducing security early into every stage of the application development lifecycle. Therefore, Ecquaria builds the DevSecOps capability right into EGP.
As a firm believer of DevSecOps, Ecquaria advocates that everyone is responsible for security and practices secure-by-design and secure-as-you-code instead of running security tests at the end of the development cycle ensuring that it is both fast and secure.
Step 3: Transform with Data Driven Decisions
Data is the new oil. Exploiting it with the correct tools gives governments precious insights about citizens and businesses.
Recognizing the potential of machine learning, the latest version of the EGP comes with Ecquaria Machine Learning (EML). Government officers use it for anomaly detection, risk profiling or prediction of case outcomes. In the area of unstructured data, Natural Language Processing (NLP) can be used for the cognitive analysis of documents to unlock valuable insights.
Citizens at the Heart of Solutions
Digital technology is much more than leveraging technology. Dr. Foong rightfully points out, “It involves people, process and technology with the first being people.” He adds, “For us, it is looking beyond our customers, to the hearts of our customers' customers.” That mentality is at the core of the company that is actively taking initiatives to understand the issues by taking a first-hand look. Dr. Foong says, “It is only after understanding the domain that we exploit the latest technology to bring business benefits to the users.” For instance, the company collaborates with government agencies to conduct Disruptive eXperience Workshop (DX Workshop) focusing on solving the right problem. By challenging assumptions and synthesizing data from multiple sources, government officers are able to better empathize with the citizens and discover their unmet needs.
Ecquaria believes that the future is in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and is investing in it for a breakthrough in the way services are rendered online. Dr. Foong says, “We are in the midst of incorporating Automated Machine Learning (Auto ML) into our digital government solutions.” He explains, “Currently, most models still rely on data scientist to update models and we are doing away with that and use machine learning to automatically find the best models.” By acknowledging the current limitation of Auto ML in its use cases, as it is in its infancy, Ecquaria is carefully exploring the possibility of integrating it to improve citizens’ digital experience.