Not content with maintaining its number one ranking in Southeast Asia for the application of eGovernment, Singapore has been busily training senior IT executives from other countries across the globe, for the past six years, on how to run their own government IT. And it's certainly a team effort for the Lion City administrators. The 'CIO Training Programme on the Strategic Planning and Management of IT' is run by the Singapore e-Government Leadership Centre (eGL) at the National University of Singapore's institute of systems science (ISS). It is sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Singapore Co-operation Programme (SCP).
This core training programme has bold intentions. It aims to equip incumbent and aspiring CIOs in the government sector with skills and proven practices to plan and manage national and enterprise-level IT projects.
The programme aims to equip participants with an integrated and coherent approach to initiate, plan and manage national IT projects for their respective countries and citizens, in the new knowledge-based economy.
Since 2001, the CIO training programme has welcomed more than 130 participants from 54 countries, including China, India, Russia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Turkey and Poland, not to mention many other countries in the Asia-Pacific region such as Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines.
"When Singapore achieved independence in 1965, we were fortunate to have friends who were willing to share their developmental experiences and expertise with us," says Koh Tin Fook, the director of the ministry's Technical Cooperation Directorate.
"Having benefited from the assistance rendered to us, and in the same spirit of helping fellow developing countries, Singapore started sharing its experience and competencies in the mid-1960s."
Koh says Singapore recognised the importance of IT in enhancing the economic competitiveness of a country through the improvement of service quality and the increase in productivity enabled by IT.
"We hope that through this programme, participants will be able to adopt, or adapt, the Singapore experience to their countries' needs to better meet the challenges posed by modern knowledge-based economies."
Singapore e-Government Leadership Centre (eGL) director, Ong Lih Ling, says the core topics for the CIO programme were focused on issues related to ICT leadership, governance and management, rather than teaching ICT technical skills.
"We adopt a holistic approach and present the important issues and best practices pertinent to CIOs in the management of supply and demand for ICT services," Ong says. "Increasingly, the focus is shifting from management and bread-and-butter ICT issues to leadership and business (or organisational) alignment.
"Towards the end of a recent eGL customised CIO training programme, one of the participants arrived at his own conclusion that the CIO's job is not about managing technology per se, but it is more about managing people, systems and processes, in the context of using technology to bring about improvements and transformation.
She says the eGL's unique value proposition was that it offered examples and experience-sharing through case studies of Singapore's e-government initiatives.
"We bring our participants on site visits so that they see first-hand demonstration of e-government in action and they get to interact with their Singapore counterparts," Ong says.
"Many of our past participants were from countries that are in relatively early stages of technology adoption and hence have fewer issues dealing with legacy systems," says Ong. "They will have the advantage of leapfrogging technology. For a few of these countries, infrastructure development, capability and capacity building are the major priority areas rather than the downstream provision of ICT applications. However, as they have come to realise themselves, successful implementation often hinges on other issues and not just technology itself.
Change management is often the biggest and most difficult obstacle. Unfortunately, there cannot be quick short-cuts where transforming people's mindsets, habits and past practices are concerned.
"In our programmes, we share case studies, lessons learnt and best practices to enhance their awareness and which they can then adapt to suit their environments."
The eGL programme has a philosophy based on a 21st century concept of the iCIO.
Ong says now the ideal CIO is one who is comfortable both with technology and business and has the ability to communicate effectively across the two worlds.
"The technology world gets more complex each day with new products, software and innovations happening faster than you can track them," she says. "CIOs need to be able to keep on top of developments in the technology world and have the ability to match technology innovations and solutions to their stakeholders, who are getting increasingly more sophisticated and tech-savvy."
Concerning other subjects considered vital to the 21st century government CIO, as most countries outsource their IT projects, outsourcing strategies and management skills are extremely useful.
Lim Hooi Ling, the programme's course manager, says change management and business process improvement or re-engineering, were two key challenges faced by many, and have been key factors for IT project failure or abandonment.
"The CIO of tomorrow needs to be business and technology-savvy; a strong visionary, leader and role model to not only their IT organisation but to the enterprise; a good juggler, manager and driver," Lim says. "Leadership is another critical core competence that CIOs need to have as their users become more IT-savvy and business-IT alignment gains importance in their organisations. These are on top of the basic IT management foundation skills that all IT managers need to have."
Keeping the lights on
Despite the increasing pressure to be innovative, Lim says many CIOs are still focused on keeping the lights on.
"As their countries accelerate national computerisation efforts, they will increasingly be called upon to plan and implement nation-level and cross-ministry projects," she says. "CIOs in the public sector need to raise their strategic planning, thinking and management skills to lead large, complex, cross-functional projects.
"Many of the ISS instructors had played key roles in Singapore's ICT plans. ISS brings value to the participants through the process, skills and best practice-sharing."