When Alvin lost income because of reduced work hours at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, he was able to access the COVID-19 Recovery Grant, one of the Singapore Government’s measures to protect the livelihoods of Singaporeans and Permanent Residents. The application process was done completely online, and there was no need to submit physical documents because Alvin consented to sharing relevant data, already known by different government agencies, with the agency he was interacting with. He did not have to come to an office to prove that he was a real person, nor did the Government have to undertake additional checks on the information provided, because it came directly from official sources.
At the center of this process were two important layers of a ‘digital stack’: Singapore’s National Digital Identity, known as Singpass, and a government-wide data sharing platform called the API Exchange (APEX). Both have been built by Singapore’s Government Technology Agency (GovTech) as part of the Smart Nation Initiative and the Singapore Government Technology Stack (SGTS), a suite of shared and re-usable software components and platforms that enable government agencies to build digital services quickly and efficiently.
Singpass is a National Digital Identity, primarily in the form of a smartphone application, that any Singaporean and resident can use to verify their identity in a trusted and secure manner when signing into and accessing services online – from registering a birth to accessing health records to opening bank accounts and applying for loans and credit cards. The Myinfo function empowers users to consent to the service they are interacting with to use their data from authoritative government services directly. This is convenient for users (who do not have to provide the same information repeatedly) and reduces costs and risks for service providers who can now trust the information without a separate verification process. Users can also electronically sign documents and do the same kinds of transactions on behalf of companies with Corppass (Singapore’s digital identity for businesses). Singpass also recently added a document wallet, allowing users to store and present digital versions of official documents like their identity card.
Thanks to Singpass, people and service providers can have the same level of trust during an online interaction as they would in a face-to-face equivalent. This value is demonstrated by the Singpass’ adoption: 4.5 million users (97% of the eligible population; up from 1 million in March 2020 at the start of the pandemic) doing 350 million transactions every year (including more than 70 million using Myinfo) to access more than 2,000 public and private sector services. It has also enabled the Government to quickly roll out high quality services (especially as part of Singapore’s COVID-19 response) and unlock innovation, such as SGFinDex, which enables users to retrieve their financial information from government agencies and financial institutions to better understand their financial health.
Singpass (and many other government services and operations) depend on the seamless, secure, and transparent exchange of data across the Government. Singapore’s solution to this has been APEX, an Application Programming Interface (API) gateway that allows more than 45 agencies to publish and manage access to their APIs, as well as access more than 2,000 APIs across government. By definition, an API is a way for two or more software components to communicate with each other, including to transmit data.
Helping other countries to build digital stacks
The World Bank Group’s Identification for Development initiative (ID4D) and GovTech, Singapore have published a case study on Singpass and APEX to help other countries build their own National Digital Identity and government digital data sharing platforms. The case study was launched in October, with perspectives offered from experts from Singapore, Indonesia, Rwanda, and the World Bank.
The case study details the analogue enablers, technological design, evolution, and key lessons for other countries, as well as future plans. It highlights, for example, how GovTech, Singapore has focused on understanding the needs of users (including the most vulnerable).
The pandemic has shown how digital stacks are vital for inclusion and the resilience of countries. Singpass and APEX also underscore how digital identity and digital data sharing can be transformational for the transition to a vibrant digital economy, digital society, and digital government, boosting competitiveness and unlocking new growth opportunities. We hope this case study can be useful for other countries as they embark on their own digital stack journeys.