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Parliamentary Replies

Automation in Public Service

20 Feb 2017

Parliamentary Question by Ms Cheng Li Hui:

To ask the Prime Minister (a) what is the expected impact of automation on our Civil Service in the next five years; (b) what has been the progress of automation in our Ministries, statutory boards and Government agencies so far; and (c) what is the estimated increase in productivity. 

Parliamentary Reply by Senior Minister of State Ms Indranee Rajah:

The Public Service has been automating and computerizing its processes and services since the 1980s. 

Automation has helped many agencies improve work efficiency and effectiveness, resulting in manpower and cost savings. As an example, in 1998, the National Library Board (NLB) was the first in the world to use RFID to track its books. It is now using AutoSorters to reduce the manual effort needed to sort returned books. The AutoSorter piloted in Sembawang Public Library sorts about 2,500 items a day, a task which would otherwise require at least one person to complete. After this automation is rolled out to all 26 public libraries by 2018, NLB expects to save $780 000/year. Another example would be the use of drones. The Land Transport Authority (LTA) has found that using drones to take aerial photographs at its construction sites, to monitor and track progress, has reduced the time taken by 75%.

Automation is also helping the Public Service to enhance our service delivery standards and provide greater convenience to customers. Since end 2016, the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) has equipped all motorcycle counters at the Woodlands and Tuas checkpoints with automated capabilities to clear eligible motorcyclists and pillion riders. They now enjoy about 30% faster clearance, and ICA is also able to redeploy at least 60 officers from the manual counters to other roles. 

Citizens can expect to see more automation that will benefit them in the years to come. MOT and LTA are working with partners from academia and industry to trial various Self-Driving Vehicle technologies and concepts. In time to come, self-driving shuttles can be deployed in neighbourhoods to bring commuters from their homes to the train station, thereby improving first and last mile connectivity. Ongoing initiatives to trial self-driving buses, truck platooning and autonomous utility vehicles can alleviate the shortage of drivers.

It is difficult to come up with a single measure of productivity increase in the Public Service. In terms of the public sector’s share of the total labour force, it has decreased from 4.3% in 2006 to 4.0% in 2016. This is one of the lowest internationally, and is lower than in countries such as Korea (7.4%), New Zealand (11.5%) and the UK (21.4%). This has been a result of policies to constrain our public sector manpower growth, and efforts to leverage technology, including automation.