(An overview of the NS Portal is attached in pdf format.)
In Singapore, all male Singaporean citizens or second-generation permanent residents from 16.5 years old register for military training, also known as National Service (NS). Upon reaching the age of 18 years old, they are enlisted for NS and serve a two-year period as full-time National Servicemen (NSFs) either in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), Singapore Police Force (SPF) or the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF).
After their stint as an NSF, the NSmen are called up for either high or low key training on an annual basis until they reach the age of 40 or 50 depending on their rank.
Throughout their entire NS life cycle, the NS personnel access the NS Portal for all their NS-related transactions. The portal therefore offers a single touch-point for Singapore’s NS community.
Empowering and providing equal access to the NS Community
The NS Portal and its auxiliary services is one of the largest set up within the Singapore Government and acts as the “front desk” of Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) reaching out and providing the NS community with convenient access to NS-related services anytime, anywhere.
NS Portal applies the best practices in technology to host and deliver 122 eServices and 47 mServices for MINDEF so that it can effectively engage the NS community. However, the NS Portal is more than just a website. Through a three pronged approach to managing customers consisting of a web presence (www.ns.sg), the NS Call Centre and mobile services, MINDEF empowers almost 400,000 servicemen to perform NS-related transactions to their own convenience.
All the three approaches are integrated seamlessly using technology to create an undisrupted experience to the users. For example, a NS man who books his IPPT (Individual Physical Proficiency Test) online may choose to call in to change his bookings or do so through the mobile platform instead. Today, the most popular NS-related transactions are the Overseas Notification, SAF eMart (to purchase SAF personal equipment), Booking of IPPT and Payment transactions.
Beyond delivering convenience and time savings to NSmen, the NS Portal leverages on technology to drive engagement, bonding and engender a positive NS experience amongst the NS Community. This is done through innovation features on the NS Portal such as NS Connect and NS TV as well as lifestyle offerings such as mobiHunt (described in detail in The Role of ICT section).
Leading the way through the 3Pi model
MINDEF entered into a partnership with a commercial company, NCS Pte Ltd, in order to tap on private sector offerings and draw on best practices to cater to the diverse needs of NSmen. Through this partnership, the NS Portal was launched by Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister / Minister for Defence Teo Chee Hean in Nov 2006.
Looking forward, the strategy for the NS Portal is to go beyond providing online services. The focus has been and will continue to evolve alongside the rapid technological changes and innovation around the world and strategically timed for implementation according to users readiness to adopt them.
The NS Portal is an example of a synergistic approach termed 3Pi a tripartite relationship of public-private-people integration which forms the foundation of how portals are developed and marketed to attract and maintain traffic. As Singaporeans become more tech-savvy and demand more offerings that enhance their quality of life, one key challenge is to constantly explore channels to push out relevant and targeted information. This also includes bundling them with related private sector offerings that cater to the lifestyle needs and wants of the end-user to create even greater Public Value (value derived from innovation that is both desirable and useful).
Tapping on private sector experience, MINDEF has developed the NS Portal into a progressive portal that is constantly innovating and evolving to keep up with technological advancements. From initially embracing the internet and call centre, it moved on to enable interactive mobile services and voice recognition within the call centre and is now using rich media such as including NS TV and web 2.0 social networking. Moving forward, NS Portal will embrace virtual collaborative platform and 3D personalisation experience to enhance its interaction with the NS Community.
Serving as an inspiration to others
The NS Portal has played a key role in helping MINDEF achieve its goal of becoming a leading government agency that has a strong understanding of its customers’ defence, social and personal needs. The NS Portal is one of the few that leads in setting best practices using ICT in the e-Government arena.
As a first-mover in the public sector to successfully leverage on the private sector’s innovativeness and agility, the NS Portal had frequently been made a case study. An example is the eGovernment Leadership (eGL – partnership between the Infocomm Development Authority and the National University of Singapore) in 2009. In the NUS-ISS magazine, the case study of NS Portal was shared at the ISS Innovation Update Seminar in Feb 2009 to an audience of over 100 senior executives, managers, consultants and research specialists as an update on digital innovations by Singapore governments and corporations. To quote the article - “e-Service innovations at MINDEF are strategically oriented and visionary. The organisation also enjoys shorter innovation development cycles and lower development costs.”
MINDEF has often been invited to share the NS Portal’s key success factors and lessons learnt from the 3Pi model with both Government organisations in Singapore and overseas. For example in May 2010, upon recommendation and referral by Mr James Kang (Assistant Chief Executive of GCIO-Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore), the Danish Ministry of Finance, Danish IT Society and Ramboll, one of the leading consultancies in Denmark visited the MINDEF for a knowledge sharing session on how to use digital solutions in an innovative way to create better public service, specifically on service transformation through a public private collaboration model of e-government development through the NS Portal.
The vision of the NS Portal is to maintain first mover position in the public service as a portal that continually meets the end-to-end needs of its users as well as engage, bond and engender a positive NS experience for the NS community. Based on this vision, the NS Portal aims to achieve the following goals:
Building a community
One of the main aims of the portal is to create a positive NS experience and engendering Commitment to Defence for its community. MINDEF therefore tapped on private sector experience through the 3Pi model to deliver this through Web 2.0 technologies. With the rise of new media as a mode of communication among the new cohorts of the NS community, social networking tools are provided on the portal to leverage on this trend. Examples of these include the NS40 e-Time Capsule (to commemorate 40 years of National Service in Singapore), Dr Goh Keng Swee Tribute Page, NS Connect, NS TV, Forum and Blogs with new enhancements planned for over the next few years.
Delivering innovation for members
While technology is constantly evolving, NS Portal is also reinventing itself in order to continually deliver innovative lifestyle offerings to NSmen. An example is the mobiHunt (Mobile Treasure Hunt) which was a technological innovation to promote the use of mobile technology and to excite and engage NS Portal members. During the event, several key technologies were deployed to make it an exciting and fun filled event.
Harnessing the synergy of private and public sector collaborations
The NS Portal is the pioneer government-to-consumer (G2C) portal within the Singapore public service with commercial content that offers a seamless experience between government and commercial services. NS Portal members will enjoy a host of relevant benefits like discounts and exclusive promotions upon subscription which are designed to meet the lifestyle needs of NSmen and their families and to enhance their experience of using eServices on NS Portal. Contests and events with attractive prizes are also held to promote stronger interaction and buzz within the NS community.
NS Portal harnesses the synergy of cross government agency technology collaborations to benefit the NS community. Since the launch of NS Portal in 2006, the NS Portal supported the Singapore Infocomm Development Authority’s eCitizen Defence and Security eTown and delivered 11 integrated eServices and 2 mServices between MINDEF and other Government agencies. Other collaborations also include a partnership with the Land Transport Authority which saw interactive public transport maps embedded into several key sections of the portal so that NSmen can easily find out what is the best way to get to event or camp locations.
The NS Portal has also collaborated with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to direct NSmen to eRegister their overseas plans with Ministry of Foreign Affairs after they have submitted their Overseas Notification to the MINDEF. The Ministry of Foreign Affair’s Overseas Missions are then able to get in touch with Singaporeans who have eRegistered in case of emergency.
Most recently, NS Portal has gone into a partnership with Singapore 2010 Youth Olympic Games Organising Committee to support their promotional efforts in “Singapore 2010 Youth Olympics Games Million Deeds Challenge” which allows members of the public to submit details of a good deed they have done. A publicity and registration page has been placed on the NS Portal, and info on the collaboration was also published in STOMP and featured in the Singapore Man Stuff Magazine under its Sports/Fitness section in June 2010.
Delivering user satisfaction
The NS Portal receives an average of 7.9 million page views and 564,000 e-transactions a month and has close to 100,000 registered lifestyle members, while the NS Call Centre receives more than 500,000 calls a year. Both the portal and call centre received a positive scorecard of 97% and 96% respectively in the recent customer satisfaction survey which is carried out every six months, further reinforcing the NS Portal’s success and excellence in service delivery.
To ensure that the needs and expectations of the users are duly met, usability studies, focus groups and surveys were conducted extensively across the NS populations. Usability trials and dry runs were also conducted during the development time frame, and some are still ongoing even in its operational phase. The portal has also gathered a ready pool of close to 100,000 survey users who had volunteered to take part in surveys conducted, including a half-yearly customer satisfaction survey to gather feedback on the portal, Interactive Voice Response System (IVRS)and service standards of the NS Call Centre Customer Service Officers in handling enquiries to improve on user support.
Bringing cost and time savings
The use of technology has brought about cost and time savings to the MINDEF as well as the NS Community. The high benefits were derived based on time savings in performing transactions online as opposed to travelling to physical counters and transacting manually. Moving on, the NS Portal seeks to further increase the cost and time savings to MINDEF and the NS Community through new initiatives.
Maintaining high standards of delivery
To ensure that high standards of delivery are met, the key performance indexes of the NS Portal are tied to stringent Service Level Agreement, performance measures and industry best practices (more details in Project Economics section).
Technology is used across the NS Portal in various modes. Specific examples of such are:
Improving productivity in the NS Call Centre
The NS Call Centre (1800-eNSNSNS), complementary to the NS Portal, plays an integral role in this engagement strategy of anytime, anywhere and many channels in connecting with the NS Community. The call centre, outsourced to NCS, is able to manage and close 80% of the total calls, while escalating only the remaining 20% to the MINDEF/Singapore Armed Forces agencies or the Ministry of Home Affairs/Singapore Police Force/Singapore Civil Defence Force agencies for resolution. This has helped to relieve the workload of the internal agencies and enable them to focus on their core areas. Through the Call Centre’s Interactive Voice Response System (IVRS), NSmen may be directed to self service options of eServices on the web or through mobile.
The NS Call Centre was awarded the ICMI Global Call Centre Award in 2009 - a prestigious international award given out to only the most deserving call centre that consistently delivered sterling results and high level of customer satisfaction results. NS Call Centre won the award after a series of contests against international call centres and the award was announced in Las Vegas in 2009. Mystery caller audits were conducted by Singapore’s Public Service 21 Office 4 times a year across Ministries, assessing the service performance level of the customer service officers. For the last 5 quarters, the NS Call Centre has achieved 100% of the targets in the audits conducted by our partnership agency, Ministry of Manpower.
A new innovation, named the NS Messenger, was also launched in 2009 to allow uncontactable NS personnel to be notified of their case status through SMSes or emails. This is an innovative initiative implemented in response to a trend where Customer Service Officers encountered problems contacting pre-enlistees who are studying in schools, or NSmen who are engaged at work, over the phone to follow up to their earlier queries to the NS Call Centre. The NS Messenger has achieved a high customer satisfaction rate of 95.5% at a trial, and won the Silver award at Singapore’s National Innovation and Quality Circles Convention (NIQCC).
Driving community engagement during special events
In 2007, the MINDEF commemorated 40 Years of National Service, and the contributions of the more than 700,000 NSmen who have served or who are still actively serving in the Singapore Armed Forces, the Singapore Police Force and the Singapore Civil Defence Force. The NS Portal supported the commemoration event, by introducing an innovation named the NS40 e-Time Capsule as an online platform for NSmen and the public to contribute and share NS photos and stories with the rest of the NS community. It was sealed by Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong with a total of 1,295 contributions from NSmen and the public. The time capsule represented our key attempts to leverage Web 2.0 and new media technologies to encourage user contributed content and sharing.
In May 2010, a tribute page was set up to allow NSmen and the general public to pay tribute to Singapore’s former Deputy Prime Minister as well as Minister for Defence Dr Goh Keng Swee. Within a week, the page garnered close to 300 tributes, one of the highest compared to other similar online efforts. It was possible to set up the page within a short time frame due to the NS Portal’s flexible platform, efficient operating environment as well as the close partnership and trust between the MINDEF and NCS. Being able to roll out this tribute page was important as it allowed Singaporeans to pay tribute and capture memories of a man who played a big role in laying the foundation of Singapore’s military.
NS Connect: keeping in touch within a secured environment
NS Connect is a social media platform for NSmen to connect and interact. Built on the SilkRoad (TM) platform developed by NCS, it allows NSmen to update and share personal online profiles, search for NS friends, stay in contact and form groups.
This platform is where the NSmen can connect to his buddies from his days as a full-time National Serviceman and stay in touch throughout his NS life cycle. More importantly, it also facilitates communication between NS Commanders and their men throughout the year, instead of only during the 1-2 weeks In Camp Training period annually. As a closed community, the NS Connect allows NSmen to freely interact without fear of accidentally divulging sensitive information.
NS Connect was built to provide the latest social networking capabilities but yet adopt the best practices of ensuring privacy and security for a trusted social networking hub. A NS Connect customer satisfaction survey conducted in Mar 2010 showed that more than 97% of participants were satisfied with NS Connect.
NS TV: an interactive TV feature
Another tool on the NS Portal which promotes interaction and community building is NS TV, a cross-agency feature which allows NSmen to comment and interact with each other on videos from MINDEF and each of the five forces. The NS TV has helped to enliven the portal with a richer digital media offering.
Having fun during MobiHunt (Mobile Treasure Hunt)
MobiHunt is a mobile treasure hunt organized by the NS Portal to further promote community bonding between NSmen. By combining dynamic mobile solutions on a mobile platform built by NCS called MeSH (TM) (Mobile eServices Hub), participants received location-based clues via their mobile devices at each check point. The teams negotiated the urban jungle, answering questions through MeSH (TM) as they made their way past notable landmarks in Singapore in a bid to reach the finish line in the shortest possible time.
To capture the excitement and high energy levels during mobiHunt 2009, it adopted one of the latest mobile streaming platforms - QIK to record team’s experience and activities as they raced through each checkpoint. While videos were streamed live via their mobile phones, participants also chatted instantly and excitedly via the Mobile Notice Board which helped to enliven the event. This is a closed-group chat room opened to the teams competing in mobiHunt 2009. During the competition, thousands of chat comments from 54 teams were generated on the Noticeboard. The teams talked about their experience and what they saw along the way.
The mobiHunt event in 2009 was a watershed event. With a record 105 participants using 54 mobile phones, mobiHunt won a place in the Singapore Book of Records for the “Largest Treasure Hunt using Mobile Technology”.
The target group for NS Portal includes all members of the NS community (Pre-Enlistees, full-time National Servicemen, NSmen and Regulars), employers and the general public. The NSmen group covers all in Singapore, including those from
• MINDEF / Singapore Armed Forces; and
• Ministry of Home Affairs / Singapore Police Force / Singapore Civil Defence Force
The NS Portal extends convenient access to a user base of close to 400,000 servicemen. The lifestyle offerings on the portal are also extended beyond the NS community to youths and women, as well as families of NSmen and the general public.
Awards won by NS Portal:
• ICMI Global Call Centre of the Year in 2009 a prestigious international award given out to only the most deserving call centre that consistently delivered sterling results and high level of customer satisfaction results. NS Call Centre won the award after a series of contests against international call centres and the award was announced in Las Vegas in 2009.
• Singapore’s National Innovation and Quality Circles Convention (NIQCC) Silver Award.
• Singapore Book of Records 2009 – mobiHunt event being the Largest Treasure Hunt using Mobile Technology
• Stockholm Challenge Finalist in 2008
• APICTA Award Finalist in 2007
• One of the 100 winners in the CIO Asia 100 Award in 2007
Achievements earn by NS Portal:
• Mystery Caller Audits - Consistently achieved 100% of the targets in the audits conducted Singapore’s Public Service 21 Office 4 times a year across Ministries
• NS Portal customer satisfaction survey Mar 2010 – More than 97% of participants were satisfied with NS Portal. Feedback from the survey: o The portal is useful and convenient o The portal provides detailed information
• NS Connect customer satisfaction survey Mar 2010 – More than 97% of participants were satisfied with NS Connect
• NS Portal Call Centre customer satisfaction survey Mar 2010 – More than 96% of callers were satisfied with our service. Some comments from customers include:
o “Thank you very much for your advice on how I can follow up on the check on my deferment request. Your response had been most helpful, and I was fortunate that the deferment department and my unit Bde S3 had processed the request in time, and had just approved my deferment. It had been a pleasure communicating (email and phone) with the staff at the NS Portal Customer Service centre. Thank you for all the quick and friendly responses.”
o “I would like to thank Jeremy Ko for the good service I received. I called up the NS hotline and was nicely greeted by him. As it was an urgent call and he did not waste anytime and took the initiative and gathered the necessary information while I was on hold and my call was done pleasantly. This is good service that helpdesk/support should be providing and hope the support desk can continue with the good work in supporting customer calls. Thanks.”
o “Hi, I would like to pay compliments to one Mr Gary (sorry I did not managed to get his surname) who responded to my call to NS hotline. I was enquiring on my brother's and my fiancé’s (both overseas) NS matters and Gary had been very helpful. What strike me most was his politeness and his quick response to provide me the information and assistance I need. This is one of the nicest experience I had calling one of the government agencies/ministries. Thank you.”
o “I would firstly like to apologise to all for my harsh email and no harm was intended to anyone. My experience with Ms Wana and Ms Kala has changed my heart and mind of MINDEF. I do believe that we now have a world class army and service standards. The two ladies had managed to turn a potential complain into a compliment. That is the true mark of customer service in any industry. I would like to thank Ms Wana especially for her dedication, patience, soft skills and caring way in which she approached me on the phone to explain to me the turn around time. I am very glad to have had such a pleasant encounter with you Ms Wana. I would also like to give my appreciation to Ms Kala for following up so closely with the case and giving me a direct reply. Ms Kala I believe is a very experienced lady and showed her professionalism. I also apologise for not sending this out earlier as I have been very tied up with work in the recent weeks. Finally I would like Ms Wana and Ms Kalavathi's managers to take note of her exemplary performance and do hope they are duly rewarded.”
o “I had called the NS Call Centre earlier and I had requested to speak to the help desk. Mr. Ash had picked up my call and he was friendly and sounded earnest in providing help to my enquiry about myManning. Despite talking over the phone, he was patient and sounded professional whilst explaining the policy and how Manning works. This is an exemplary display of service attitude towards users like us.”