When the Singaporeans observed the outbreak of the corona virus in Wuhan, China, they were concerned that the virus could soon reach our coast.
On January 24, the first confirmed case of the coronavirus (now COVID-19) was reported in Singapore. After this news, both N95 and surgical masks flew off the shelves.
The very next day, the number of masks in several retail stores across the island dropped to zero, and Singaporeans feared they could not protect themselves from a highly contagious virus.
In response, the Singapore government announced on January 30 that each household would be given four surgical masks to be picked up at certain distribution centers between February 1-9.
A team of developers from the Government Technology Agency of Singapore (GovTech) recognized the importance of providing timely, accurate information about their distribution centers and was mobilized to develop MaskGoWhere on the same day.
On this website, citizens can simply enter their zip code to find out details about their respective mask collection points.
Stumbling block: "Dirty" or incomplete data
Under the leadership of Lim Eyung, Director Government Digital Services at GovTech, the team created and designed the first version of the website in less than 12 hours.
"We anticipated such a need and started to set up the basic digital architecture to support on-site operations," said Eyung.
However, the team soon encountered a major hurdle that threatened to stop MaskGoWhere's further development.
"We could not continue because the data we needed to assign zip codes to the collection points was incomplete or" dirty "," said Eyung.
"The last thing we want is to get the wrong information out there."
According to GovTech, the complexity lies in the frequent changes in details regarding collection points, making it difficult to find a "single source of truth".
The GovTech team was determined to work through the project and worked with the People’s Association (PA) and the Civil Service Department to find a workaround.
In view of the timeline, Lim and his team decided to assign the postal codes to each constituency instead of the exact mask collection points.
Screenshot of MaskGoWhere
Since each constituency had its own posters (created by PA) that list the latest mask collection points, the GovTech team was able to implement MaskGoWhere in such a way that when entering their zip code, users are redirected to an image of a poster with all the relevant information for them constituency.
At the same time, GovTech's cybersecurity specialists started preparations to ensure that MaskGoWhere is safe to start up.
“We worked with the application development team to define the scope and functional specifications of the project, which allowed us to better understand the threat landscape and application capabilities. This was the key for us to prioritize our security test cases, ”said Thomas Lim, Associate Cybersecurity Specialist at GovTech.
600,000 site visits on the first day of launch
On February 1st, the first version of MaskGoWhere was in operation at 4 a.m., although not yet live.
Even then, GovTech's cyber security specialists continued to conduct penetration tests – this had to be completed by dawn when maskGoWhere's user volume was expected to increase.
Typically, a penetration test would take at least two weeks, but they completed it within a few hours.
A separate cybersecurity team did the same by securing the government's AskJamie chatbot, which has also been updated to answer questions about the latest information on COVID-19.
“Since the outbreak of COVID-19, engagement of project teams across the government working on other COVID-19 related applications has increased. Since then we have re-prioritized our resources to support these commitments, ”said Thomas.
According to the schedule, MaskGoWhere – already safe and functional – went live at 8 a.m. At the end of the day, the website had around 600,000 visitors. The site had effectively gone viral.
Lessons for the future
While Eyung admitted that the development of MaskGoWhere was not technically demanding, the tight time constraints meant that some learning points had to be removed from the experience.
For example, the team omitted organizational logos, imprint or footers when the website was first published, which quickly raised suspicions of a malicious website.
"It was a mistake on our part, but we managed to correct it quickly," he said.
“The other point to emphasize is the fact that everyone in the team was very task-oriented. In this case it was very clear to us: the mission is to enable citizens to access the latest information through a web-based medium. "
He also emphasized that technology is not the only determinant of mission success.
“Working closely with PA enabled the optimal integration of OpsTech (operational technology), where we could get real-time feedback to understand user needs and use the agile approach to make continuous improvements.”
Overall, the "mission" lasted around 48 hours, but the team continued to monitor, improve and stabilize MaskGoWhere by keeping the operations manager low throughout the mask distribution period, which was extended until the end of February.
Looking ahead, Eyung is already thinking about how MaskGoWhere's design and features could be applicable to other contexts, such as national events or emergencies.
"That makes our work meaningful," he concluded.
This article first appeared on GovTech. You can also get byte-sized technical stories (geddit?) From GovTech Here,
Selected image source: GovTech