How the Singapore government turned to its experimental tech team to quickly address COVID-19 issues

Ms. Yan said the OGP team needed to “dive in” and learn about case operations from scratch. They needed to make sure officers could track the number of cases, so they “attacked” the step that took the most time.

The team decided to use customer service software called Zendesk – the “experimental” nature of OGP means it will use market-proven tools to save time – and customize it for case management.

The system, eventually named Zendemic, automates and tracks case operations. The system automatically updates as a patient completes each step of the journey, from filling out a form with their personal data to registering at a facility.

This means that MOH agents, including those in the call center, could all log into the same interface and get an instant update on a patient’s status. Zendemic also automatically sends a health risk warning SMS to close contacts, further automating the contact tracing process.

“Our goal was that whenever someone calls the call center with a question that can be answered very quickly, like where is my grandmother now, the call center should be able to respond immediately,” Ms. Yan said.

When everything was on Excel sheets, call center agents had to jot down the question and call back because they had to go to operations teams first, a process that could take a day or more, she said. .

“I think what really made a big difference was that the call center could just log into Zendesk and look at all the status updates from where this grandma is and say immediately: ‘Okay, she’s in the establishment, no need to worry.’ It saves so much work for everyone involved.”

WEBSITE FOR ALL THINGS COVID

In addition to helping the call center, OGP also decided to produce a COVID-19 informational website, which broke down complicated policies, presented them simply, and with infographics that were easily shared on social media.

This would be especially for those who tested positive and didn’t know what to do next. The idea came after a meeting with a team from the Singapore Armed Forces – which had been assisting with COVID-19 operations – in October 2021.

OGP software engineer Lam Kee Wei remembers that day, which was a Monday. He had just gotten married and had just come off a week off before being thrown straight into action.

“It just shows how OGP works. Rather than preparing a full proposal, we started working from day one and seeing what physical thing we can submit for approval,” he said, adding that his colleagues had spent several days at the call center working there.

OGP immediately sought to find out exactly what people wanted to know. The team sent out surveys, interviewed parents and spoke with Ministry of Health agents at the call centre. They even integrated into a Telegram chat group for people in quarantine.

“We talked to people on the Telegram channel, we talked to admins, we read the chats, we monitored the chat to see what people were saying as well,” said Natalie Tan, OGP product designer.

“We tried to cover as wide a range of personalities as possible to make sure our solution was holistic for all walks of life, basically.”

This meant they knew which phrases on the website needed to be changed and could include other information like what family members of COVID-19 patients should do.

About Donnie R. Losey

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