Case Study: Singapore Public Service SSO – Part 2

Clarence Ti
Posted: 07/09/2012

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SSON is pleased to share with our readers a series of articles contributed by Clarence Ti, Chief Executive Officer of the Singapore Public Service’s shared services organization [Vital.org won Honourable Mention in the 2007 SSON Excellence Awards for "Best New Shared Services"]. In this series Ti explores four key milestones along the shared services journey: aiming for Service Excellence; developing Operational Excellence; focusing on Productivity Growth; and Engaging Staff.

Read part 1 in the Singapore Public Service SSO Series

Read part 3 in the Singapore Public Service SSO Series

Read part 4 in the Singapore Public Service SSO Series

The Formative Years – In Pursuit of Operational Excellence
Stories from a Government Shared Services Centre (Singapore) Part 2

From the C-suite perspective: Harnessing the skills of a retired army colonel to direct operations; how to fix "misbehaving KPIs"; and factoring in "missing jobs" of the future.

We have a retired army colonel as our Director of Operations. Every day, he does battle with two natural laws – the law of large numbers and Murphy’s Law. If you have ever had the word Operations in your title, you will know intimately that what can go wrong and what will most certainly go wrong eventually, most likely just when your attention is elsewhere. He has one of the toughest jobs in the organisation but also one of the most interesting ones. He is on the scene when things go wrong playing chief investigator, crisis manager and chief engineer – all rolled into one.

But first – a little about us. Vital.org was formally launched in July 2006 as a captive shared services centre for the Singapore Public Service, serving initially just shy of 20 agencies in areas such as payroll administration, HR services, finance services (primarily dealing with vendor payments) and learning & development services. Today, Vital.org serves over 100 distinct government agencies in the original service lines as well as new areas, such as asset management and travel management. By 2010, over a million transactions have passed through our hands, organised along nearly 600 distinct lines of services. Vital.org has a staff of close to 500 people serving a population of some 80,000 public servants.

The case of the misbehaving KPI
We believe there is merit in recording and reporting volumetrics and performance indicators. We are into this in a big way, these past two years. For example, one of our midsize customer agencies subscribes to some 80 of our lines of service and we collect and report on some 200 KPIs for them, every month. Collectively, the number of KPIs for all our customers can really add up. The operation of the law of large numbers and Murphy’s Law almost guarantees that a small percentage of these KPIs will be misreported sometime. Entropy is a fact, not only in the world of science. Suddenly, a misbehaving KPI, especially one that was reported as 100% when it was not, turns into a minor crisis of confidence across all KPIs. We have learned that a steady hand at the helm means a lot at such times. These misbehaving KPIs could be due to a design flaw in collection and reporting; or a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of the KPI itself; or simply human oversight. Each time one of these KPIs misbehaves, a group of operations people huddle around it and beat it back into obedience.

The case of the missing future job
One of the interesting problems we recently had with our more sophisticated customers is that they want to send us work instructions a year (or more) in advance. This is most often a payroll related or HR related transaction, perhaps related to a contractual clause. Fast forward a year and we often find that both the officer at the customer end and the officer charged with the job have left their organisations, no one was the wiser until everyone felt the consequences of a job not done. The dispute arose over whether it was down to the customer to resend the job when it was due – or the shared services centre to queue the job in some time machine. This one was easy to fix. Today, we have a case management system that has an advance date feature to "time capsule" the future job; so it effectively triggers the duty officer of the day, but in the future. No doubt Murphy is conspiring how to mess up our time capsule as you read this.

The case of the officer who went the extra mile
Lest we think life in operations is only about troubleshooting and crisis management, there are also moments of wonder and pleasant surprise. Take the case of a compliment we received about an officer who was responsible for briefing retiring officers about their retirement benefits. Typically, the retiring officer would make an appointment at our office and to be briefed on retirement options and on how to exercise these. On this occasion, one of our officers had apparently found out that the retiring officer was a cancer patient, warded in the local hospital. The officer literally went several extra miles and did the briefing at her bedside after office hours. It’s in moments like this, when life in operations moves beyond the mundane and becomes an inspiration. Is there a name for Murphy’s good twin?

The journey has just begun
Life in operations can feel like a battlefield but it is also where one earns one’s stripes. Life in operations can feel like a detective story where you are charged to solve the many little puzzling developments that were unanticipated or unplanned. Life in operations can be inspiring with moments that touched real lives. We like to think life in operations is a relentless pursuit of operational excellence for those who have a passion for excellence.
To read more about Vital.org, please see: "Strategy questions from inside a captive shared services centre"; and "Building a managed travel program across the government in Singapore"

To read more about Vital.org, please see: "Strategy questions from inside a captive shared services centre"; and "Building a managed travel program across the government in Singapore"

About Mr. Clarence Ti

Clarence Ti was appointed as the Chief Executive of Vital.org on 2 January 2010.

In the public service, he has served in the Economic Development Board in both Singapore and the United States, where he was Director of the San Francisco Centre; the Singapore Land Authority, where he was Director of Land Business & Management; and the Ministry of Law, where he was Director of Strategic Planning. During his career, he has served in areas of investment promotion, business & operations management, planning & co-ordination, and legislative & policy reviews.


He holds both a Bachelor of Science degree with High Honours and a Masters degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and an MBA with distinction from INSEAD. He is also a Certified Financial Analyst.

About Vital.org
Vital.org, a department under Ministry of Finance, was formally launched in July 2006, as part of the Singapore Public Sector’s effort to aggregate common administrative services and reap economies of scale to bring about greater business value for the whole of Government. It currently serves more than 100 Ministries, Departments, Organs of State and Statutory Boards in Singapore. The suite of services includes finance services, human resource services, payroll and claims services, learning and development services and travel management services. Vital.org won the Honourable Mention Award under the Best New Shared Service Organisation (under 3 years in operation) Award during the Annual Asia Pacific Shared Services & Outsourcing Awards 2007. Visit www.vital.gov.sg for more information.

Clarence Ti
Posted: 07/09/2012

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