Thinking about the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing is clear: no single government agency will be able to solve them by acting alone. That’s because the impacts of the pandemic cut across the traditional boundaries and responsibilities of individual agencies. Getting the best results for citizens requires coordinated action.  

I can think of two examples where this is particularly clear. The first is business travel. Take Singapore, which has grown its appeal as a centre for international meetings and conventions over many years. In the past, making these events successful did not require much in the way of active collaboration between different agencies and players involved. Each could operate perfectly well within their respective silos.

Reviving travel

But now, any attempt to revive this type of business travel will rely on a number of public and private parties understanding how their role and the roles that others play need to be in sync. For example, there will need to be new guidelines about safe travel. Immigration and border agencies, along with airports, will have to put in place the controls that can ensure safe entry to the country. Health agencies must create the health checks and standards that enable travellers from different locations to enter the country safely without risk of spreading infection.  And all this, and more, needs to be coordinated and integrated by government.

Managing vaccine roll out

The second example is the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines. It’s a highly complex proposition. As soon as a vaccine is deemed to be ready for use on the public, it will require multiple agencies and stakeholders to work together. That includes, among others, the pharma businesses manufacturing the vaccines. Distribution channels across the supply chain will need to be coordinated and managed effectively. Decisions about who gets the vaccine first must also explain the reasons determining those priorities. Effective communications with the public about how to get the vaccine and why it is important are also essential.  And each of these moving parts should also be designed for use in the future, should the need arise.

Team sport

What both these examples illustrate is that successfully addressing the challenges of the pandemic (and indeed plenty of other tough problems) is a team sport. There has to be a comprehensive understanding of every challenge from start to finish, along with a clear identification of the players that will need to come together to solve every aspect. It’s where ecosystems built around and orchestrated through shared platforms really come into their own. 

COVID-19 accelerates co-operation

It’s an approach to problem solving that all governments and agencies need to adopt. We’ve seen the pandemic act as an accelerant for cross-agency cooperation that not only touches the public sector but brings in the private too. For example, one major hotel group was able to use a new platform to open its unlet rooms during lockdowns and offer accommodation to in-demand health personnel working to combat the virus. The same approach is now being used to match job seekers with vacancies. Both are ecosystem plays that bring different participants together, enabled by technology to coordinate and orchestrate capacity and demand in new ways.

The argument for greater integration and coordination between agencies has been made for some time. The pandemic has shone an intense light on the need to operate in this way and the great outcomes it can achieve. And it could prove an enduring and valuable legacy, changing how agencies work together – and the value they can deliver to citizens - from here on in.

Mark Tham

Managing Director – Health & Public Service, Client Group Lead, Southeast Asia​

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