Ministry of Manpower

The Problem

The mission of the Manpower Research and Statistics Department (MRSD) of the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) is to provide timely and reliable national statistical information on the labour market to facilitate informed decision making within the government and community-at-large.

MRSD conducts about 30 national surveys a year to collect important statistics on the labour market, including information on employment, unemployment, retrenchment, job openings, wages, hours worked, labour turnover, training, employment conditions and workplace practices. Most of these labour market data are obtained from two major surveys namely, Labour Force Survey (LFS) on households, and Labour Market Survey (LMS) and several additional surveys on establishments.

Every year, LFS covers 153,000 households in Singapore with 33,000 in June and 10,000 in each month. The quarterly LMS covers a total of 54,000 establishments, i.e. around 13,500 each quarter. Another 5,300 establishments are selected for the Annual Wage Changes Survey (AWS) in the fourth quarter each year.

The rapidly changing economic and social environment has led to growing demands on MRSD to track more closely changes in the labour market and measure new trends and developments in the dynamic labour market, requiring faster turnaround time from data collection to dissemination. The existing four IT systems, namely the Computer Assisted Telephone Interview System, Internet Household Survey System, Internet Establishment Survey System and Survey Management System have exceeded their economic lifespan and could not effectively serve the purpose. It was difficult to make changes to survey questionnaires, requiring long lead time before the changes could be effected on-line. Public users have also complained about the user-friendliness of the systems.

Solution and Key Benefits

 What is the initiative about? (the solution)
After a review on the legacy IT platforms by the Information Systems & Technology Department (ISTD), the ministry decided to develop a new Integrated Manpower Survey System (iMSS) which will allow MRSD the flexibility and capability to respond to frequent changes to survey questionnaires. The new system will provide a common platform for the conduct of all national surveys by the department, in place of the existing four systems. For this, we needed a strong IT infrastructure that could both withstand our survey load at the national level and provide seamless integration of the existing IT systems. With enhanced security features, the new system will also provide a highly secure means for respondents to submit their information, bearing in mind the increasing sophistication of today’s respondents.

As MRSD’s mission is to provide timely and reliable national statistical information on the labour market to facilitate informed decision-making within the government and community-at-large, the targeted groups are:

a. survey respondents namely establishments, households and individuals selected for the surveys; and

b. users of statistical information, including government that uses the information to shape policies and programmes; unionists, analysts, researchers to gain a better understanding of the labour market; and employers, employees and job seekers who use the statistical information to make informed decisions on HR and career matters.

Other than publishing statistics, the ministry also shares best practices on the collection of manpower statistics including our IT systems with local and international organisations. MRSD maintains close ties with regional and international community through our participation in various forums such as the International Labour Organisation. These platforms enable us to exchange knowledge with our counterparts and learn from best practices. Over the years, the ministry has had enquiries on our IT systems deployed for survey operations and hosted foreign delegations. Hence, the implementation of iMSS system can be a showcase to promote “Created-by-Singapore” IT products and services, and has potential to enhance Singapore’s IT export earnings.

Actors and Stakeholders

 Who proposed the solution, who implemented it and who were the stakeholders?
The initiative to implement the iMSS is largely driven from the need to provide a strong integrated infrastructure to replace the existing four systems. In 2008, the ministry secured $6.4M for the iMSS project. In October 2008, MOM awarded a tender to NCS Pte Ltd for the development of iMSS. This new computerised system replaces four existing IT systems and enhances survey data collection.

As a result of the iMSS project, two projects committees were established within MRSD – a Project Steering Committee to drive the implementation of the project, and a Project Management Committee to provide day-to-day guidance to our project team and IT partner.

iMSS Project Steering Committee is headed by Mrs Tan Leng Leng, Director MRSD (Chairperson) and Ms Ang Mui Kim, Director ISTD & Chief Information Officer (Co-chair). The project progress and status are closely monitored on a weekly basis, and reviewed at the Project Steering Committee meeting held monthly. Apart from project monitoring and review, the Project Steering Committee is responsible for the review of project risks, decides on the risk mitigation actions, and priority of risks to be treated.

Our partner NCS has been very committed to this project since the time of tender award - the Chief Executive Officer, General Manager and other members of their senior management team attend the Project Steering Committee and weekly progress meetings to help steer the project teams towards achieving the project objectives and marshal resources to meet contingencies, whenever required.

(a) Strategies

 Describe how and when the initiative was implemented by answering these questions
 a.      What were the strategies used to implement the initiative? In no more than 500 words, provide a summary of the main objectives and strategies of the initiative, how they were established and by whom.
iMSS is a secure web-based system to support the operational needs of the MRSD in the creation, management, deployment and collection of survey data. While MRSD seeks to provide better service to establishment and household survey respondents through iMSS, this system is also used internally to achieve greater efficiency and improved processes within the department.

iMSS consists of two major sub-systems of which one resides in the Government Data Centre (GDC) and another in the MOM Data Centre (MOMDC).

The sub-system deployed in GDC is public facing and serves to collect information from internet respondents and interviewers. These are Internet-facing web applications to provide a convenient access channel for public users to respond online to surveys and interact with MRSD via the Internet. Alternatively, households may opt for the survey responses to be provided through MRSD’s field interviewers, who are equipped with the e-survey forms on UMPC viz the offline system.

The sub-system deployed in MOMDC comprises the Intranet-facing applications that provide features to support the MRSD officers in their operational survey work and enable the officers to carry out data validation and management of the surveys effectively.

iMSS implements a 3-tier architecture where the presentation, business logic and data are logically separated. These three tiers are collectively known as Web, Application and Data respectively. This tiered design allows for a modular software design using well defined interfaces. It also allows any of the three tiers, components of the tiers or technologies to be upgraded or replaced independently. For instance, the web tier’s primary function is to expose an interface that allows users to interact with iMSS via a web browser, separating it from the underlying components and technologies. Survey respondent only need to use common web browsers such as Internet Explorer and Firefox to use iMSS. No other software is required to be downloaded or installed on their computers.

(b) Implementation

 b.      What were the key development and implementation steps and the chronology? No more than 500 words
The project was executed in two phases spread over 1½ years. Phase 1 encompassed providing a base survey system to replace the existing IT systems, and providing opportunity for pilot rollout, to calibrate system features, performance tuning, and getting adjusted to the new system generally (vis-à-vis change management).

Phase 2 focused on enhanced capabilities of the new system and rollout of more complex surveys namely the comprehensive LFS cum Census 2010. Under this approach, a sub-sample of the census population was selected for the LFS which was expanded to include DOS’ census items. This Whole-of-Government approach minimised respondent burden, was more efficient and cost effective as it optimised efforts in survey data collection and maximised data usage.

Timeline for the two-phase approach and some of the key activities are described here.

Oct08 : Project Kick-off
Oct08-Mar09 : Requirement Gathering
Nov08-Apr09 : Technical Analysis and Design
Jan09-May09 : Technical Construction
Apr09-Jun09 : System Integration Test (Phase1)
May09-Jul09 : User Accetance Test (Phase1)
Jul09-Jul09 : Training
Jul09 : Completion of Phase 1 rollout
Jul09-Dec09 : System Integration Test (Phase2)
Aug09-Feb10 : User Accetance Test (Phase2)
Mar10 : Completion of Phase 2 rollout

(c) Overcoming Obstacles

 c.      What were the main obstacles encountered? How were they overcome? No more than 500 words
The following are the key obstacles encountered during the project implementation and the solution adopted to overcome the challenges:-

1. The original project schedule was to implement Phase 1 in May 09, Phase 2 in Oct 09 but the timeline to implement both phases was too close. The team reviewed the priorities and rearranged the implementation based on capabilities required to meet the upcoming surveys.

2. The original requirement of the project was to implement a single process for both Household and Establishment modules but after careful study of the requirement, this was deemed not possible due to differences in the survey collection process. As changing the process will impact the operations tremendously, the stake holder agreed to adopt separate code base and development path.

3. In the initial stage of the project, the project was rolled out on Virtual Machine (VM) but performance issues started to pose a major challenge to the operations and were causing the system to become unstable and slow. After careful analysis of the situation taking into consideration the need to have the system ready for the Census 2010 survey, the team made the ultimate decision to migrate the VM to physical machine which finally managed to stabilize the performance and management were relief that the system able to carry out the Census 2010 survey successfully.

(d) Use of Resources

 d.      What resources were used for the initiative and what were its key benefits? In no more than 500 words, specify what were the financial, technical and human resources’ costs associated with this initiative. Describe how resources were mobilized
MRSD is the world’s first to conduct the Labour Force Survey on households using the Internet. The iMSS is unique in terms of providing a common platform for the conduct of all national manpower surveys be it on establishments, households or individuals.

Furthermore , the new system streamlines various processes and enables the users to accomplish end-to-end business flow within a common system as follows:
- Creation of survey template;
- Import respondent information from external sources
- Notification to survey respondents via email, fax, letters;
- One-stop collation of survey responses as offline responses are also fed into the iMSS;
- Export survey responses for further data processing and analysis.

System Key features:
i. Survey Function: The system uses an off-the-shelf product to provide enhanced features for creating and managing surveys and a convenient way for establishments, households, individuals or MOM interviewers to respond to the survey questionnaires.

ii. Dynamic Survey Template Creation: User can create survey templates containing questions with branching rules between pages and internal validation rules, as well as applying cross validation rules between different templates.

iii. Case List: The system provides a case list as a single point of access for officers to retrieve and perform tasks assigned to them.

iv. Integrated survey lifecycle between MOM users and respondents: MOM users are able to validate and clarify respondents’ information easily through the system. The system also enables MOM interviewers to fill the form on behalf of the survey respondent, if required.

v. Offline module: Field interviewers are equipped with UMPC to conduct interview in an offline mode enabling paperless data capturing. The data captured are synchronised directly to the system when the Internet connection is available.

vi. Real-time Dashboard and Report Generation: Traffic light indicators and charts enabling management to view various KPI of on-going or past surveys.

vii. Automated sample selection for establishment surveys: While Department of Statistics (DOS) provides the sample for the LFS, the MRSD undertakes sample section for surveys on establishments. Prior to iMSS, the officer in-charge of sample selection for establishment surveys had to write complex MS Access program to churn out the samples for the surveys. With the new iMSS, sample selection can be done through a few clicks as the sampling logic has been pre-built into the system. This makes the sample selection much easier.

viii. Authentication and Authorisation: The system provides user access control features, improving the system governance. An audit trial enables management to analyse the most frequent survey response correction which are useful inputs for subsequent reviews of the survey questionnaires.

Key Benefits:
i. Decrease the delivery time of the survey to the respondents as the creation of the survey does not require users with technical background;

ii. Allowing users to concentrate more on “What are the questions to ask the respondents” than “How can I build a question into this survey”;

iii. Increase the effectiveness and efficiency of interviewers by allowing them to be involved in respondents’ survey anytime e.g. taking over the survey before it is fully completed;

iv. Dashboards enable management to make decisive decision through real-time statistics instead of out-dated statistics or reports collected previously; and

v. Validation rules reduce “cleaning” of the data collected, enabling the statistical team to focus on generating and analysing the data.

Sustainability and Transferability

  Is the initiative sustainable and transferable?
iMSS enables MRSD the flexibility to respond to new data requirements for the review and formulation of policies and programmes, in a more timely and effective manner. This event was realised in 2009.

During the pilot run of iMSS in 2H 2009, MRSD was able to use the system to launch a new monthly LFS in place of the quarterly LFS so as to meet government’s needs to monitor the unemployment situation more closely due to the global economic downturn. The monthly LFS involved the use of a new overlap sampling design where households are repeatedly surveyed for up to 6 months.

In early 2010, the department also successfully leveraged on iMSS to expand the comprehensive mid-year LFS round to include Census questions, given that the households selected for the comprehensive LFS is a sub-sample of the Census of Population, 2010. This is part of a Whole-of-Government approach to align the concepts of key manpower indicators collected in the Census with those in the Labour Force Survey (LFS), allowing for continuity in key data series such as employment and income. This coordinated approach minimizes respondent burden as it enables the labour force data required for both Census 2010 and LFS 2010 to be collected, compiled and analysed under one combined survey.

Additionally KPI dashboards built into iMSS allow the department to monitor survey operations instantly from the desktop. These intelligent business tools serve as a central monitoring system for the supervisors and management to track the survey progress and individual interviewers' performance. Most importantly, it also enables senior management in MRSD to view flash survey estimates of topline key indicators such as unemployment rate and retrenchment number from their desktop at any time while the surveys are ongoing.

Without iMSS, the department would have had to expend manpower to perform tasks such as performing user acceptance testing on various systems for each new survey template to implement, collating data collected, generating survey data collection progress reports and key statistics from different systems. Thus, iMSS has enabled the department to improve its agility in responding to new data requirements and challenges in survey operations.

Improving customer service
While the implementation of iMSS has enabled our policy makers to monitor the labour market situation more closely, survey respondents will find the new iMSS more user-friendly and easy to navigate than before. With enhanced security features, the new iMSS helps to allay public’s concerns over privacy of personal information and maintain the integrity of the national statistics collection system. With the iMSS, respondents will be encouraged to do self-enumeration at their own convenience instead of the traditional modes of submitting their survey returns (e.g. face-to-face or telephone interviews). This helps to shorten survey turnaround time.

Cost savings
In the long run as online submission rate increases over time, we would anticipate cost savings as fewer temporary staff would be recruited to conduct the same surveys. The IT capabilities which come with the new system would allow MRSD to perform some simple enhancements to the survey forms which can be quickly rolled out without engaging the vendor. This would eventually result in time and cost savings.

Lessons Learned

 What are the impact of your initiative and the lessons learned?
The key elements that contributed to the successful outcome of iMSS are as follows:-

1. Strong business case, clear project vision and outcome
The initiative to redevelop the iMSS was supported by strong business case, clear project vision with clearly defined outcomes and benefits. The lists of expected benefits were clear for everyone involved in the project to focus on and provided clear vision for the project and outcome. This provided a strong justification to garner high level of support from all stakeholders to have a shared and common interest to ensure project success.

2. Strong top management support from key stakeholder
The top management from both MOM and vendor were very committed to the project progress and success. They were present at the Project Steering Committee and weekly progress meetings to help steer the project teams towards achieving the project objectives and marshal resources to meet contingencies, whenever required.

3. Effective project governance framework and structure
The project was supported by strong and proven project governance framework and structure. The project was guided by IT Steering Committee at the very top and supported by Project Steering Committee to drive the implementation of the project, and a Project Management Committee to provide day-to-day guidance to our project team and IT partner.

4. Committed and motivated project teams
The project team was very committed and motivated throughout the project cycle. Through planning for frequent milestones achievement, the project teams have a clear sense of progress and were motivated despite challenges. We also stressed on open and frequent communication to let the team know when they are performing well, not just when they are not performing.

5. Good technical design and implementation strategy
The sound technical design and implementation strategy of iMSS were key contribution factor to the success. The design based on off-the-shelf component helped to ensure we adopted the best of industry practice and through phased implementation strategy; the project was able to deliver on a timelier basis to better meet stakeholder expectations.

6. Proven project execution methodology.
The project was executed based on the NCS proven Application Development Methodology which was adopted during the course of the project. The development methodology had been adopted successfully by NCS for many government and commercial project since 10 years ago and have been time tested and refined to ensure project are delivered on time and on target.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Ministry of Manpower
Institution Type:   Government Department  
Contact Person:   Lim Huey Teo
Title:   IT Manager  
Telephone/ Fax:   64996310
Institution's / Project's Website:
Address:   18 Havelock Road
Postal Code:   059764
City:   Singapore
State/Province:   Singapore
Country:   Singapore

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