As SOEasy crashes and burns, Singapore’s Ministry of Education does the Right Thing

What a pleasant surprise to read that the Singapore Ministry of Education has signed a deal to deploy Google Apps for use by teachers. This is a huge win that we have to shout out loudly.

I, however, do have one caveat. Reading paragraph one of the press release above it says: “… to adopt an open standard cloud computing platform”. I think it is not right to say that Google Apps is an “open standard cloud computing platform”. Well, not just yet. Not until we have a set of standards that allow people to move from one cloud infrastructure to another. As is, Google Apps is not fully open – yet. Don’t get me wrong – I am thrilled that Google is the provider not someone else. At least Google has a Clue about open standards and open source. At least now schools can just use Open Office and Google Docs interchangeably. No need for any proprietary office tools. I really want to meet the MOE officials who did the Right Thing and buy them a beer!

As I read that MOE went with Google, I was listening to a series of horror stories from the poor “rest of Singapore government officers” who are now burdened with the so-called “SOEasy” standard operating environment roll out. All those in IDA who have been “moved” to the “new easier platform” are now thoroughly annoyed. The play on words “SOEasy” (allegedly to mean “so easy”), is a disaster that we have to have stopped. Tax payers monies are being spent on stuff that reduces the efficiencies of the work process and forces clued-in IDA officers (yes there are some) to have to bring in their personal laptops in order to get work done. I am hearing from some government officials that I should not expect any replies from them via email after 5 pm because they refuse to bring their worthless “locked down Windows laptop” home. If I expect a reply, it will only come during office hours and only if they are in the office. So much for improving efficiencies. A few days ago, I was told by yet another government official that the emails that were on their Lotus Notes system does not automatically get forwarded to the new M$ exchange email server and that they have to cut and paste the mails between the systems. I was also told that the budget for the SOEasy project did not include data migration costs from the Lotus Notes database to M$ sharepoint. Imagine that! I am getting really concerned here because, unlike the NCB of old, the IDA of now is a technologically lost. I think we need to reboot IDA. Would you want to help me?

Yes, I am biased against the other behemoth because, unlike Google, the other behemoth does not have the “do no evil” ethos. The other behemoth only believes in vendor lock-in, even more vendor lock-in and to be kept on the constant upgrade path.

Congratulations, MOE, IDA and Google. The Singapore-Redmond nexus (some say axis of evil) has been cracked. And BTW, left hand MEET right hand!


Eugene says that “Isn’t that from one proprietary platform to another. I don’t see how that’s happy news. Plus, privacy should be another concern.”. I agree with him that it is still a proprietar platform. But the way I see it, you can extract mail out of the Gmail system as well as pulling down all of your documents if you want to. As for security, Google email did have a leak as recently as last week. But I think it has been resolved (although apparently Google took days to do this) and haven’t said why it is the case. Years ago (2000/2001), when I was running Inquisitive Mind ( – not available anymore), we had a problem with some of our Singapore school customers who were able to see email from other schools. It turned out that the proxy servers run by the MOE were broken (they were MS proxies after all) and they cached all the contents aggressively. We had to put the time stamps in the html to be 01-Jan-1970 and also to add the nocache prama to the html. Painful experience, but that fixed it.


    • SODifficult it is! Thanks. How much money is the tax payer paying for this *mistake*? Do note that the original civil servants who were part of approving this are no longer in the civil service.

      • So I’ve heard.
        But everyone knows that they are committed to rolling it out still. Though it violated the cardinal rule: “when you are in a hole, stop digging”.
        From what you and other people relate, maybe the civil and public services will shut down 🙂

      • I hope that they will not be shut down. But they are in a deep hole right now. We need ministerial intervention to stop the fiasco. The civil servants are in a CYA mode right now.

      • Well, according to CNA, it’s a big success…
        As they said about Mussolini: ‘He was out of touch with the reality on the ground, despite — or more probably as a result of — reading the newspapers’

      • CNA and SPH are just government press outlets. Of course they will say it is a success. Would they ever interview and find out the real problems?

  1. desperately seeking scapegoat
    Hi Harish, can you call in your contacts to push this to minister level? The people are in dire need of bread and circuses to draw their attention away from the horrifying property prices and negative wealth added from various strategically differentiated investments.
    In an era of persistent government budget deficits, what better diversion than a little $1.x billion procurement mistake that can be blamed on the judgement of the CYA operatives and a big bad foreign corporation? Then you can press that IDA reset button (or maybe a wipe and reinstall), have some of those CYA operatives goatse’d and get the whole thing done properly along the MOE lines. Thanks!
    (PS: having suffered through Lotus Notes once upon a time I hardly think it’s a cure-all, but software isn’t like underwear – one shouldn’t have to pay more to get less!)

  2. Buried their heads in sand
    A friend of mine sent me the link to this post and asked for my comments:
    Not asking for bragging privileges, but when the SOE thing became public, I was one of the few analysts who questioned the whole exercise and the benefit to the tax payer. I took the issue to some of the vendors and the IDA. I got the impression that the whole SOE exercise was more to spend money and create an impression of a dynamic IT industry in Singapore.
    I had also questioned the IBM-NCS proposition. It is another story that the alliance fell through and it had interesting repercussions.
    Now expect more problems down the line. The guys at HP are already peeved that EDS had quoted such low prices (it got heavily discounted at the end) and that they would have to deliver the services due to the HP-EDS merger.
    Anyway to do the makeover please read this:

    • Re: Buried their heads in sand
      Does not matter who raised the issue[1][2], but the mere fact that the whole SOExcruciating waste-of-tax-payer-monies needs to be investigated not on anything except for sheer incompetence and CYA-don’t-rock-the-status-quo on the part of those who made the decision (this is Singapore and there should not be any issue of money-under-the-table). The majority of the “decision makers” are no longer with IDA and that is amazing.

      • Re: Buried their heads in sand
        As far as I know there’s no corruption (money under the table), but there’s some degree of incompetence. When was incompetence ever openly discussed in Singapore especially in stat boards ?
        At the end of the day, remember there’s a powerful lobby which will support the SOEXX because it means money to the vendors.
        One other important aspect of this SOEXX is that the decisions were always taken by committees and hence no one became accountable. Like you perceptively pointed out majority of the people who headed the committees are no longer in iDA. No one wants to be left holding the hot potato.

      • Re: Buried their heads in sand
        The nature of the civil service is that no one person is ultimately responsible, in other words, the buck stops at the minister.

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