Administrative tasks II

If you can make administrative work highly predictable, such as estimating the specific amount of time it takes to fill up a form, the number of people it takes to process the form; streamlining the processes in order to filter out exceptions that need more deliberations or processing, and be able to tag a time it takes to it, you’ll be able to create a system that takes out most of the inefficiency in administrative tasks.

The greatest challenge isn’t that there are administrative tasks. Of course there are. But we don’t know how long it takes to do it. And even when people tells us we will hear back in 3 days or 5 days, it doesn’t happen. Because backlogs build up and companies, departments do not make provision to hire more staff or put more resources at work processing admin. They rather allow it to be a bottleneck.

For example, one needs to register the foreign immunization certification with Singapore’s National Immunization Register (NIR) and get an all-clear before putting up the application for Dependents Pass for the kids who had their vacination overseas. And we are not talking about Covid-19 vaccines here. Just the normal ones. Even if there are sufficient people processing Dependent Passes at Immigration & Customs Authority (ICA), the lack of personnel at NIR can be a problem. Because an application to NIR usually takes 20 working days to complete has taken more than 30 working days and we have not heard from them.

Singapore government have been known to be efficient and effective because we think deeply about such problems, about optimising processes and making the customer service journey for people more humane. But in recent years, with digitization, automation and a bid to shed manpower or get them to do ‘higher value services’, have resulted in people falling through the cracks and the lack of manpower to deal with exceptions that pops up.

This is highly inefficient; because the lack of transparency about what’s happening at the NIR is costly: it has already wasted over 30 minutes of my time calling, speaking to officers, getting them to escalate issues, repeating application reference numbers. And that’s across myself, 3 officers (including the one who picked up and was silent the whole time until I hang up after waiting for over 2 minutes because I could hear the background call-center sounds and harbored hope he would return to his desk from his toilet break). All these time could be spent processing the application itself.

Sometimes, saving the world is about solving these problems.