18 Mar 2021
Large-scale testing has been a key pillar of Singapore’s COVID-19 response, and this was made possible by a suite of digital infrastructure and systems that managed the end-to-end testing operations. In recognition of its innovative contribution, the multi-agency team with members from DSTA, the Ministry of Health (MOH), the Health Promotion Board, and IHiS clinched the IT Leader Awards 2021 (Infrastructure Category).
Presented by the Singapore Computer Society, the awards took on the theme of ‘Tech Heroes from Crisis’ this year to honour individuals or teams who have made significant technological contributions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As testing needs ramped up in Singapore in May 2020, MOH set up the Testing Operations Centre (TOC) to aggregate national testing demands and centrally manage the allocation of testing capacity. Working closely with the other agencies, a team of DSTA engineers developed a Command and Control (C2) system for the TOC, which enhanced the TOC’s capabilities to manage large-scale testing operations. The system provided an overview of test demands and laboratory capacities, optimised the demand-supply allocations, hence reducing the turnaround time to receive test results.
Other aspects of the digital infrastructure included a Swab Registration System – which allowed the bulk booking of swab appointments and tracking of swab attendance – and the COVID-19 Test Repository – which identified and ingested COVID-19 related test results from public and private laboratory systems automatically.
Director (Technology Development) Eng Huiling, who led the DSTA team, said: “At first, there were many different and separate systems supporting the swab ops workflows, so we started with a stocktake of all the system types to provide a common picture of everything together. This helped decision-makers to pinpoint bottlenecks and influence the required interventions to improve the swab ops process.”
As the systems integration took shape, the team also had to grapple with data quality issues, as data collected from the disparate systems were in different data schemas, and a significant amount of effort was required to extract, transform and load the data. This led to the team developing a common schema standard and collaborating with various system stakeholders on this standardisation effort.
Data Scientist (Enterprise IT) Peh Jing Yuan explained: “With these high-quality data, data scientists would be able to analyse and present findings in visuals showing an overview of the demand and supply accurately. It also allowed the consistent tracking of swab results that are collated automatically.”
As time was of essence, the DSTA team embedded at the TOC also took a new approach to development. Senior Engineer (Enterprise IT) Loo Jian-Ju explained: “Instead of waiting for requirements to be given to us, we decided to engage in tech push. We studied the workflows in the TOC, identified gaps, and proposed technical solutions and data-driven process changes that we felt would close the gaps.”
With the award recognising the team’s efforts, Huiling added that teamwork and sharing a common goal was instrumental to the project’s success. She said: “Through this journey, I experienced first-hand how different stakeholders can come together to address a common problem. Despite the intense work and long hours, the team’s sense of purpose helped everyone stay focused. We are glad to have contributed to this effort.”