|The Second Meeting of the
Working Party on the Application of New Technology
to Population Data
|Singapore, 1-3 April 1998
ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COMMISSION FOR ASIA AND THE
21 March 1998
Working Party on the Application of New Technology
to Population Data
1-3 April 1998
|Use of secured Internet
in Data Collection and Dissemination in Singapore:
Electronic Transfer of Returns*
This document has been prepared by the Singapore
Department of Statistics. It has been issued as
- The Electronic Transfer
of Returns (ETR) system is a major initiative
undertaken by the Singapore Department of Statistics
to provide better services to the public. The
ETR system makes it easier for businesses to
submit statistical returns through Internet.
The Department's Business Expectations Survey
(BES) is the first statistical survey to be
conducted by ETR.
THE SURVEY OF BUSINESS EXPECTATIONS
- The BES has been conducted
since 1975 to provide quick assessment of the
business outlook of firms in the short term.
Such information is used extensively by policy
planners and the business community. The survey
is carried out quarterly and covers about 1,250
establishments engaged in commerce and services.
- To cater to the different
nature of the various sectors covered in the
survey, four different types of questionnaires
are presently used, namely for Commerce, Wholesale
Trade, Financial Services and the Services Sector.
- The BES has primarily
been conducted by the conventional method of
sending hardcopy questionnaires to respondents
who will then mail or fax their returns to the
Department. Respondents have to deal with the
tedious paperwork and the manual tasks of mailing
or faxing their survey forms every quarter.
With the rapid advancement in IT and increasing
popularity of Internet usage by organizations,
the ETR system was developed with support from
the National Computer Board (NCB). It is the
first Internet application for statistical data
collection in Singapore as well as the Asian
region. With this system, the completion and
submission of the survey form is done entirely
- To use the ETR system,
the following hardware and software are recommended:
- Pentium PC, 133MHz
- 32MB RAM and above
- At least 5MB free space
on the hard disk
- 33.6kbps modem with connection
to one of the local Internet service providers
- Microsoft Internet Explorer
(version 3.0 and above) or
- Netscape Navigator (version
3.x and above)
- Internet access
- The configuration of
the ETR system is as shown in Figure 1.
| Figure 1
- ETR users can access
the online survey form from the Statistics Singapore
Home Page at http://www.singstat.gov.sg.
Upon authentication of the user, the survey
form is shown on the computer screen. The user
then fills in the survey form online. After
he has completed the survey form, he submits
his survey return via Internet by clicking on
a button. The survey data are transmitted to
the NCB Web server, extracted into a flat file
and then uploaded into the current BES mainframe
OF DATA TRANSMISSION
- To ensure
confidentiality of the completed form submitted
by respondents via the Internet, the ETR was developed
using an advanced encryption technology. This
involves authentication of both the senders as
well as recipients of the survey form and the
encryption of the data. To use the ETR, respondents
are required to use Netrust Digital Certificates
(issued by Netrust Pte Ltd) and install a software
known as National Computer System (NCS) WebTop
- The Netrust Digital Certificate
is the electronic counterpart to the user's
identification document. The Digital Certificate
serves to prove the user's identity and his
right to access the online survey form as
well as prevents unauthorised personnel from
using phony keys to impersonate as an ETR
- The purpose of the NCS
WebTop Client Proxy is to create a secure
environment for transmitting information online.
The survey information is encrypted using
one of the most complicated encryption algorithm
currently available (which features a 128-bits
RSA, triple DES encryption algorithm). The
information is then sent through a secure
channel using the NCS WebTop security solution.
- With the use of Digital
Certificates and NCS WebTop Client Proxy software,
the following are ensured during the transmission
of confidential survey data over the Internet:
- Authentication of sender
and receiver of information
The Digital Certificate ensures that
the ETR user and the Web server are who they
say they are. It protects the user by ensuring
that he is accessing a genuine Web server.
- Data integrity
If there is any attempt to alter any information
during the transmission, the recipient of
the information will be alerted.
- Confidentiality of information
The information exchanged is made private
and confidential by applying the advanced
Non-repudiation is achieved by verifying the
digital signature of the user (in the form
of Netrust Digital Certificates).
For ETR users' convenience, the Netrust Certificate
Generator and NCS WebTop Client Proxy software
are both available for downloading at the Statistics
Singapore Home Page.
OF THE ELECTRONIC SURVEY FORM
- The online survey form
is designed to be interactive and helpful to
users. Some of the features are listed below:
- Save as draft function
This is a very useful feature for users
who are unable to complete the survey form
during a single log-in. Clicking on the
"Save as draft" button automatically saves
the input. When the user logs-in again some
later time, he can complete form without
having to re-enter his previous input.
- Validation checks
Users who key in their total figures eg
relating to operating expenses, are prompted
with a message if their total numeric input
does not tally with the calculated total.
- Other checks
Users who attempt to submit an incomplete
survey form would be reminded with an error
- Displayed information
Some fields in the survey form, eg company
name and address, are pre-filled for users.
They are only required to update the information
OF THE ETR SYSTEM
- The ETR system was launched
in early March 1998 for the 2nd Quarter 1998
BES. To ensure smooth implementation of the
ETR System, seminars were organised for senior
personnel of companies and businesses covered
in the BES.
- The ETR System provides
a quick and convenient channel for BES respondents
to submit their survey forms via the net. They
no longer need to deal with the hassle of filling
in paper questionnaires and then mailing or
faxing them back to the Department. With the
electronic system, they save time and effort.
- For the Department, the
ETR reduces manpower effort on data-entry and
data-editing. The survey data are transmitted
straight into the present database without the
need for data-entry. As the online survey form
has built-in validation checks, it reduces effort
needed to check for incomplete forms and then
calling up respondents to obtain the required
- The ETR helps to expedite
survey operations and the compilation of data.
The Department is, hence, able to disseminate
the statistical information to other organisations
and the public within a shorter period of time.
PLANS FOR ELECTRONIC SURVEYS
- Following the successful
implementation of ETR for BES, the Department
intends to develop other Internet applications
for the submission of data for the Census of
Population 2000 and other statistical surveys.
This is expected to improve our statistical
services and operations.
| ELECTRONIC TRANSFER OF
AN ILLUSTRATION ON HOW TO ACCESS THE BES FORM
|This section illustrates how BES
respondents access the online form and submit their
returns via Internet.
|Step 1 : The respondent
will go to the Statistics Singapore Web Site at
the following URL http://www.singstat.gov.sg/RESPONDENT/etr.htm.
He will then click on "Go" to proceed to access
|Step 2 : The respondent
will key in his password to login.
|Step 3 : The respondent
will see the following screen interface if he has
logged in successfully.
|Step 4 : The respondent
will click/enter the required information for the
|(i) Business Expectations
|(ii) Factors Limiting Business
|(iii) Business Statistics
|Step 5 : After completing
the survey form, the respondent will click on Submit
"Survey Form" to submit his return.
|The survey data will be transmitted
to the Web server, extracted into a flat file and
then uploaded into the current BES mainframe database
where the data processing and tabulations of the
survey results are done.