ORMC COI Final Masthead
The ORMC COI Unit Project Team Members (2021 and 2022) comprises (from left) Mr. Tony Yeow, Dr. Chan Tuck Wai, Ms. Megan Ting, and Mr. Joel Lee.

Navigating Compliance and Risk at NUS

Today’s workplace is becoming increasingly complex: as various business and personal relationships intertwine, identifying threats to decision-making at work becomes more difficult. A Conflict of Interest (COI) is defined as a situation in which an individual’s personal, professional, and financial considerations could, directly or indirectly, affect an individual’s judgement and performance in exercising their duty and responsibility at work. As NUS is in a position of trust in relation to its stakeholders, external organisations as well as the public, staff have the responsibility to ensure their professional conduct and work is free of COIs.

The COI Unit under the Office of Risk Management and Compliance (ORMC) is constantly looking for new ways to manage compliance and risk at NUS efficiently. In the past year, the COI Unit has found ways to digitalise its processes in handling COI declarations as well as harness AI to educate and monitor risk within the university. Approximately, 13,000 employees participated in the 2021 COI Declaration cycle.

Digitalisation and Enhancement of Systems

The way COI is handled today at NUS is vastly different from how it was handled several years ago. Previously, there were three different systems under the Office of Human Resources (SAP COI System), Registrar’s Office (COI System Java Application) and Office of Admissions (Manual COI Process). The old process was prone to manual errors, and it was challenging to consolidate declaration information from three different platforms.

When the COI process was handed over to ORMC, the first change was to consolidate the three processes into a singular COI system hosted on the NUS Intranet in 2018, allowing staff to submit their declaration via a digitised form hosted on a website. Last year, the COI system underwent a mass enhancement to accommodate growing business needs and address pain points in the COI Unit. One of the main improvements is dynamic routing, which allows multiple COI team members to simultaneously review a COI declaration at any one time. Previously, the workflow was strictly linear due to system limitations. As the COI Unit collaborates with several partners such as the Office of Admissions (OAM), Office of the Deputy President (Research and Technology), Office of Human Resources (OHR), Industry Liaison Office (ILO), Registrar’s Office (RO) and Yale-NUS College, the ability to simultaneously review declarations have significantly cut down the time taken for the exercise. Another improvement was the ability for users to pre-fill information from their previous COI declaration if required, making the process faster for those who have no changes from their previous declaration. Overall, the new COI system has significantly reduced manual errors and established a more efficient workflow, allowing the unit to provide timely assessment and feedback to staff.

In finding new ways to make the COI declaration process easier for staff, the unit also introduced a new way of declaration via mobile SMS last year. Through SMS, staff are able to make a declaration conveniently with the press of a button and their responses would be captured by the COI system. Approximately, 9,000 staff benefitted from this simplified process.

Building a Risk Aware and Compliant Community

In tandem with the system enhancements, the COI Unit also looked for better ways to educate the staff community about the COI Policy and its associated policies. In collaboration with an external vendor, Right-Hand Cybersecurity, a COI training module was produced for staff training. AI-powered technology was used to convert policies into training programmes and generate dashboards to manage risk in organisations. It also enabled the unit to identify and better manage risk in the University.

“We needed to understand people’s behaviour in an intelligent way and analyse data that is more approachable and usable,” said Dr Chan Tuck Wai, Head of Compliance at ORMC.

The COI unit is constantly looking for ways to improve and enhance its ways of working and providing expedient assessments for the University. In consistently digitalising and tapping on the expertise within and outside of NUS, the COI Unit is better able to accommodate growing demands and changes at NUS while still making the COI system simpler, smarter and more efficient.


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