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Digital Transformation in Government: A Guide for Execution

Justice hanging in the balance, courts stuck in a standstill, civil servants threatened with layoffs. Is your administration prepared to face a crisis like that?

August 14, 2020

9 mins read

Remember the 2018–2019 US government shutdown impasse? The longest shutdown in US history wreaked havoc on the world’s biggest economy, leading to an $11 billion loss. The crisis affected over 800,000 public officers, who — faced with late or missed paychecks — were forced to skip mortgage payments, delay medical care, and curtail their lifestyles. If we add the piling backlog in US courts, uncollected tickets and fees, and public service delays across key departments to the equation, it was a state of complete paralysis.

While there’s no easy way to permanently eliminate government shutdowns, the future impact of similar events can be lessened by augmenting efficiency, transparency, and availability of public services through digital channels.

Does the digital era require a digital government?

Building on a convergence of favorable trends, such as the emergence of digital-first generations, increased access to network connectivity, and the advancements in data-driven technologies, state governments are stepping up their digital service delivery capabilities.

Early adopters such as Estonia, South Korea, or Denmark have already achieved fully mature digital governments. Other countries, including Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, are developing bold execution frameworks to harness the complete Government 4.0 vision in the next five to ten years.
Digital Transformation in Government: A Guide for Execution
Source: Public Administration

What is prompting these dauntless digital government initiatives across the world?

Digital technologies lay the foundations for building effective, inclusive, accountable and secure public services that are available 24/7/365. In particular, digitally enabled governments benefit public officers and citizens by:

  • improving government efficiency. By automating procedures, optimizing workflows, and enabling self-service, digital government systems support operational efficiency and excellence. For example, The Government of Jamaica is looking to decrease the processing time for public pensions from over one year down to a month, thanks to the implementation of a software system that helps automate the data collection and verification processes. Estonia, a trailblazer in the digital technology field, saves over 844 years of working time with its interoperability services available through the online platform.
  • ensuring convenient access to civil services. By putting information online, and making it easy to find, access, and retrieve, digital governments are catering to the needs of citizens with disabilities or living in remote, sparsely populated areas. Going further, mobile government implementations make it possible for everyone to attend to their matters on the go, using smartphones. However, for these benefits to be realized, governments need to
    ensure adequate telecommunications and networking infrastructures.
  • driving down admin costs. From automating manual tasks to reducing print work, bringing administrative procedures online directly translates into cost savings. Deloitte reports that by launching the national e-ID card system, Nigeria managed to save about $1 billion on civil service staff. When we look at Estonia again, the country has seen 2% GDR savings on the introduction of digital signature.
  • enhancing transparency and accountability. The lack of transparency into the government’s inner workings undermines civic trust in public institutions and breeds misinformation. Thanks to digital services, governments can keep citizens informed and empowered, sending a clear signal that public servants are held accountable for their work. Online citizen platforms allow smart governments to usher in transparent inter- and intra-governmental processes, easing open access to information in an organized, searchable, and shareable manner.
  • enabling informed decision-making. Advanced government systems leverage sophisticated data analytics solutions that support stakeholders with actionable insights, powered by AI. The ability to harness big data enables officials to make timely, information-driven decisions, which leads to more efficient policymaking and augmented productivity. The time saved on insight generation and analytics can be instead spent on citizen-facing activities.

Are digital government and e-government the same?

While the two terms are often used interchangeably, a distinction exists. Let’s spell it out.

What is e-government?

According to the UN’s definition, e-government refers to “the use of ICTs for improving the efficiency of government agencies and providing government services online.” It applies to the digitization of documents, procedures, and services, mainly to achieve better governance through the use of technology. E-government strategies do not usually involve in-depth redesign of existing processes or adoption of new, innovative digital frameworks.

What is digital government?

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development defines digital government goals as more far-reaching and comprehensive than the ones of e-government initiatives. According to the OECD, in digital government strategies, ICTs serve as “the key mechanism for strengthening public governance” that “can help make governments more open, effective and efficient.”

In line with this definition, digital government reaches beyond simply providing the infrastructure needed to deliver government services online. Instead, it marks a transitional shift toward open and agile public services that hinge on citizen wants, needs, and capabilities. Digital government frameworks aim to reimagine the existing processes and workflows and deliver services in new, innovative ways enabled by advanced technologies. As a result, digital government is seen as a more advanced successor to e-government.

Digital government blueprints for the world

Countries around the world are allocating resources and funding into digital government initiatives to bring their citizens closer to public services and efficiently govern the state.

Here are a few notable examples of countries pushing the envelope in digital government adoption. These governments can be perceived as role-models by other states looking to modernize their strategies.

Estonia

A frontrunner of digital transformation in the public sector, Estonia boasts one of the most comprehensive digital governments in the world. The online government platform integrates all citizens online, providing access to 99% of state services except marriages, divorces, and real-estate transactions. Every person living and working in the country has a unique ID to log into the system; 67% of citizens use the portal regularly, and nearly half vote online without leaving home.

South Korea

As early as the 1960s, South Korea, one of the global innovation leaders, identified the use of ICT technologies as a key component of its government strategies. Throughout the following decades, Korean authorities were dedicating efforts to the digitization of government processes and setting up crucial ICT infrastructure. The last 20 years have been dedicated to the modernization and enhancement of services and developing citizen-oriented programs.

Today, Korean Government Services consolidate over 70,000 state services divided into 12 categories. Interesting digital government initiatives are also taking place on a municipal level. For instance, Seoul has its own digital portal for citizens. The capital authorities are fostering their own online and mobile-based programs including e-tax, electronic payment services, or mobile voting.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is pursuing an array of exciting digital initiatives in its 2030 Digital Transformation Vision. By this time, the government is planning to realize its ambition of establishing the world’s leading e-government to accelerate economic diversification and modernize administration.

The Saudi Ministry of Communications and Information Technology has adopted a four-pronged strategy to digitally empower its tech-savvy citizens. One of its pillars envisages the transition to a fully digital economy, forecasting that by applying smart city systems, the country will generate electricity savings of over 9 billion riyals (nearly $2.4 billion) annually and reduce traffic by over 20%.

Singapore

Singapore has been at the forefront of modern technologies since the early 1980s. In the first stage of its digital transformation, the local government was focusing primarily on providing infrastructure capabilities and feeding one-way digital services to citizens. The “e-gov 2015” program marked a new era of digitization, shifting the focus to initiatives promoting citizen participation and engagement.

Currently, Singapore is implementing the new Digital Transformation Blueprint, bringing data and digitization services together in a common framework. The blueprint outlines the steps needed to connect citizens, businesses, and public officers with fully digital government services. The state is also encouraging citizens and local businesses to contribute to the development of a Smart Nation. The initiative aims at digitally empowering Singapore citizens with technology-based solutions for health, transportation, government services, and urban communities.

Discover more examples of digital transformation in the public sector

Roadmap: how to build a digital government of the future

Even though every country’s journey to digital government follows unique paths, there are certain common action points that all digital government frameworks must incorporate. Regardless of its location, the government of the future rests upon the following key pillars.

Prioritize citizens

Citizen-centric approaches must drive efforts to push digital government strategies. Start from spelling out exact citizen wants, and design the digitization framework accordingly. Treat citizens as customers with individualized user paths, unique needs, and varied expectations. Identify top-priority services and analyze key issues and bottlenecks that can be resolved through digitally enabled administration.

On the technology end, to involve citizens in digital initiatives, you’ll need a user-facing portal (ideally omnichannel, to allow cross-device and platform access). Another foundational element of any digital government platform is an integrated digital identity solution, like the Indian Aadhaar authentication system or Kuwait’s digital ID mobile app.

Provide indispensable ICT infrastructure

Robust, reliable connectivity is conditional for establishing nation-wide interactions between citizens and government officials. However, merely ensuring ubiquitous Internet coverage is not enough. An all-around digital government framework must incorporate other crucial infrastructure aspects, such as affordable devices for communities, secure and reliable data centers, or a trustworthy online payment system.

Ensure service accessibility

To serve as a one-stop-shop for all civic matters, interactive government portals need to offer an open application program interface. By connecting data from multiple departments, third-party systems, and data sources, open APIs bring all services under one roof, enabling secure and seamless communication and integration.

The availability of open APIs enhances the user’s convenience and streamlines processes. A good example of that is Jamaica’s Citizen Services Portal, which provides the country’s residents with 24/7 access to all public services from a single website.

Embed security in your platform

Strengthening information security is paramount for systems dealing with private and sensitive information. To enhance public trust and reassure citizens that their data is duly protected, authorities are embedding regulatory compliance measures and industry best practices into their digital frameworks.

Usually, this involves modernizing the existing legislation to ensure consistent and secure management and handling of the stored data. A wide assortment of cybersecurity instruments can be coded into government platforms to enable secure user authentication and authorization, maintain privacy protection, and drive higher adoption of digital government solutions among communities.

Power decisions with data

Data analytics capabilities are an integral component of modern digital government systems. Smart governments tap into citizen data, metrics, and interactions for evidence-led policy making. Leveraging IoT-based programs, they gather IoT-driven insights to enhance and accelerate decisions impacting communities and businesses.

Harnessing smart data lies at the center of UAE’s Data Strategy, a framework that aims to improve the quality of life of Dubai residents and spur economic growth in the city through a shared data platform. The platform serves as an urban data hub integrating all information about the smart city and coordinating all data-driven services and initiatives. Through acceleration of data submission, processing, and access, it enhances the efficiency of public services, promotes data transparency, and powers informed decision-making.

Learn more about the evolution of urban planning over the years

Implement machine intelligence enhancements

From smart chatbots resolving citizen issues to AI-driven hospital networks, artificial intelligence solutions open a whole new range of opportunities for public services. The number of use cases supported by AI is infinite. Assisted, augmented, and autonomous intelligence apply in all aspects of state governance, including law enforcement, transportation, healthcare, national security, and many, many others.

One of the countries pushing the frontier in the application of artificial intelligence in public services is Saudi Arabia. As part of the country’s 2030 Vision, the KSA authorities announced plans to establish the National Center for Artificial Intelligence and the National Data Management Office responsible for improving performance efficiency with the help of AI and big data.
Digital Transformation in Government: A Guide for Execution
Source: Public Administration

Bottom line

Digital transformation is permeating all aspects of our lives, prompting the shift to technology-enabled, customized, and convenience-based services. “Spoiled” by these new service delivery models, citizens are increasingly turning into consumers, raising the bar for their local and state administrations.

By building on digital capabilities, governments can meet escalating citizen expectations and inject more stability into their operations. The creation of a sustainable digital ecosystem requires a thorough redesign of existing modes of operation and implementing a citizen-oriented framework that empowers communities with knowledge and action.

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