Governments have rarely been early adopters of newest technologies and have never been at the forefront of innovation, save for a few exceptions and isolated cases. Due to the sheer scale of their operation and the effect produced by their decisions, public agencies have been traditionally cautious about the ramifications of running experiments that could have unforeseen consequences.
To a certain extent, such conservatism has been caused by the high cost of retrofitting legacy systems or implementing new ones on a large scale. Since government systems were supposed to stay intact for longer periods of time and serve a very large audience, governments preferred not to rush with innovations, but instead adopt technologies that have already been tested by businesses across a variety of industries.
However, the accelerated pace of technical progress in the recent decades is challenging the old ways of serving the public. With more and more data being collected from residents, the infrastructure, and numerous auxiliary services and structures, the need for a comprehensive digital transformation is hard to ignore.
Let’s take a look at the public sector pioneers of digital transformation and the steps they are taking to secure a safer, healthier, and comfortable future for their citizens.
Leading the way
On the non-technical level, digital transformations in the public sector pursue at least the following goals:
- Provide public services in a more effective/efficient manner
- Quickly identify and implement new solutions in response to new social and economic conditions
- Achieve better understanding of citizens’ needs and address them in an optimal fashion
- Be able to engage external vendors to expand the range of offered services
- Monetize online public services and create new sources of revenue for future innovations
According to a Deloitte survey, those governments that approached digital transformation as a greenfield project were the most successful ones. These countries did not need to modernize legacy systems and update their infrastructure and processes for compliance with modern e-Government standards. Instead, they chose to implement them from scratch, starting by defining the problem statement and coming up with an iterative implementation strategy.
Singapore: The country runs a number of innovative e-Government programs and initiatives, including the famous Virtual Singapore digital twin project. Citizens enjoy a variety of online and mobile apps providing access to a slew of government services in such areas as healthcare, urban development, transportation, and more.
United Arab Emirates: The government of the UAE is among the world leaders in terms of the number of smart city and e-Government initiatives launched in the past couple of decades. Dubai takes the lead with its Smart Dubai program, which focuses on such initiatives as paperless document exchange, public transport running on renewable energy, smart mobility, and widely available broadband connectivity.
South Korea: The country has traditionally been at the forefront of innovation, and building smart cities within a large-scale e-Government program has been at the very top of the Korean government’s list of priorities.
United States: The U.S. Digital Service is used by millions of people to access the most essential public services on a daily basis.
United Kingdom: The Government Digital Service helps save hundreds of millions of pounds annually by replacing physical offices and curtailing the time required for a service to be rendered to the appropriate applicant.
Australia: The country’s dedicated Digital Transformation Agency and the MyGov platform are massive governmental initiatives aiming to completely change and improve people’s experience of interacting with public services. The first item on their agenda was the creation of a unified authentication mechanism that uses a single standardized digital identity to access a variety of e-Government tools.
For all these countries, the process of digital transformation included more than just building portals, mobile applications, and merging previously siloed databases into a single cloud-based data bank. A true digital transformation requires a paradigm shift that places the end user in the focus and subjects everything else to the goal of providing maximum value to a particular citizen while keeping the operational overhead as low as possible.
Key challenges of a public digital transformation strategy
The number one challenge for converting a traditional government into one driven by data and digital services is modernizing internal systems to make them more effective and reorienting them outward to serve the citizens of the country in a number of new, innovative ways.
Throughout this process, and especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, efforts should be shifted towards engaging more digital channels, expanding the range of public services accessible remotely, and ensuring the well-being of citizens through next-generation healthcare, distance learning, and advanced mobility.
At the same time, implementing such an array of innovative technologies requires a completely new approach to getting things done — and how would you learn it if not from successful commercial enterprises with their lean development methodologies? Governments are embracing both the methods of successful businesses and their very operational models.
As shown in the illustration above, the most important general areas that governments try to address in their transformation programs are next-gen healthcare, smart tourism, smart city, smart classroom, smart government, and advanced mobility. They address the important aspects of people’s lives and have huge digitization potential.
When it comes to rules and best practices, the following are some of the principal values that digital transformations in the public sector are typically based on.
- Security first. One of the first steps that governments undertake on their way to a digital transformation is the creation of digital identities that citizens can use for a single sign-on in multiple online public services. This, combined with large volumes of data collected about particular users, creates potential security vulnerabilities that must be addressed proactively. Therefore, advanced cybersecurity at all levels is an essential element of any long-term digital strategy.
- Human-centered approach. Citizens and the improved quality of their lives are the alpha and omega of any digital transformation process.
- Outward-looking innovations. Digital transformation can start with internal automation as an efficiency booster but must eventually evolve into services looking outside of closed-access government platforms to address the needs of the population.
- Reliance on Big Data. Big data collected from users, smart city systems, and other elements of the intelligent infrastructure help optimize public services and personalize the user experience.
- Parting with the past. Embracing the future means doing away with the rudimentary artifacts of the past. Think cloud versus old hosted solutions; universal mobility instead of stationary workplaces; modern, easy-to-maintain online platforms versus cumbersome legacy systems.
- Barrier-free data exchange. Modern e-Government systems are built with data interoperability in mind and use popular, non-proprietary data exchange formats to communicate with other systems and platforms.
- Innate flexibility and adaptability. A modern, flexible, and scalable architecture must be able to support quick expansion and re-application of system components to new areas.
- Cost efficiency. Transformations are meant to optimize everything, including government spending. The initial investments into software development, equipment, and training should be paid off in the long run by the increased efficiency of services, removal of redundant offices, and other forms of savings.
Key public sector technologies
In the past, governments tended to treat technology as a purely supportive element of their systems and structures. Complex, non-interactive websites coupled with internal management and communication tools formed the technology layer of the public domain. In the emerging world of digital governments, technology is the foundation and the binding force between various services, agencies, functions, and activities taking place in the public space.
Although it is fairly difficult to provide accurate mapping of technologies to particular areas of application (as there is substantial overlap between them), here are some notable trends and prospective use cases for technologies entering the public domain.
On the lowest level, digital government systems will be based on decentralized cloud databases and platforms with rich APIs facilitating their integration into other systems. These solutions will provide round-the-clock, universal access to a wide range of essential government services and data, and will be used for collecting and processing large volumes of data coming from users, IoT devices, various services, and so on.
Business process automation is one of the fundamental elements of any digital transformation process. Starting deep inside complex government systems, automation practices eventually spread throughout the entire infrastructure and become the primary driver of growing efficiency. Advanced automation scenarios involving RPA (Robotic Process Automation) can dramatically reduce process delays or eliminate them altogether, minimize the risk of human errors, and improve the overall quality of services provided to citizens.
The widespread availability of high-speed, low-latency wireless Internet opens doors to a great many strategic initiatives, including better environmental monitoring, improved national defense, creation of smart cities and fleets of autonomous vehicles, provision of online services to the residents of remote areas, and more. Combined with fault-tolerant ground communication lines, 5G promises to become the catalyst of changes in both the public and business domains.
Internet of Things
IoT is one of the key ingredients of any smart city concept and a vital prerequisite for drastic improvements in various areas: from efficient traffic control and higher public safety to next-gen healthcare, agriculture, and renewable energy. IoT and edge computing have tremendous economic potential in every conceivable area of application, which means that no e-Government platform can evolve without taking this important technology stake into consideration.
Made up of a powerful mix of IoT, 5G and AI, among other technologies, the smart city infrastructure is essential for tackling the challenges of the future and providing e-Government platforms with data to work with. As the cost of equipment goes down and its reliability increases, governments are going to be implementing more and more smart city programs to have more visibility of the urban development processes and be able to make knowledge-based decisions.
AI is going to be ubiquitous and will play a major role in virtually every aspect of government systems. When used for real-time image recognition, it will help the policy identify and detain wrongdoers. In data analysis systems, AI will be able to identify complex patterns and propose optimal actions to humans, or act autonomously. In traffic control, intelligent systems will dynamically optimize the work of traffic lights and digital signage elements to combat congestion and save drivers time. The list of possible AI use cases is nearly endless, so there is no doubt that it will play a pivotal role in the large e-Government systems of tomorrow.
Digital governments rely on the concept of the digital citizen — a virtual representation of a particular individual generated with the purpose of facilitating access to multiple services and creating a more immersive, personalized user experience. And since a digital citizen entity contains a lot of sensitive user information by definition, it will be the e-Government’s task to protect this information from getting stolen or tampered with. This task will require advanced security measures to be implemented at every level — from end-user apps to cloud backends that aggregate and store personal data.
Although blockchain is no longer a buzzword you can hear at every corner, it is still a great technology that governments can use for their own good and the benefit of their citizens. The most obvious use cases matching the needs of the public sector are voting and keeping a ledger of ownership rights. In the first case, blockchain offers a 100% tamper-proof method of voting that effectively rules out the possibility of any manipulation of voting results. In the second case, blockchain helps keep a comprehensive history of the transfer of ownership rights for anything, from real estate and vehicles.
The public sector is changing all over the world. In the coming years, governments will do everything possible to adopt best practices from successful businesses, learn to use agile approaches in their daily work, and place technology in the focus of their transformative efforts. Intellias offers its ample experience in the field of e-Government consulting and has delivered a number of major projects in such areas as IoT, FinTech, GIS and Big Data, and AI.
If your organization is interested in learning more about designing and building robust solutions for e-Government or is considering a digital transformation project, we’ll gladly become your trusted advisor — just get in touch!