As technology advances at a rapid rate, its uptake within the private sector has significantly shifted people’s expectations regarding the advantages of digitalisation. Governments at all levels are therefore embracing the digital revolution, keen to deliver better, faster and more cost-efficient public services.
Technology is vital to governments if they want to be equipped to tackle policymaking challenges. It leads to better government-driven, citizen-centric outcomes in basic service delivery, opportunities for accelerated social development, enhanced private-sector participation in economic development and improved levels of inclusion, so that no citizen is left behind. Meanwhile, the Covid-19 pandemic illustrated the need for government processes to be more agile in responding to a wide range of challenges – something that digital tools and data can help with.
Established Success Stories
There are already case studies of digital implementation bolstering government capabilities. In Singapore, for example, more than 2,700 government services provided by 180 government and commercial entities are used by 4 million of the country’s residents. These services, such as tax returns, are also accompanied by world-leading cyber-security protection. As a result, more than 95 per cent of all government transactions are carried out online, leading to an 86 per cent satisfaction rating for citizens.
Digital government also brings benefits beyond the delivery of public services. In the Western Balkans, for example, digital-government initiatives are supported by a wider digital agenda, which seeks to create a conducive environment for businesses, multiple opportunities for digital learning and upskilling for citizens, as well as transparent privacy measures for services that use people’s data.
Making Digital Transformation Work
The scale of governments means that the digitalisation process is likely to involve various ministries, departments and agencies, each with their own legacy IT systems and regulatory structures. The process of digital transformation also requires an overhaul of workplace culture among public servants; resistance to change and a lack of digital literacy can stymie the process. The cost of funding – for the likes of training and maintenance – also has to be taken into consideration, as does interoperability to ensure seamless communication between systems and departments.
Integrating these elements into a coherent and secure digital ecosystem is a formidable challenge – but the barriers are not insurmountable. The first hurdle is to secure strong support from leadership and, stemming from that, the necessary buy-in from stakeholders across the whole of government. Next come the appropriate change-management practices for the digital-transformation process; striking the right balance between continuity and conversion can help civil servants to adjust, rather than finding themselves in an unfamiliar position overnight. And the third requirement is to understand that digital transformation is an ongoing process, rather than a singular end goal. It is about a continuous commitment to improvement, with technology as the key enabler.
Digital Transformation in Africa
Massive strides have been made in digitalising government services across Africa. Within the past two decades or so, the continent’s scores as part of the UN’s E-Government Development Index have essentially doubled. While the region still lags behind the world average in terms of digitalisation, there are grounds for optimism: governments across the continent are increasingly cognisant of the benefits of the growing digital economy.
For example, in Zambia the government has partnered with the Tony Blair Institute to develop its digital agenda; its Ministry of Health has released a national digital health strategy that aims to foster digital innovation, digital-skills training and digital services provision across the country’s health institutions. In Rwanda, meanwhile, we are providing strategy, policy, delivery planning and tech-implementation support in pursuit of a full digital-government suite by the end of 2024, as well as facilitating conversations around foundational technology, connectivity and cloud infrastructure.
As part of creating a robust digital-government architecture, partnerships with technology providers are a key consideration that cannot be taken lightly (nor on the basis of the cheapest option). Examples of successful e-government implementation worldwide have had a few interesting elements in common: a handful of best-in-class technology partners working with governments over the long term; robust foundations such as cloud infrastructure and connectivity; and agile, phased implementation that builds and maintains momentum with government staff and citizens alike.
Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and low-code or no-code platforms provide new opportunities for reducing lengthy implementation cycles and getting services online faster. But perhaps most importantly, foundational technology such as cloud infrastructure, digital-identity systems and connectivity schemes must be in place, otherwise it’s likely that efforts will fail.
In summary, in a world where technology is rewriting the rules, governments need to sign up for the digital revolution. From Singapore’s seamless online services to Africa’s rising aspirations, the message is clear: digital government isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity.