eGov Conversations: Digital government trends and challenges

CrimsonLogic has developed e-government solutions in over 30 countries around the world, including Singapore’s Tradenet, eJudiciary and Singpass. Saw Ken Wye, CEO of CrimsonLogic, shares his insights on digital government trends, challenges and best practices.

 

What’s the difference between e-government and digital government?

Governments globally recognise the importance of a digital government rather than an e-government.  The difference between the two is that digital government looks at business transformation through the use of technology, whereas e-Government looks at process improvements through electronic submissions and user interactions.  This means investments in technologies such as IoT, mobile, cloud, and data analytics (such as machine learning and artificial intelligence) to streamline processes, or even eliminating process families entirely, will enable new development government capabilities in this new digital era.

However, governments recognise that they are all at different stages of this journey - countries with developing economies are fundamentally focusing on basic goals, based on the ten indicators by the World Bank Report 2016; whereas developed economies are focusing on implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as defined by the United Nations.  

 

What current and future trends are we seeing in digital government solutions worldwide?

Digital governments are moving from transaction-based engagements to relationship-based engagements.  For example, digital governments can proactively engage their citizens or businesses based on their life stages in order to provision more of such services, rather than requiring citizens or business to engage the government. 

So from the moment a citizen is born, digital governments have information about that citizen to understand the services that the citizen may need.  From provision of grants (to child-care facilities) to information on child-care options and services to the citizen’s parents, all automatically rendered without the citizen’s parents to apply for them.  From provision of schooling options when the citizen reaches schooling age, to long-term financial planning (linked to their salary) options and services when they reach working age.

These can be all proactively provided by the Digital Government, based on data points collected with services rendered and accepted by the citizen, and from businesses that the citizens have engaged.  This likewise applies for businesses as it transits through its life stages from registration to its conduct, and then to its closure.  Data Analytics are frequently deployed to analyse the needs of their Digital Citizens, and services are designed to address such needs.

As part of the move towards relationship based engagements, we are also seeing countries moving towards participatory decision and policy making, crowdsourcing for ideas and solutions to address the needs of their nations.  E-feedback and e-participation are common services being provisioned by such progressive digital governments on One-Stop Portals, which are internally linked across multiple agencies.  Any services provisioned from these One-Stop Portals are significantly simplified through data sharing between agencies, and integration of processes from multiple agencies, so that citizens/businesses only need to have a single touch point regardless of the number of agencies involved.  Separately, citizens/businesses can engage their government directly from the comfort of their home, or whatever location they may be at, without the need to go down to the municipal centre.  All these are done in the hope of becoming more inclusive, effective, accountable and transparent in the way they govern their country and its economy.

 

What are some best practices and lessons learnt in the process of implementing digital government solutions?

In the age of digital governments, business transformation is a norm, and traditional implementation processes with well-defined requirements for system implementations are gone.  An incremental and iterative try-discover-implement approach represents a more appropriate implementation process. These are frequently preceded with a business process re-engineering study to define the citizen/engagement strategy needed.

A smart government platform, with Feedback and Participation services, rapid service delivery tools, and powerful interoperability and integration services, are extremely useful in supporting these transformations.  It also paves way for new digital government services to be rapidly built, changed, enhanced and deployed, so that new ideas for greater transparency, effectiveness and efficiency can be trialed and refitted if needed.  All these can be done without the need for existing agencies and the government structure to be changed during the ‘testing period – giving more time for Government governance processes and policies to be put in place when the time is ripe for these services to be launched.

With a smart government platform in place, it is essential for a national level steering committee to review, focus, and prioritize the services to be developed, and to command and coordinate activities across agencies.  This is also to support change management activities that are frequently  recommended for government-wide business transformation and implementation. 

For example, in Kenya, CrimsonLogic is helping the government to implement a Single Window that streamlines cargo clearance processes and compliance for their customs authority, and also to help streamline processes with other related agencies in order to maintain the requisite controls and collections of levies, fees, duties and taxes on imports and exports.  This requires the support of a strong steering committee to align the different agencies involved in order to make this project implementation a success.  The result: Kenya National Electronic Single Window System is now able to drastically reduce the processing time of trade and cargo clearance at their borders, and also have a fully transparent, secure, efficient and predictable border environment that is relevant to international standards and conventions.

In addition to the use of a smart government platform that facilitates business transformations, strong security services must be available to support the transformation, to identify potential cyber threats that would hinder or even stop such transformation.  Cyber Threats are no longer the exception but the rule.  Without proper and high-level engagement, services that are rapidly rolled out would be subjected to unwanted attacks.  This affects the reputation of the organisation involved in the transformation, and causes distrust over the agencies involved.  In addition to incorporating best practices and secure codes into the Smart Government platform, it is critical for security services to be involved to guide the implementation.

 

What challenges do government organizations face when implementing e-government solutions?

E-government platforms leverage technology to give citizens easier access to common services and information. This said, a divide in tech-savviness among citizens still exists.  An ageing population, who may not have the basic technical ability (or basic literacy) to operate ICT systems may present considerable challenge for governments who wish to implement these systems.  Holistic education campaigns for all ages can be taken on to teach citizens the value and skills in using these systems, with a special focus on the elderly who may still prefer doing things the traditional way.

Other than the overall tech-savviness among citizens, a digital divide also exists between countries.  Regions with limited internet/broadband penetration may find it challenging and also little benefit in implementing e-government services, as their citizens are not even connected to the internet.  These citizens will not be a part of, or utilize these systems, taking away from its overall effectiveness and viability.  In these cases, governments may choose to prioritize basic infrastructural expansion before considering the use of e-government systems, or consider a more basic rollout of e-government systems at the ministry level that enables better organisation and communication between ministries.

With e-government platforms being architected on online systems, the concern of security and privacy remains relevant and sustained.  Citizens are unlikely to use e-government services without a guarantee of privacy and security, especially since there have been cases of personal data breaches in many countries in the world.  In this case of a lack in trust, citizens may be opposed to being a part of the system if the guarantee of safety and security for his/her data is not achieved.  E-government systems should then incorporate international standards for security, affording users the peace of mind that these systems are built on platforms that are proven to be safe and secure.

 

What advice would you give to governments embarking on digital transformation?

Digital transformation must happen incrementally, and constantly engage citizens and businesses for feedback to then gain their buy-in to the entire transformation.  The use of a smart government platform is critical as this enables the country to rapidly deploy new services, enhance existing services and to retire old irrelevant services. 

Integration and data sharing must be part of the agenda towards citizen/business oriented services, and life-stage services, and part of the smart government platform to facilitate the transformation.  Policies and mechanisms must be set in place first before the digital transformation journey can begin. 

Setup of a senior level governance body to guide, enforce, and to set the vision and mission to the transformation is critical, with the governing body entrusted with the authority to enforce compliance by individual agencies. The role of such a senior level governing body is also to align the role of individuals or organisations, and to help the team keep focus on the vision of the digital transformation.

While disruption continues to impact economies, governments, and businesses, policy makers need to embrace this new economic force, and respond with versatility, agility and flexibility, capitalising on opportunities that it presents.

This said, governments should not go about this in a silo’ed approach.  Partnerships with the private sector for overall economic and social benefit should be explored. The private sector offers expertise that can be utilized in bringing efficient and viable services to citizens.  These Public-Private Partnerships can also work to reduce upfront capital investments and technology obsolescence, stimulate broader public sector reform, while enabling the sharing of risks and greater ownership – all-in-all improving overall service quality that impacts the lives of citizens positively.

 

 

What are some of CrimsonLogic’s recent projects?

iREMBO is an exclusive Public-Private Partnership (PPP) deal won in 2015 with the Government of Rwanda to implement an online eServices platform that will eventually manage and house all the Republic’s Government eServices.  Under a 15-year PPP deal, CrimsonLogic will be in a cost-sharing arrangement with the Government of Rwanda, co-investing in infrastructure and other components of the system.  We are responsible for the migration of Rwanda’s current existing government services (more than 100 services) onto iREMBO as the Government’s main online portal for government-to-citizen interactions. 

Some of these existing government services that are to be transformed into eServices range from the application of passports and birth certificates, to vehicle registrations and land title transfers etc.  In the past, a Rwandan citizen needs to make multiple trips to the municipal center to get access to a service.  It may take an entire day to get a service if the citizen resides in a rural area.  Now with iREMBO, they no longer need to make so many trips, or queue to apply for or use various government services. 

The key services are also accessible using feature phones via Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) that brings services closer to citizen who do not have internet access or smart phones.  The Ministries involved in the initial stage include the Ministry of Local Government, Rwanda National Police, Rwanda Natural Resources Authority, and National Identification Agency.  This project is CrimsonLogic’s second project won in Rwanda.  The first was a consultancy project for Social Security of Rwanda in 2008.     

Some of our other recent projects include the United Arab Emirates Ministry of Justice eJudiciary system, and the Mauritius National ID Scheme. 

 

 

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