First, the good news. There’s no doubt that governments around the world are becoming increasingly adept at deploying digital technology to strengthen their public services. Don’t take my word for it – just log on to your government’s website. Chances are that a tap or swipe of a tablet will replace those chores that used to require a trip to a post office or government department: renewing vehicle registrations, submitting tax returns, applying for a passport – the list goes on.
Today’s digital tapestry sees different countries doing well at different things. Take the UK, for example. Since its creation in 2011, its Government Digital Service has served as an impetus to pay digital the attention it was due, helping inspire countries elsewhere to embark on similar journeys and make consequent improvements. The UK continues to enjoy strong communications and political support, while the US benefits from its dual structure – 18F and the US Digital Service – which helps boost its technical capabilities and deliver cultural change.
France, meanwhile, provides a plethora of services whereas countries like Saudi Arabia are focusing on the services that make the most impact – such as job services – and India is concentrating on registering people’s identities for social benefits, so important for its huge population. By contrast, Australia’s Digital Transformation Office incorporates a number of different functions with the overriding aim of making services available digitally from start to finish.
Performing particularly strongly is Estonia, which has made less noise about its digital revolution, but has been ‘going digital’ since the 1990s. As a result, it is increasingly seen as a source for best practices, thanks to having the advantage of a long-term investment and focus on technology. Its digital government success certainly drew admiring glances at Davos this year.
But while this progress should be applauded, this is no time for complacency. From nanotechnology to artificial intelligence, 3D printing to cutting-edge genetic technologies, digital advances continue to ricochet around the world.
So, how can governments keep up?
Digital government: Picking up the pace
It’s important to acknowledge that what we are accustomed to today will be very different to what lies in wait tomorrow. Take artificial intelligence. A world where computers can think like humans will mean that future generations will come to view driverless cars as the norm, for example. Certainly, no industry or government will be left untouched by this impending technological tsunami.
Getting ready for these changes will not be easy but there are signs that governments’ deployment of digital services is on the right track. Two years ago, The Boston Consulting Group conducted a 12-country survey on citizen perspectives on government digital services. Our upcoming survey – out later this year and this time covering 21 countries – shows that, although citizens still face problems and have high expectations, 78% of respondents believe that government digital services are somewhat better or much better than two years ago.
Although such numbers offer reassurance that we’re going in the right direction, charting a successful course ahead needs a better strategy than just more of the same. To keep pace with the next wave of digital developments, governments need to do several things – starting with focusing on the user. We have found that while users are accessing more services, more often, on more devices, they are still facing problems with their overall experience. More needs to be done to enable users to easily flow through a digital process, as well as creating a smooth integration across other channels in case the user needs to go offline for support.
Policymakers also need to ensure there is end-to-end digital transformation. Digital government projects often focus on front-end or back-end transformation. On the front end, governments focus on improving the user experience, creating a veneer of digital transformation while maintaining legacy systems to support delivery. When governments focus solely on the back end, they work to upgrade systems but fail to address the user experience or to innovate with new business models. Only end-to-end digital transformation will deliver a fundamental change in how governments operate to improve services.
Government as a platform is another area to focus on, because it promotes more open leveraging of government data. In turn, this fosters new business models and new solutions to be made outside of government. Government as a platform also extends the potential of digital government to the private and not-for-profit sectors, creating a more fluid ecosystem to improve service delivery and solutions for citizens
We see these suggestions as imperatives for governments as they seek to move up a gear on the digital agenda. But such is the pace of digital change, they may themselves be in need of refreshing before too long. The clock is ticking, and while no one can predict the future, it’s safe to say that it will be digital. Governments have no option but to get on board for what will be a meteoric ride ahead.
- Power to the people. Few countries have embraced the digital era as successfully as New Zealand. We talk to one of its government’s key digital transformation leaders, Richard Foy,about how they’ve done it.
- Computer says yes. Governments are increasingly reliant on digital technology to deliver public services – and Australia’s myGov service is a potential game-changer, says Gary Sterrenberg
- Online, on track? Miguel Carrasco looks at how policymakers can improve the delivery of digital services
- Digital dawn. It may not be obvious, but US policymakers have had an important role to play in the creation of today’s digital era. But sometimes it involves stepping back rather than stepping up, suggests David Dean
- Making numbers count. The application of big data can support smart decision-making in government, says Doug Beal