Achieving comprehensive public digitisation for valuable public services

September 21, 2017

Citizens and businesses now expect government information to be readily available online, easy to find and understand, and at low or no cost. Governments have many reasons to meet these expectations by investing in a comprehensive public-sector digital transformation. Capturing the full potential of govern­ment digitization could free up to trillion annually in economic value worldwide, through improved cost and operational performance. Shared services, greater collaboration and inte­gra­tion, improved fraud management, and productivity enhancements enable system-wide efficiencies. At a time of increasing budgetary pressures, governments at national, regional, and local levels cannot afford to miss out on those savings.

The core capabilities of a digital government

Governments typically center their digitisation efforts on four capabilities: services, processes, decisions, and data sharing. For each,  there is a natural progression from quick wins to transformative efforts.


Governments are using digital tools to improve their interactions with citizens and businesses. Most begin by digitizing a few high-volume activities. The key to good digital services is understanding the user’s perspective. Governments must be willing to remake products, processes, and policies around what citizens want. Providing services on mobile platforms is another way that governments are aligning with citizens’ digital preferences and behaviors. For example – In China, some provincial governments accept passport and visa applications through WeChat, a widely used mobile app.


Digitizing behind-the-scenes processes offers the most potential productivity gains, as well as tough challenges. Just as governments should digitize high-volume services first, they should digitize labor-intensive, costly processes before others. Sweden’s social-insurance agency began its digitization program with five products that accounted for 60 percent of manual-processing work and more than 80 percent of call-center volume.

Digitizing processes should involve streamlining them at the outset. After amending its tax laws, Denmark was able to create an algorithm for classifying newly registered businesses. Now, more than 98 percent of the tasks involved in registering companies take place with no human effort.


The public sector can benefit from big data and analytics in defense, public safety, healthcare, and other areas. Australia’s tax office analyzed returns from more than one million small and midsize enterprises to develop industry-specific financial benchmarks. It now uses those benchmarks to identify firms that may have underreported their income and notify them of possible discrepancies.

Advanced analytics systems feed data from many sources into algorithms that adjust operations in real time. While no government has such a system yet, Singapore is setting up a nationwide network of sensors that will stream data into a repository for all agencies.

Data sharing

Transparency can strengthen the public’s trust in government and its civic engagement. A useful step toward sharing data is unifying registries of public information.

Information exchanges can also help with data sharing. Estonia’s government has a platform, called X-Road, for securely exchanging data among agencies. Even some companies can connect to X-Road.

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