The full benefits of digitization could be huge, but to realize them, governments need to tackle the factors that make many e-government efforts fall short of their promise.
Digitization in Public Sector
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. Indeed, governments around the world are doing their best to meet citizen demand and capture benefits.
More than 130 countries have online services. For example, Estonia’s 1.3 million residents can use electronic identification cards to vote, pay taxes, and access more than 160 services online, from unemployment benefits to property registration. Turkey’s Social Aid Information System has consolidated multiple government data sources into one system to provide citizens with better access and faster decisions on its various aid programs.
The public-sector challenge
Digital transformations require changes, to both processes and IT systems, that are more challenging to implement in the public sector than in the private sector. The public sector must cope with additional management issues, including multiple agencies, a range of organizational mandates and constituencies, longer appropriations timelines, and the challenge of maintaining strategic continuity even as political administrations change.
Therefore, it is important that private-sector companies supporting public IT transformations understand that the public sector operates in a different context. For example, it can be challenging to set a specific target, build consensus, align on a leadership structure, secure funding, and meet implementation timelines.
Achieving comprehensive public digitization
While digital transformation in the public sector is particularly challenging, a number of successful government initiatives show that by translating private-sector best practices into the public context it is possible to achieve broader and deeper public-sector digitization. Each of the six most important levers is best described by success stories.
- Win government-wide and agency-deep commitment to specific digital targets. The launch of gov.uk in 2012 marked the creation of one of the most accessible digital-government services in the world. A clear mandate helped steer the implementation and build awareness.
- Establish government-wide coordination of IT investments. To better coordinate large-scale IT projects across the government and generate cost efficiencies, Denmark established IT Projektraad, a digitization council reporting to the Ministry of Finance, to function as its central IT steering group. The agency’s goal is to ensure that the benefits and gains targeted in a project’s business case are realized.
- Redesign processes with the end user in mind. In 2011, the Netherlands released i-NUP, its government-wide implementation agenda for e-government services, to prioritize citizen- or user-centered design by boosting convenience and trimming red tape.
- Hire and nurture the right talent. Digital transformations call for specialized skills that are in high demand and therefore increasingly hard to come by. Government organizations often struggle to compete for such talent, since the private sector frequently can offer higher wages, a more entrepreneurial culture, and more clearly defined career paths.
- Use big data and analytics to improve decision making. The US government has been one of the most active in leveraging data to support government decision making. In 2009, it gave open data a legal and privacy framework that led to the creation of data.gov, a repository of government tools, resources, and information on anything from energy and science to global development and health. In all, more than 85,000 data sets are available to help businesses and private citizens conduct research, develop web and mobile apps, and create design visualizations. To populate data troves, government departments were required to identify and share their most valuable data.
- Protect critical infrastructure and confidential data. Data security has become a top national-security issue. In 2013, the World Economic Forum identified cyberattacks and critical-systems failure as two of the most dangerous global risks. Beyond financial losses, cyberattacks may pose serious reputation risks for companies and governments.
Governments can protect critical infrastructure and confidential data through several initiatives. For example, most major developed economies have created a national cybersecurity strategy in the past five years. They are also developing information-sharing mechanisms to detect and respond to cyberthreats more quickly.