Once the pandemic hit, bringing lockdown restrictions for social distancing into play, the public sector’s digital transformation became a necessity rather than a “nice to have” almost overnight. Governments had to support their employees as they worked from home while needing to deliver citizen services virtually, too.
For governments whose digital systems were already up and running, remaining operational was easier in the initial disruption of the pandemic and beyond. These agencies were able to respond to societal disruptions, connecting with and reassuring the public, with far more agility.
Public-sector agencies are recognising that a strong digital ecosystem is a foundation for a future in which they’re able to deliver the most responsive and helpful citizen services. However, many are yet to execute digital transformation with the same level of success as private-sector organisations, where online banking and shopping have garnered a lot of customer satisfaction.
One of the defining factors behind success, which governments must take on board, is that digital transformation is a journey; one that doesn’t begin and end with technology tools behind implementation. Rather, successful organisations first focus on their vision and strategy, culture, unique potential, and capabilities as foundational factors – only then, with a specific role in mind, do they look to technology. Crucially, once the foundational factors are outlined, many seek trusted partners like Microsoft to help them implement the digital technologies and platforms they need to achieve their business goals, securely and sustainably.
Data at the centre of improved government services
When we talk about going digital, it’s important to distinguish between a web front-end for standard services and a fully digital experience. Governments after true advancement will need to create a holistic digital experience that goes beyond a website, by defining shared digital capabilities, establishing common platforms for these capabilities, and integrating citizen-facing solutions with improved digital operations. As part of this experience, digitised services, transactions, assistance, and engagement will be data-driven so governments can proactively improve their service delivery. This is how these agencies foster trust between themselves and the citizens they serve.
Technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) are powered by data. This data has value if it’s analysed against foundational factors to provide relevant insights. However, to extract an end-to-end overview, data needs to be consolidated within a single platform instead of being constrained in disparate systems. A cloud-based data platform from a single service provider breaks down constrictive data siloes to streamline data analytics, better equipping AI and machine learning (ML) to provide valuable insights.
In fact, in a recent Microsoft-commissioned survey by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), researchers noted that government respondents displayed a higher reliance on AI and ML technologies than their counterparts across other industries, such as retail, financial services, and healthcare. Nearly 40 per cent of government respondents cited AI and ML as crucial to their transformation strategies, highlighting the importance of good data management and analysis. The government respondents noted that this tech has allowed them to build a stronger understanding of their citizens’ needs, and has helped automate certain manual, time-consuming tasks for faster delivery of services.
Having the kind of in-depth insights that tech-processing enables will allow for more accountable and efficient service delivery, according to the UN’s E-Government Survey 2020. With smart tech reducing the chance of human error, not to mention corruption, in data processing, delivered services will have a higher level of transparency, which goes a long way towards building public trust. More accurate insights from tech-processed data will also allow governments to shift from what the e-Government survey labels as “gut instinct” to a more factual, data-centric approach to policymaking, which again helps establish these agencies as more trustworthy.
Focus areas where digitisation will improve services
Using tech to unleash accurate, real-time, data-driven insights, governments will find several use cases where traditional services can be streamlined and improved on. There are four key areas where governments would see the most benefit in their transformation drive: public safety and justice; public finance; public health and social services; and critical infrastructure.
In the context of public safety and justice, one example of how successful e-Governments have leveraged technology is in the modernisation of court operations, which many have managed virtually, while also digitising offender management. For example, in Kenya, we provided Microsoft Teams to the judiciary to facilitate online trials/hearings/meetings. This was after conducting training for all the Court of Appeal judges and the judiciary ICT team to enable them to support the court operations. The court management solution modernises justice systems, moving courts away from legacy IT and paper-based procedures for criminal, civil, and traffic cases. The approach continues to be used to date.
In terms of public finance, tax collection can be securely streamlined through smart automation in a modern, tax-compliant strategy. Microsoft, for example, provides a set of capabilities that leverage e-services, the power of analytics, predictive models, ML, and intelligent case management. This tax intelligence helps prevent fraud and detect tax evasion patterns while innovating the taxpayer experience by creating digital tax services, enabling omnichannel experiences, and by helping through intelligence agents.
Governments can overhaul the efficiency of their public health and social services delivery through digitisation, too. Doing so, they can optimise benefits eligibility and financial stewardship, using digital tech to safeguard and efficiently distribute subsidies to eligible people while preventing fraud, waste and abuse of public benefits. Critical infrastructure is another area of importance that would benefit greatly from the roll-out of digital services. Governments are responsible for overseeing and maintaining public infrastructure ranging from utilities to transportation and flood control. Making this crucial infrastructure “smarter,” governments can improve system monitoring, manage maintenance work, and reduce operational costs, all while increasing system performance.
e-Government deployment across Africa
Clearly, there are many areas where digitisation will better service delivery, and this fact has been recognised with more African countries focusing on e-governance last year when compared to 2018. This point is supported by findings in the UN E-Government Survey, whose EGDI index for rating e-government deployment into four groups (from very high to low) revealed that 28 per cent of surveyed African countries had strengthened their e-government systems, moving into a higher EGDI group.
Laying the digital divide bare, the very highly rated group included no African countries, with high- or upper-middle-income economies such as the US, UK, Japan, and Denmark dominating. Of the low EGDI group, where e-Government initiatives are weaker or lacking, seven of the eight countries were in Africa, pointing to the challenges the region faces in e-Government deployment, primarily in terms of gaps in infrastructure and human capital development, according to the survey’s measures.
However, in a positive sign of progress, half of all new countries entering the high EGDI group were African, showing a forward-thinking trajectory. Buoyed by the success of e-Government pioneers in Africa, including those in Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Nigeria, those slow to adopt might use these case studies with the help of trusted technology partners to begin their own transformation journey. With e-Government creation picking up, the future of the continent as a meaningful contributor to the global digital economy looks bright.
Written by Kendi Ntwiga, Country Manager, Microsoft Kenya.