Transforming government in the digital era

The roll out of digital services has the potential to create a major shift in how governments connect and interact with their citizens, according to Accenture.

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Transforming government in the digital era Shine: The digital transformation of government requires a number of elements for success, but Gulf countries are well positioned to make the shift.
By  Mark Sutton Published  May 27, 2015

The digital era could bring about a deep transformation in public services, according to consulting and services company Accenture, and many of the countries in the Gulf region are well positioned to take the lead in this process. The company’s ‘Digital at Depth: Digital Technologies at the Heart of Public Service Transformation’ report attempts to identify the characteristics of governments that will be successful in the delivery of digital transformation projects.

Sean Shine, senior managing director, health and public service, Europe, Africa and Latin America Accenture, said that from the private sector to the public sector, digitalisation is a reality today: “If you look at digital, it is happening. There are 4.5bn phone subscriptions today, and 3.5bn people who have toothbrushes. More people are online today than have access to refrigeration. Digital is for real.”

Accenture’s Achieving Digital Excellence report has highlighted the positive benefits of digital transformation of services on a country’s economy, competitiveness, innovation and its citizens. The company said that a digitally enabled government could reduce back-office costs up to 45%, while a 1% increase in digitalization can mean a 0.5% gain in Gross Domestic product and a 1.9% gain in international trade. A 10% increase in digitalization could translate to a 0.86% drop in a country’s unemployment rate. A digitally enabled government could also reduce back-office costs up to 45%.

The Digital at Depth report identifies six characteristics of leading digital governments, including engaging and motivating citizens to participate; collaboration with the private sector in innovative ways to develop new models of service delivery; adoption a disruptor approach to change institutions and services; creating an entrepreneurial and performance-driven workforce; using big data and analytics to create insight driven services; and creating services based on reliable, robust, secure and always on infrastructure.

Many of the GCC countries are both well positioned to develop these characteristics, and also have the will and leadership to reach high levels of digitisation, Shine said.

“In my mind, there is an absolute view on ‘we want to be there’, there is a clear identification of where change needs to be made and where innovation needs to be done. What has really impressed me is the recognition of governments here of the requirement for change, and going for it. When we talk to clients here they say ‘tell me the best that is happening in the world and let’s see if we can go beyond it’.

“There is a really high expectation, and there is an expectation to do it fast. In other countries sometimes the idea is there, but there is a huge gulf between the idea and the execution. We have seen countries get caught with ‘paralysis by analysis’, or they have huge projects that go off the rails, rather than focus on fast execution.”

The ability of a country or city to foster innovation is another factor in the drive for digitisation Shine said. Accenture and UK innovation charity Nesta, previewed an upcoming research, the City Initiatives for Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CITIE) report. CITIE has assessed 40 cities worldwide against a framework of how policy can be used to support innovation and entrepreneurship. Dubai was acknowledge in the report as a ‘Challenger’, meaning that while the city is not a consistent top performer in all policy areas, it has shown a number of initiatives that demonstrate global best practice and that have committed to a published growth strategy that includes innovation and entrepreneurship.

Shine said that smaller countries and cities are more nimble, and hence able to make decisions and implement them faster.

“Dubai is a challenger, but fast moving. Scale matters, there is an ability to do things fast that perhaps other cities or countries don’t have. If you compare big countries, anything that you want to do is going to take a long time.”

Enabling the ongoing digitisation will be a tough challenge, he adds, but encouraging improved education in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) will be one key part.

“Recognising the importance of this is perhaps half the battle. You see some governments that get it. They recognise that these things are happening, and then they need to create the environment where that can flourish. Creating an entrepreneurial economy that is based in digital services, will create skills in that country, which in turn will create a virtuous circle, the government will adopt more and invest in that.

“There is no one piece to it — there is a little bit of luck and economic factors, but the countries or the cities that have that clear vision, and have figured that they need to go through those changes are the ones that are beginning to show more success,” he said.

Shine pointed out that lessons can be learned from the e-Government era, where many initiatives did not live up to the expectations, and hype, of a fundamental change in the way governments operated. Digital adoption is something of a second chance for government, he said, to transform services. Some of the fundamental lessons learned from e-Government include the need for partnership between public and private sector, commitment from leadership, a clear vision and an ability to focus on project execution in a timely fashion.

“Getting from vision to execution is tough. There is inertia to change, you need groups of people who know how to do execution, who can organise it into pieces and get on with it.

“You have to have the vision, and it has to be executable, and it has to be executable at speed. You have to move fast, you have got to deliver short term benefits on an ongoing basis. You need people with the right skills, you need the right capabilities, you need the right finance.

“We have seen lots of failures in many countries, we have seen big programs that have the right motivation, and the right vision, but they are not delivering. We have to learn from that. When you look at the anatomy of a successful initiative, there is a small number of simple things that are there. It is a series of simple things, it isn’t rocket science, but it is hard to do.”

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