Governments typically have lagged behind in adopting smart digital services. Internet-enabled government services, or eGovernment, are often heralded as an important transformation in how governments interact with citizens and businesses but the reality hasn’t met the vision yet.
In October, the EU published a survey on eGovernment services across member states and found some progress made on last year but still much room for improvement yet. The situation is not too different in Asia.
We’ve covered Singapore’s digital efforts at great length so it should come as no surprise that the city-state is taking the lead again when it comes to eGovernment, or at the very least it’s put a long-term plan in place.
The Government Technology Agency, or GovTech, was recently created to head up the launch of these services and provide engineers for the government’s various Smart Nation projects. It is unlike the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA), which is usually at the forefront of Singapore’s tech talk and builds connections with the private sector. GovTech on the other hand is tasked with reinventing the public sector.
GovTech’s remit will cover cybersecurity, digital infrastructure for government, data science, data analytics, and app development. One of its most ambitious tasks is creating a one-stop vault where citizens can access and manage all of their personal data. This will tie into collaborations with the Ministry for Finance, where data can be automatically pulled from the vault to fill in forms for things like tax returns, loans, or public housing applications.
It’s also building a data dashboard, Pulse of the Economy, where government agencies can view and compare data on public transit in the city and electricity use. The government says the real-time data monitoring will help it detect areas of the city’s economy that may be lagging and need extra attention.
Singapore is trying to place itself front and centre when it comes to the intersection of technology and government but the movement isn’t spread evenly across Asia.
The technology exists to digitise most government functions but officials need to get on board. Take for example Japanese fintech startup Freee, which is trying to move businesses’ accounting departments away from paper entirely. It envisions its services as key to local governments. According to its cofounder Daisuke Sasaki, he wants Freee to revamp the whole process of submitting forms to authorities but he’ll need government agencies’ determination to make that a possibility.
So how are Asian governments faring in the eGovernment revolution and who are the standouts?
In China, the government is working to greatly expand its Internet Plus service by 2020 to make virtually all government services available online. According to Premier Li Keqiang the platform is necessary for “accelerating governance reform” and making transactions more streamlined and transparent. The mission statement is very similar to the myriad other schemes we’ve seen globally like the UK’s Government Digital Service (GDS).
The National e-Governance Plan (NeGP) is the official program from the Indian government to make services available online. It was launched back in 2006 but has gone through many changes in the last 10 years.
Typically the government and The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), which runs the e-Governance plan, were sceptical of outside technologies and software powering its services. That changed recently with the granting of a “rare” accreditation to Microsoft in October for its Azure cloud services to power public sector applications, like e-government but also healthcare and education. This is likely a response to past criticisms of the plan that claimed it was not keeping up with the latest technology trends.
India’s Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances is also working with other countries to collaborate on eGovernment best practices, including the UK’s Civil Service Groups, as well as equivalent agencies in Brazil and South Africa.
Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province has made some notable steps toward fully digital and automated public services. It’s also hopes that such initiatives will lead to greater transparency in the government.
The Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB) operates several projects like crime mapping, alerts systems for diseases in the local area, and flood warnings.
PITB is also using local incubator DotZero on data analytics to better manage services and see what’s working and what isn’t. PITB itself has launched its own incubation programs called Plan 9 and Plan X to foster local startups and build relationships for future collaboration.
In the Vietnamese city of Da Nang, it’s exploring ways to improve public awareness of construction work. In July the city announced a system called Allimi, in partnership with Seoul, which allows citizens to look up construction projects and monitor their progress. It will be rolled out within the next two years and by 2019, it is expected to be used to make all public investment details more transparent.
Seoul’s involvement is due to the fact that Korean businesses are a major investor in many of Da Nang’s projects, reportedly worth $751 million.
Allimi is an extension of Da Nang’s original eGovernment project, which claims 95% of public servants use to operate online.
PREVIOUS ARTICLE«Can we prepare for the jobs that don’t exist yet?
Jon Collins’ in-depth look at tech and society
Phil Muncaster reports on China and beyond