The 2020 ranking of the 193 UN members in terms of digital government—capturing the scope and quality of online services, status of telecommunication infrastructure and existing human capacity—is led by Denmark, the Republic of Korea and Estonia, followed by Finland, Australia, Sweden, the UK, New Zealand, the USA, the Netherlands, Singapore, Iceland, Norway and Japan. Mauritius, the Seychelles, and South Africa are leading the e-government ranking in Africa. Some of these countries offer online voting, automatic tax settlement, effective management of public resources, e-court claims procedure, registration of unemployment and many others.
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the pace of digitalization of public services and contributed to a consumer shift to accessible digital services all around the world. Undoubtedly, this trend will have a lasting impact on the perception of digital services. Recovery from the pandemic will be digital because accustomed customer-citizens will no longer want to give up the convenience of digitalization. Hence, the digital Rubicon has been crossed and there is no turning back.
Central bank digital currencies represent the next frontier of the digital transformation. Although only a few countries have launched them, far more are considering this opportunity, including the European Union. Following the success of spontaneously emerging cryptocurrencies, countries are considering implementing their own digital currencies under their control.
In this article we summarize key targets, based on our experience with the Ministry of Administration and Digitization in Poland developing and implementing the Digital Poland strategy. These targets covered digital transformation and the creation of e-government services. We believe sharing what we’ve learned may be helpful for consultants who are assisting governments boost digital transformation.
Actions in this respect may be defined as follows:
- Setting strategic directions.
- Preparing an action plan, including a comprehensive revision of the legislation.
- Making sure e-services are popular and easy to use.
User’s point of view is key when creating the digitization strategy
All e-services should be designed and created from the perspective of the user, who must always be at the very center of the strategy. The user is a customer of all public institutions and a recipient of legislation as well as information and communication from public institutions. This person is an independent entity, who initiates proposals and discourse addressed to public institutions and is, first of all, a partner, a voter and a co-decision maker in the processes of governing and managing. The user is both a consumer and a patient, to be provided with legal information, access to healthcare services and security. The user can be an employee or an entrepreneur. Moreover, the user’s needs and abilities are multifarious, hence governments need to ensure accessibility of its services for the disabled, making them fully open (which should also be understood as preparing public information in the easy reading standard).
Clear goals of a service state
A key condition to effectively digitize a government’s administration is knowing the extent of the services to be provided. Generally, the range of services can be divided into five categories (there may be more or less depending on the specifics of a given country):
- Services for individuals
- Services for entrepreneurs
- Services for patients
- Educational services
- Cybersecurity (security and public order)
These are the pillars on which further layers and functionalities may be built.
An effective action will streamline functioning and reduce costs
First of all, preparing an action plan for key areas of the public administration is essential. These should be areas that will contribute to streamlining the functioning of the state and significantly decrease costs of implementing and maintaining IT solutions. The synergy of actions at the central and regional levels, the establishment of common and uniform standards, communication interfaces (API), mechanisms encouraging the sharing of infrastructure and other resources produced by the administration, common tasks implementation and increasing the competence of government employees—these are the most important elements of building efficient administration serving the people.
Legal regulations that support the goals
It is also crucial to create appropriate legal regulations that support—and not hinder—the administration digitalization process. First, it is important that regulations focus on the quality of public administration services. The most useful tool to improve the functioning of administration and keeping its focus on the user is digitalization. Second, legal regulations should be implemented with different time perspectives—short-term, medium-term and long-term—as evolution rather than revolution may be more effective. Legal regulations should be an important factor supporting the development of the country and should respond to the expectations of different social groups, different generations and inhabitants of different areas, which is not at all easy.
Optimal laws in this area should have the following characteristics:
- There should be only as much regulation as necessary for the daily efficiency of public institutions.
- There should be only as many interventions as necessary for their development with a high rate of return on investments, including in people and their skills.
- There should be only as many restrictions as necessary for the security of the state’s defense structures and the everyday security of the state’s inhabitants.
- There should be only as much care as necessary to ensure that no one feels excluded.
- Activity at the central level should only be enough to help resolve problems at lower levels of organization of public life.
- There should be only as much administration, in terms of resources, as is really needed in specific areas.
Keeping digital services within easy reach
Realizing a transparent state open to the needs of its citizens requires an ordering of the methods of communication between the people and the administration. An information state that handles all key processes and provides public services, including digital services, should be available to individuals and entrepreneurs in a non-dispersed, uniform structure that gathers together all of its functions, from information to services. To achieve this goal, it is useful to create a single information and service gateway of the state (for example, the United Kingdom’s GOV.UK portal), which would not only unite previously dispersed information channels of particular units of public administration but would also offer a whole catalogue of state services. It would be both an advisor and a guide to institutions, showing how and where to refer a matter. Thus, one digital gateway to the state’s institutions would contain all necessary information—about the state’s structure and all its functions—together with the services that, ultimately, would be available without the need to wander around a bunch of offices. An important element is the introduction of easily accessible services, such as the possibility of obtaining an ID card, access to data from public registers or access to geospatial data.
Any significant disruption of cyberspace, whether of a global or local nature, can affect the security of economic transactions, citizens’ sense of safety, the efficiency of public sector institutions, the course of production as well as service processes.
The digital state is increasingly dependent on ensuring cybersecurity. The extensive architecture of IT systems, including operations on large data resources, and the growing number of transactions carried out with electronic means of communication are common these days. Such complicated and vast systems facilitate the development of communication, trade, transport, electronic trade, transport and, of course, are the basis for the functioning of key digital and public administration services. Unfortunately, modern digital technologies, which offer legitimate opportunities, are also used to commit offences on the Internet or to carry out acts of terrorism.
Protecting information systems and the information processed in them is a challenge for all entities within a national cybersecurity system, i.e. those entities providing services through IT systems, public authorities, bodies responsible for national security, as well as specialized entities dealing with cybersecurity in the operational sphere, such as computer security incident response teams.
Therefore, as early as the creation stage of a new e-service, it is necessary (i) to ensure the implementation of appropriate regulations aimed at protecting cyberspace (ii) to establish an uninterrupted cybersecurity protection system covering the entire public administration and (iii) to strengthen officials’ competences as they pertain to cybersecurity.
Laurels for pioneers
Undoubtedly, the countries that are quickly and effectively implementing e-administration are pioneering improvements in the quality of life of their inhabitants. As proven by the examples of countries such as Estonia, Sweden, Singapore and the UK, which have opted for advanced digitalization, the effects have a measurable impact on the quality of life (according to the Human Development Index these are the countries with the highest quality of life). Wise law may efficiently facilitate these processes.
Preparing projects to support governments (tip for consultants)
In our practice we often assist on projects that help governments digitize effectively. When approaching such sensitive procedures, it is worthwhile to identify the initial needs at an early stage. We also try to enter into a dialogue with the contracting authority and, above all, prefer to choose and offer recommendations based on good practices from other countries. Such good practices can serve as a strong foundation for preparing an offer and provide an incentive for choosing a digital path. We also profoundly perceive the need to involve multidisciplinary teams because economists and lawyers will not solve all the challenges, in particular the sociological or technical barriers.
 2020 United Nations E-Government Survey | Multimedia Library – United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. The UN E-Government Survey, published by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA), was prepared over a two-year period.