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Podcast & blog: Mexico’s take on digital transformation

12.09.2022 | Federico Plantera

 

Our interviews with Chief Information Officers continue, and after Siim Sikkut (former CIO of Estonia) and Barry Lowry (CIO of Ireland), we are excited to feature Yolanda Martinez on this podcast episode.

Martinez held the national CIO and Digital Strategy Coordination posts in Mexico for a total of six years – five for the first, one for the latter. During that time, the Mexican public administration achieved terrific results in, to name (really just) a few, exponentially increasing availability and access to internet, and reshaping the digital provision and use of public services.

Today, she is Overall Lead for the GovStack initiative at the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). Let’s see how approaching public sector innovation through building blocks can help governments accelerate digital transformation.

 

Looking into institutional complexity as a leverage

 With Martinez we also get to complete, a bit in the way of Conference extras, the digitalization star panel that many of you saw coming together in Tallinn in May. While with Sikkut and Lowry we discussed more tech and management related matters, what strikes in Mexico’s experience with digital transformation is the institutional complexity of the country.

For context, “Mexico is a federation. We have 32 independent states and 245 independent municipalities in their capacity to regulate how services are designed and delivered, at a state and local levels. So, this federation setup demands a lot in terms of coordination to implement a standard base for digital services that unifies the citizens journey in interacting with the government,” Martinez explains.

“But the good thing is also that, as a federation, we have different governance mechanisms. It’s very important, in our roles as CIOs, to know these mechanisms very well. And we can take advantage and leverage the opportunity to have a seat in these governance mechanisms,” she says, to create a sense of “co-ownership of the objectives and enablers of the digital strategy.”

 

A transversal mandate to innovate

The license to innovate we introduced in previous episodes, in the experience of Mexico’s former CIO, is strongly rooted in this cooperative and open approach to digital transformation. Because in a complex institutional framework, in order to get things done, change must happen not only vertically – across hierarchies in the same ministry – but also horizontally, across ministries.

“I think any digital transformation policy needs to be regarded as a state policy – so as important as the national policies in education, labor, the economy. Digital is a policy area in itself,” Martinez points out.

“And this gives a very strong mandate. First, to coordinate and define a standard to articulate how, for example, ICT investment is prioritized, targeted to make a national digital agenda actionable. The agenda sets the vision, and aligns the priorities. But what makes it actionable is transversal capacity, the transversal mandate that any ICT ministry or agency needs to be able to coordinate all ministries, harmonize laws and regulations, streamline talent, capacity and resources. It is then that we manage to develop a very good setup, and a catalog of core services or national government stack that can be reused in any redesign effort,” Martinez highlights.

 

Building blocks, or how to not start from zero

Reuse and redesign are not buzzwords. CIOs and changemakers at all levels should not forget, indeed, that many of the goals they attempt to achieve have likely already been set and explored elsewhere before. GovStack, the multistakeholder initiative that Martinez is Overall Lead for at ITU, seeks to do just that – share this transformative, knowledge patrimony.

“All government services, no matter the place, require some foundational things: to authenticate the user; to have an information consent and a notification mechanism; to use digital signature to formalize government documents,” Martinez says. It’s not overly simplistic – at the very core, it really just doesn’t have to be space discovery.

“GovStack was founded with the aim of not reinventing the wheel,” laying the groundwork for digital transformation around building blocks. Changemakers can take advantage of these, to rebuild how governments deliver public services in a more user-friendly way, using the technology available – tried and tested, successfully. And avoid chasing the latest trends, in the sake of more conscious and savvy transformative plans.