Podcast 🎧 & blog: The world’s best driver of digital transformation

12.08.2020 | Federico Plantera

In today’s episode, Hannes Astok and Linnar Viik shed light on the world’s best driver of digital transformation – the COVID-19 pandemic. They talk about the main obstacles in the way of a defining moment for digital transformation in many countries.

We know that paper-based public services are practically useless when whole countries are shut down because of the pandemic. But why governments require so much effort to start providing public services online? How can governments build on the current momentum?

Tune in to our podcast and find out!



An unlikely boost to digitalisation – COVID-19

At the time of recording, it is June 2020. The year had started as usual, with no significant indication of a need to push harder on digitalization. Action plans were set, all governments we work with had something already lined out for the months to come.

Then, the COVID-19 pandemic struck with full force. In this case, it is worth recuperating a word that we’ve heard over and over in the past years in relation to the digital economy – disruption. Beyond any PR or marketing rhetoric, the epidemic truly played the role of a disrupting agent, more than anything else. It keeps affecting our economies, social relations, habits, aggressively impacting old ones and forming new.

“Shifting to working and providing services remotely has been a key element in this crisis. From the governments’ side, some were digitally ready to do so, others much less. And while before COVID-19 digital solutions could be seen as an architecture built on top of the existing one, now governments are faced with a somewhat unrealistic scenario – what if internet is the only thing that works?” Linnar Viik says.

The majority of countries had then to rely on domestic, internal competences and information systems. Some time was necessary to understand how to formalize the use of IT solutions already in place in order to keep services and the country running. “But if you don’t have digital signatures, data exchange, or other core enablers already up and working, then you’re not able build them in just one weekend,” Viik warns.


Do crises like this foster innovation?

Answering the question is easy – yes, they do. In a critical situation, there is a need for innovation, so to elaborate and configure resilient solutions and plans that can help you overcome it.

In the particular instance, “it all starts with digital society readiness, which doesn’t mean smartphone or internet use,” Viik says. Four components turned out to be key towards the formulation of effective solutions:

  • Connectivity and network readiness, to handle and support a tenfold growth in internet use;
  • Access to technology;
  • Digital skills, enabling an easier adoption of a digital strategy where readiness and training are already present;
  • Digital solutions already available, exemplary in the case of remote working, as it functioned more efficiently where the distribution and storage of documents (just to mention one case) was not only in-house.

Generally, however, most governments showed an incredibly steep learning curve when adapting to the new situation. And three months in since the start of the outbreak, it appears clearer than ever before that the digitalization of governments is an irreversible process.

“Countries and institutions were just realizing that going digital is possible, but now this has become part of the dominant thinking. In fact, the governments we work with are keeping stable, or even increasing, their public spending on digitalization,” Viik explains.


Don’t fear going back to the drawing board after the emergency

Are we painting a too rosy picture of the current situation in terms of digital development? No, because some risks lie just around the corner. Indeed, decision makers and technicians should never forget that we are operating within a crisis. It means that many of the solutions we develop and work at the moment, might be unfit for functioning in the long term, on more ordinary days.

“We’re aware of the rapid change, but also that a lack of reengineering of core processes might cause bigger problems along the way. We have been recommending everyone to re-evaluate their processes, steadily but consistently. It is important particularly to the end of ensuring higher security, a point to which we might not draw enough attention while deploying solutions during a critical situation,” Viik warns.

With respect to the developments that are taking place as a whole, it would be helpful to have a permanent coordination unit that survives the crisis, and keeps up the good work already done also once the pandemic – hopefully soon – will be over. Ultimately, this means that governments should not be afraid to go back to the drawing board, and reengineer some of their processes or the solutions adopted throughout the epidemic outbreak.

“Let’s switch from running without thinking, to thinking twice. Digital transformation is not a sprint, but we may call it a marathon where progress is the sum of many, continuous small sprints,” Viik concludes, with an athletic metaphor.