These trends will shape e-government in 2020

27.12.2019 | Federico Plantera

The turn of the decade brings new trends shaping the way governments deal with innovation. And who better than our own Linnar Viik could shed a light on the underlying dynamics setting the agenda for public digital development in the next ten years?

In our latest post, we reviewed four ages of e-governance. The time is ripe now for a deeper consideration of what will drive an ever-as-pervasive innovation, and how governments can tap into these trends to distribute the dividends of a truly digital society.

Making sense of the digital convergence. Society, trade, and the state

ICTs significantly contributed to the emergence of areas where trade is increasingly liberalised, integrating national markets in Global Value Chains (GVCs). The economy, both at the national and global levels, is going digital – and it is doing so at a fast pace. On par with it, society in its entirety is also permeated by the disruptive changes brought by technology.

Governments are called to take on a new role in this favourable convergence, giving up on passively submitting to the winds of innovation. “The focus must now lie on the digital transformation of society as a whole. Governments are no longer only providing services to end users, whether these are citizens or businesses. They should look, instead, into enabling people and particular sectors of the economy to become digitally savvy, and to reach full ICTs adoption in those sectors,” Linnar Viik explains.

Speaking the language of innovation, one step at a time

To do so, governments need to refine best practices in understanding and handling technological change. Many thought – and still think – that innovation is not a prerogative of the public sector. Not only this is not true, but such belief could also hamper next fertile trajectories of development, with a negative impact on individuals and companies alike. States can (and should) act instead as mature entrepreneurs, foreseeing fruitful social investments and adopting strategies of process management from the smartest private sector experiences.

Beware, however, of the many existing myths about the infamous digital leapfrogging. Decision makers should keep in mind that innovation is not a rat race. “Not all states will be talking about the same e-governance topics in 2020, as not all of them have yet achieved the desired levels of digital maturity. However, once the key digital enablers of e-governance are in place, the public sector can take on the challenges of the decade to come,” Viik warns. These key digital enablers are:

  • Digital identity;
  • Population register;
  • Business register;
  • Land and real estate register;
  • Availability of digital financial services and tools for digital payments.
Four recommendations for effective e-governance in 2020

Let’s see then what trends are set to change the relationship between states and digital transformation in the next years.

 

  • 1 – Governments as innovators

Governments must support and prepare the necessary conditions for the development of a digital society. In terms of education and skills, for the positive effect they have on the general readiness of the population to the adoption of new technologies. But then also through measures to make the digital economy flourish.

“Every country has certain centres of gravity, a sector of excellence driving digitalisation in the national economy. This might be banking and finance, or industrial production, or even culture and tourism, depending on the characteristics of the nation. In this sense, governments should enable this competitive edge to translate into spillover effects to foster widespread digitalisation in other sectors,” Viik explains.

States should shift their focus from internal IT development to targeted investments, and fair rules for market competition. And as innovators themselves, public sectors can have a crucial role in creating better ecosystems for digital transformation.

 

  • 2 – The emergence of a hybrid model and public-private partnerships (PPPs)

Whether we look at OECD or BRICS countries, state expenditure in IT is a significant part of the macroeconomics of national digital markets. And if roughly 30% of all IT development and spending in the economy comes from the public sector, where does this money go in the end?

“States could potentially take care of the whole process of digital transformation by themselves. Or, better, they can make this funding available on the market, and contribute to the growth and competitiveness of companies in the IT sector. Not only these would see the volume of their own customer base increase, but they would also contribute to develop and operate efficient digital solutions for the public sector too,” Viik highlights.

We see a new, hybrid model for digital transformation taking shape, where states increasingly engage the private sector – and not only through public procurements. When problems are identified together from the beginning, developing and managing the solutions comes easier. Furthermore, in a context where equality of opportunity and access to investments are ensured, cooperative projects of digital development enhance the competitiveness of a country’s private sector.

 

  • 3 – An accelerator for public digital transformation

Maybe not so surprisingly, common challenges can make different nations stronger, together. Size, population, institutional setting, issues to tackle that are specific to certain geographical or economic areas. When the approach is collaborative and strongly result-oriented, digitalisation can be made painless and cheaper. Just as it works with accelerators in the private sector.

Similarities in contexts and aspirations allow countries to be grouped in clusters. “Jointly, they can benefit from external technical advice and mentoring, and achieve amazing results much faster and with smaller investments. For this purpose, to facilitate roadmap development and implementation, e-Governance Academy this year is launching a digital transformation accelerator for governments. In this way, countries take the most from superb expertise and coaching to intensify institutional and regulatory development, as well as capacity building,” Viik proudly announces.

 

  • 4 – Rethinking sovereignty in the digital age

Lastly, a talking point at the intersection between computer science and theory of law (yes, exactly). New technologies become an integral part of the organisation of states, and increasing interconnectedness changes the way we interact and exchange goods and services. Is it maybe the right time for a reconceptualization of sovereignty in the digital age?

“It is not far-fetched to imagine clusters of states using a shared currency or judicial system, as well as registers. It is happening in Europe, or between Estonia and Finland with data exchange. International organisations are growing, and borderless digital tools are developing. What would it mean for a group of countries to rely on public cloud solutions, for example? Currently, laws establish that data and operations need to take place within a country’s territory. But rethinking certain aspects of sovereignty, in the era of ICTs, could prove particularly useful for highly connected or small countries, such as in the South Pacific or Caribbean areas,” Viik outlines.

 

New talking points in governments’ digital agenda might shake up established practices. But e-Governance Academy will keep supporting and assisting public organisations and policy makers to make the most of the digital transformation.