Podcast 🎧 & blog: A year worth one decade. Digital trends to watch out for in 2021

06.01.2021 | Federico Plantera

This blog post refers to the podcast “Digital trends to watch out for in 2021” with Linnar Viik and Federico Plantera. Listen to the first episode of Digital Government podcast in 2021!

Taking stock of more than twenty years of digital transformation, in the public sector and beyond, industry experts were making predictions on up-and-coming trends for the next decade. That was just December of one year ago, 2019. And make no mistake, we at e-Governance Academy we certainly were among them.

Then what happened, happened. Exactly about a year ago, the Western world started worrying about a novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) ravaging China. The feeling it was just something far away soon disappeared, and 2020 became a crossroad in digital transformation. Has it been any easy, with all the pain this pandemic caused? Absolutely not. But, on the flipside, the digital way has been now internalized as a must and a necessity by everyone like never before.

This year, what awaits is a systematization of all the disruptors that shaped new normality. With Linnar Viik, Programme Director of Smart Governance at e-Governance Academy, we start from where we left. Here is our analysis of the digital trends set to shape transformative projects in the public sector in 2021.

From reactive to combinatorial innovation

Saying that we were all prepared to face and embrace this new normality would be an overstatement. The changes in operational paradigms that COVID-19 brought have affected everyone, regardless of countries’ level of digital maturity, in different ways.

To some, the pandemic represented a definitive push to fully deploy technology and business processes that already had been put in place but weren’t exploited to this extent up to now. For others, instead, it was the moment to move from theory to practice, recuperating strategy papers and policy plans to finally embark on the digitalization roadmaps previously developed. Lastly, in the most extreme cases, public sector agencies have been forced to come up with entirely new solutions to not be run over by such unprecedented chaos.

For how unexpected the pandemic, it was only logic how reactive the nature of the responses to it would be. “Reactive innovation has come to be the dominant approach to solving technological and organizational problems in the public sector. We found ourselves in a prolonged state of emergency, in dire need of quick answers. That’s why countries came up with a patchwork of diverse digital solutions, but it’s now time for more stable and sustainable plans,” Linnar Viik concludes.

“From such reactive approach, the challenge is now to shift to a model of combinatorial innovation, where the solutions created get increasingly perfected,” he explains. The technology and business processes implemented – or yet to be – need to be combined, interacting with each other in a coherent strategy that improves operations in a more sustainable, long-term perspective.


Three macro-trends for the public sector in 2021

The rapidly changing situation, paired with a reactive approach to it, are the reason why there is no point in reinventing the wheel this year. “Innovation is already happening, because it has come to be a necessity. Today, our task is to make sense of it in a way that ad-hoc responses, differing between countries, are reorganized and reformulated to look forward and beyond the present needs,” Viik says.

It’s no time for complicated talks, particularly for the public sector. Reviewing major technology trends outlinedby research and advisory firm Gartner, we present them here in a way that serves more easily public decision makers.

Three macro-trends are set to shape innovation ventures in 2021:

  • People centricity

Institutions understood that people are central, and at the center, of their activities. “The focus lies now not only on end-users, but on makers as well, i.e. staff and employees. The process reorganization of service delivery must spanfrom public sector employees to citizens, accounting for their internet behaviour and capitalizing on the digital footsteps we continuously disseminate – data,” Viik explains.

  • Location independence

Physical distances were already increasing, as technology allowed operations and service fruition to happen outside the four walls of an office building. COVID-19, and the distancing enforced, has made such tendency only more net and radical. “Whether it is about the technology and platforms used, or last-mile service provision, governments must deliver wherever users are, and whatever technology they are using. We must adopt a paradigm of anywhere operations, distributing key nodes of service provision through relevant tech, and securing it appropriately,” Viik warns.

  • Resilient delivery and operations

The topic of anywhere operations is essentially connected to the possibilities and risks it opens. By automating everything that can be automated, and skilfully composing the building blocks of increasingly digital governments in a coherent ecosystem of solutions, public service delivery becomes ever more resilient. Digital first and remote firstmust be the rule, including the related threat analyses naturally coming with a multi-modal, location-independent provision and fruition of these services,” Viik says.


The new normality of public service delivery – user-focused, distributed, secure

Step by step, it becomes clear how all these three macro-trends do not exist in and within themselves. Their interplay, this combinatorial approach to innovation, is what makes them a recipe for success. More digital means more opportunities, but also further risks and responsibilities. Governments must take on this challenge with an all-encompassing view. Because as totalizing the experience of the pandemic has been (workplaces, mobility, homes), so total the changes it brings are.

Designing public services by truly focusing on users means taking into account not only preferences and behaviours in how there are consumed, but also the tools through which these are accessed – electronic id cards, laptops, smartphones. A location-independent framework means that the back office is not anymore just in a government building but potentially elsewhere, enabled also by cloud solutions. Mindful of this wider opportunity, appropriate protection measures must be developed, so to ensure privacy and security at all times, anywhere.

The dramatic changes happened in 2020 are worth a whole digital decade. That is the topic of this year’s e-Governance Conference – indeed, “A Digital Decade in One Year”. On May 18-20, treasuring last year’s experience, the hybrid in-presence/digital format will gather policy makers, officials, industry experts, consultants and academics to discover where our digital governments are headed.

The new normality will be what we manage to make of it. We believe it’s a unique chance for the public sector to build upon this momentum, and make a definitive digital leap.

We’re gearing up for this year’s e-Governance Conference!

Here you can find out more and download the Concept Note.