Evolving as a modern e-state: Absolute e-states and data sovereignty

Posted on: March 12, 2020 by Kay Hooghoudt

In today’s fast-changing world, while most governments acknowledge they must transform public services using digital technologies, many do not have a clear vision of what kind of digital nation – or ‘e-state’ – they want to be, and for what reason (other than reducing cost and striving for greater efficiency). As I’ve written in some of my blogs, I believe these countries run the risk of delivering services that are obsolete in the digital age.

At the same time, there is another category of countries who have a clear digital vision and strategy to transform their society with digital technologies. Countries such as China and Singapore, for example (now also Surinam, Venezuela and Qatar), consider the collection of data as a prerequisite for the prevention of terrorism and maintenance of the rule of law. I’d call these absolute e-states.

Absolute control

‘Absolute’ in this context points to absolute control of citizen data being enshrined in law and augmented with data gathered via facial recognition, social media platforms and other systems; algorithms are applied using artificial intelligence to continuously learn more about individual citizens and populations.

Each citizen has their own digital footprint created from their shopping records, QR codes, travel and so on, which provides even more fuel for the algorithms. It is these capabilities that will enable China’s new Social Credit system, which is due to be implemented later in 2020.

National data lakes

In every country, data is a rich resource for governments to be able to deliver better, faster, cheaper and more joined-up services for their citizens. Yet one of the current barriers to governments making better use of citizen data is that it resides in departmental siloes that make it difficult to match, process and share. What’s more, there are legal restrictions around use of data (so that data collected about a car when its driver is caught speeding, for example, cannot be used to make tax registration for that car any quicker or easier).

It’s important that governments overcome these barriers in order to leverage data to shape and improve services for the benefit of their citizens. One thing is clear: huge lakes of citizen data will be growing exponentially in the coming years. Any e-state can create its own national data lake (in the cloud), in which all data from each department and agency, about each citizen, is stored without any organizational siloes.

Privacy and sovereignty

Citizen privacy and ethical frameworks for use of all this data are, of course, critical. In the private sector, experience shows that citizens are more than happy to give up their data in exchange for cheap, fast and convenient information and services, particularly from the world’s digital tech giants. The same should apply to government: citizens should be asking themselves: “what’s in it for me? if I give consent to my government to use my data within agreed parameters, what should I expect in terms of secure, resilient, paperless services in relation to my protection, security, everyday needs and for the rule of law?”

While privacy laws (such as GDPR in the EU) require that citizens must give consent for their data to be shared, nation states must also retain sovereignty over their own data. In other words, data should be controlled, owned, stored, secured, accessed and used in accordance with governments’ own regulations and ethical frameworks. For this reason, in the EU, the Gaia-X project is being established to bring data governance under greater European government control and away from commercial cloud providers.

Reinventing government

By applying the power of advanced analytics, artificial intelligence, machine learning and automation, governments can leverage vast data lakes to deliver better, more efficient public services. Using an ecosystem of digital government technology platforms, each e-state can know the status and needs of its citizens in real time, and have the capabilities to provide personalized services all integrated around each citizen’s needs and preferences.

With the advance of digital technology platforms in the hands of global private sector providers, this is surely the direction also for the public sector. Every government now needs a clear digital vision of what it means to be an e-state, with a coherent strategy for digital transformation and data sovereignty to reinvent public services for the benefit of their citizens.

This blog is part of a series around eState 2025, examining the key priorities and outcomes of digital transformation for governments over the next decade. I invite you to read my first blogs "Obsolete and absolute e-states"; "Evolving as a modern state: the essential paradigm shift" and "Evolving as a modern e-state: why reinvent government services", "Evolving as a modern e-states: could governments become obsolete?"

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About Kay Hooghoudt
Global Director Digital Transformation & Cloud in Government
Kay is Global Director Digital Transformation & Cloud in Government at Atos. Kay advises governments, universities and public bodies all over the world on digital strategy and cloud adoption. He is a digital visionary, responsible for developing new themes and strategies in the public space. Having worked with public service leaders in Europe, Australia, the US, the Middle East and Asia, Kay addresses the fear in some parts of the public sector about cloud adoption. With his extensive international cross-market network, he has knowledge and stories to share about how leading public institutions have navigated the journey to cloud and the role of private, public and third-party cloud ecosystems. Kay advises on hybrid cloud orchestration, access to legacy systems, data classification, security, scalability, resilience, cost, data protection and data sovereignty. Kay’s career includes 15 years in Senior Management positions within the Government of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Since 2012 he was Vice-President Government & (Higher) Education, Atos International. He joined Atos in 2007 as Executive Account Director for Government & (Higher) Education in the Netherlands. Kay has a Masters degree in International Law (LLM) and a BA in Cultural Anthropology & Non-Western Sociology from the University of Leiden.

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