Evolving as a modern e-state : the essential paradigm shift
Since the agricultural revolution, people have organized themselves into communities to grow crops, create wealth, make laws and settle disputes. Over time, public administrations evolved to maintain the rule of law; these created huge bureaucracies and tightly controlled procedures to keep updated registers and archives about their citizens. Not only that, they continually checked each citizen’s status to ensure that their records were accurate. Do you really earn that salary? Own that car? Is that land yours?
It goes without saying that all this became ever more time-consuming and required more and more civil servants. And, in the last few decades, all those highly governed procedures and records were transferred to electronic processing and storage.
However now, with the power of new digital enablers, comes a new paradigm shift: technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain can automate the traditional role of government (keeping records of who’s married to whom, what belongs to whom and so on). As a result, those old administrative functions will, increasingly, become redundant.
In essence, if we can automate the validation and updating of information in a shared digital environment, it eliminates the need to constantly monitor and check the status of citizens. And if we ensure that digital environment is fully trusted and secured, then there is one single source of truth that can be easily updated, in a way that cannot be defrauded – achieving in seconds what used to take weeks.
Immutable single source
A good example is your passport – the official document that states legally that you exist and where you belong. Today, to apply for a new passport, a citizen must wait in a queue (even if they apply online) and follow a (time-consuming) process in which a public agency checks its databases to validate who the citizen is, if they’re eligible, and if the data is correct. Then, after around ten working days, a civil servant processes the next stage of the application and a paper passport is eventually posted to the citizen (or to a local government office for collection).
Now, imagine all this disappearing - all of it; because in future, we will no longer need physical passports or even IDs. Instead, a fully secured digital identity will always be available as a single version of the truth for each citizen, immutable (other than when a citizen needs to change a detail) and accessible only by the relevant agencies, when required, using a technology such as blockchain.
Giving ownership to citizens
A blockchain is essentially a secure record of digital transactions; any change in the status of a citizen can be added as the next ‘block’ in the chain that is impossible to reverse or erase. Critical to blockchain is the authorization of who is allowed to add, validate and see information along the chain without a designated centralized authority. In this way, it’s possible to create what we call a ‘citizen vault’, which gives each citizen ownership of their own personal data and who has access to it
While we’re not there yet, these new technologies are now knocking on the doors of governments and many of them are experimenting with ‘self-sovereign identity’, whereby life events (such as births and marriages) can be approved by the relevant people (such as doctors, midwifes and registrars), with instant automated changes to a citizen’s data, which is then accessible by the relevant agencies according to the needs of the citizen and the administration.
Personalized, integrated services
One of the key factors hindering progress is that, in the case of new technologies such as blockchain, there aren’t yet the kind of agreed standards that enabled the spread of the internet as we now know it. Yet those standards will evolve – and the inefficiency of old systems and processes, together with the sheer power of these fast-evolving technologies, surely means that this critical paradigm shift is just around the corner.
As a result, governments will be freed from the burden of traditional bureaucracies and significant time and resources will be released to re-think how public services are delivered. Modern e-states – as Estonia, New Zealand, United Arab Emirates, China and Singapore, among others, are already demonstrating – can deliver more personalized, integrated and innovative public services that are faster and cheaper to provide. What’s more, using the speed of hyper-connectivity and the power of real-time data, governments will be better positioned to address the global issues of this new decade, not least the widening health gap, maintaining public safety and security, and the challenges of climate change.
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 blog "Obsolete and aboslute e-states".