Evolving as a modern e-state : why reinvent government services
While love might not be part of the equation, states do have long-term relationships with their citizens. It’s a kind of contract: in exchange for security, order and efficient everyday services, the citizen pays taxes and abides by the law. In the digital age, one might expect governments to deliver efficient and effective services online; after all, it’s in the contract! Yet often, citizens find themselves in a complex and time-consuming bureaucracy. We must identify ourselves from scratch every time we need a government service and, moreover, it can seem that it’s the first time such a service has been delivered!
These days, to apply for a driver’s license, start a business, or register a tax return or life event, should it be necessary to stand in line (digitally or physically) at the relevant government agency? I’d argue that your government should already know who you are, your current status, where you come from, and what services you might require.
Different, not just better
Sometimes life is as easy as ordering pizza. At the first tap of your finger, the delivery company knows you, and when and what you like to order down to your favorite pizza topping. It suggests what your chosen drink might be and preconfigures your request before you’ve logged it. These food-ordering platforms, the digital giants, together with media, telecoms, banking and retail organizations, have ‘uberized’ their services. In other words, based on extensive analytics and machine learning, they already know who you are and what you’re likely to need – and they deliver convenient, cost-effective services that make life easier and better.
Crucially, all these providers have reinvented business models rather than merely digitizing traditional processes. This is exactly where governments need to head – not putting their bureaucracies online but using digital enablers to do things differently (not just better) and provide faster, easier and cheaper services to their citizens. So, for example, to translate that idea to the public sector, then tax and inland revenue services (and the taxation forms we citizens must fill in) could become redundant if our governments, using real-time data, analytics and machine learning, correctly collected taxes automatically.
Real-time citizen data
In our globalized world, this means also reaching out to citizens internationally. As a European, I recently touched down, for the sixth time, at Perth airport. While it’s quite some way to travel, there was no welcoming committee. Not that I want one – yet, at the same time, if the Western Australian Government wants to attract more entrepreneurs, more students and more trade to such a remote part of the world, wouldn’t it be amazing if the next time I land, because it’s issued my visa, it knows who I am, my status, when I’m arriving, and it sends a welcome to my WhatsApp, with suggestions of services during my stay, options for tickets for the next cricket match, and tips about student arrangements, maybe, for one of my four children to study there.
So how realistic is this? With the advent of hybrid cloud, automation, data and analytics, artificial intelligence and blockchain, personalized public services could be available 24/7 based on citizen data that is completely secure, accurate, up to date and accessible (according to each citizen’s consent) in real time.
There is clearly a long way to go: and many governments maintain the status quo for a host of reasons: for instance, legally, different government agencies and departments cannot currently integrate their services or share citizen data for multiple purposes. Interestingly, the digital frontrunner countries are taking a first step in changing their legislation to make it compulsory by law for departments to share their data seamlessly across government. This is vital if they are to truly re-invent government services. Of course, the business of government is a much more complex and sensitive proposition than ordering pizza or a taxi – but exactly the same technologies and principles apply. Public understanding, legislation and ethical frameworks for data and AI are all critical on governments’ digital journey and within governments’ power to drive and create.
Today’s rapid technological advances, combined with the major global challenges that governments now face, will drive opportunities for public services to free themselves of traditional functions. This will release governments’ potential to think and do things differently, and not just provide their citizens with more of the same.
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" and "Evolving as a modern state: the essential paradigm shift".