Obsolete and absolute e-states
All over the world, governments are under increasing pressure to accelerate their transformation into modern ‘e-states’ to achieve their goals. Whether to save taxpayers’ money, safeguard national security, implement new policies, or deliver cheaper, better, faster public services, governments everywhere need to harness the power, speed and agility of digital technologies and ever-growing volumes of data.
At the same time, the socio-political climate is evolving fast: following the era of liberal capitalism, populations are demanding that governments shoulder more responsibility for addressing urgent global challenges such as climate change, tax evasion, political interference, and the widening wealth gap. All this means that governments need to do things differently, not just better – just look at the New Green Deals being proposed by the European Union and in the United States.
Yet, haunted perhaps by a history of costly and inflexible legacy IT, or stymied by regulation or lack of a clear vision of what digital means for citizens and the state, what we see among many public administrations today is the lack of a clear digital strategy. This is hindering governments in taking decisive next steps on their digital journey. And with this prevarication comes a real risk of governments, ultimately, becoming what we can call ‘obsolete’ e-states.
What’s an obsolete e-state?
In this context, becoming obsolete means falling behind other sectors, relinquishing data and services, missing opportunities to implement policies, and perpetuating creaky old IT infrastructures and costly bureaucracies. So while Facebook, Google and Tencent and their like are using countless algorithms to know exactly who individuals are and what they need, most governments are struggling to keep pace.
Obsoletion also means trailing other countries in the race to become efficient and effective e-states. Becoming an e-state helps to grow a country’s economy while enhancing its reputation and attracting investors, students and travelers. In comparing the world’s 193 nations in terms of digital maturity, there are a number of e-state frontrunners. Estonia, Israel and New Zealand – among others – all score highly as countries with a clear digital strategy, with efficient digital and international services that make them ‘easy to do business with’ at home and abroad.
There are other governments for whom a different digital agenda is crystal clear. These governments not only recognize the power of digital enablers, they have taken comprehensive steps to harness them and take control of the citizen data they generate.
Through new technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), analytics and facial recognition, these countries can now gather and analyze so much citizen data that they have become ‘absolute e-states’. China with its ‘Social Credit system’ is a prime example here; Singapore and others are also looking at taking control of citizen data for reasons of stability and security.
While we may question some of these countries’ political and ethical stances, they certainly have a clear digital strategy - and the results are truly astonishing. Where China was a complex bureaucracy just five years ago, these days almost all aspects of daily life are transacted seamlessly on vast digital platforms. The pervasiveness of facial recognition, AI and algorithms everywhere and in all walks of life gives the Chinese Government absolute insight into what their citizens are doing around the clock.
Priorities for all governments
Clearly, obsolete and absolute e-states are two extremes and most countries lie somewhere in between. Measuring the digital maturity of a country can help governments to decide where they want to be in the years ahead, in other words, to define their digital strategy. For instance, in my conversations with one government recently, the Director General pointed out that its position on the UN digital index had dropped over the last year, and affirmed its ambition to reach the top 10 position in five years.
In this series of blogs, I want to explore this spectrum, and examine the key priorities and outcomes of digital transformation for governments over the next decade. Now is the time for Governments to take more coherent measures, show leadership, and set out a clear digital strategy for this new decade, showing how new technologies and data are vital for governments and their citizens in today’s increasingly complex society.
Stay tuned with my next blog where I'll explore the essential paradigm shift for governments to evolve as a modern e-state.