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Accelerating the Digital Transformation of Government

By Feng Gu, Senior Consultant, Forrester

The development of digital technologies creates unprecedented opportunities for governments to modernize governance and services. This modernization will equip government agencies with the means to improve social governance and provide more people-oriented public services. However, emerging digital technologies also pose several challenges. Governments now face new gov-ernance issues in domains such as the digital economy and the digital society, while there are also new challenges in organization, culture, infrastructure, op-erations, and model building.

Technological Development Drives Modernization of Gov-ernment

Throughout history, technological revolutions have driven human progress. Since the 20th century, emerging technologies have boosted productivity and reshaped production, bringing profound changes to politics, economy, society, and culture for countries around the world; significantly changing the relation-ship between governments, markets, and societies; and facilitating the mod-ernization of government governance and services.

Global Digital Government Transformation Enters a New Era

From the eras of information electronization, online services, service integra-tion to the era of intelligent governance, transformation of government govern-ance and service always embodies the characteristics of a period in time. As such, according to a 2020 United Nations E-Government survey, more than 84% of the countries surveyed offered at least one e-Government mobile ap-plication. Clearly, e-Government building has now become vital in transforming service delivery and increasing administrative efficiency.

As government agencies gain deeper understanding of public services, new technologies are introduced to new governance models — increasing the value of public services provided by governments. The advent of the Fourth Industri-al Revolution and the development of the digital economy are taking govern-ance and public services into the era of intelligence. This new era features smart technologies being used in production — reshaping the division of labor and the resource allocation mechanism between people, people and things, and people and organizations.

As intelligent transformation takes hold, function-based governments are be-coming capability- and efficiency-driven models. The development of digital technology will also bring a series of changes to governance and services, causing a shift toward more open, platform-based, data-driven, and in-cloud governments.

Intelligent governance: a new era for digital government

Multiple Factors Drive Digital Government Transformation

Since the 20th century, countries around the world have been undergoing pro-found political, economic, social, and cultural transformations. During the course of these transformations, governments face a complex and volatile in-ternational landscape featuring increasing uncertainties, a fast-changing inter-national environment, and socioeconomic tensions: The ever-growing demand for positive public service experiences means that being 'people-oriented' should be a priority in digital government-building around the world.

Data has become a strategic asset for innovative economic development and governance modernization, and the application of big data can help modernize governance structure, making it more diverse and open, as well as delayering it. Cybersecurity, data, and privacy protection have become components of national sovereignty, so digital government should provide a safe and reliable information network, application platforms, and data protection to safeguard national, social, and public information.

As the world enters a new round of industrial competition, countries around the globe are expediting their digital economy expansion, and the digital economy has become a prime driver of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth, requir-ing governments to apply effective guidance and governance at the strategic level.

A series of uncertainties has lead to higher demands on social governance and public services; as the process of modernization accelerates, it also brings about a range of social problems — posing increasingly severe and complex challenges to fields such as healthcare, education, transportation, environmen-tal protection, and public security.

New dimensional public services and governance

Digital Technology Presents Both Groundbreaking Opportunities and Challenges for Government Transformation

The emerging digital technologies will bring unprecedented opportunities for governments in their transformation — enabling them to build digital govern-ment systems with sustainable innovation, intelligent perception, and compre-hensive governance, to keep innovating and improve national competitiveness. Essentially, digital technologies create breakthrough opportunities for govern-ments' digitalization in terms of time, space, and cognition.

With the rapid development of digital technologies, the physical and digital worlds, the real and digital economies, and the real societies and their digital presence will intertwine with each other. This will put new demands on gov-ernments in terms of policy decision-making, social governance and public services, boosting theoretical innovations of public governance and services, and enabling national governance and modalities to progress.

Governments' dimensional upgrades of capability, services, and governance with digital technologies can be seen in proactive building of integrated digital government infrastructure and application architecture; the extensive yet invis-ible governance by offering integrated services that are platform-based, inten-sive, and intelligent to serve citizens and enterprises; and continuous trans-formation toward open, platform-based, data-driven, and in-cloud govern-ments.

Critical Barriers in Digital Government Transformation

Government agencies today face many challenges in digital transformation. Firstly, government agencies are still unable to use various new technologies effectively to continuously improve government services. Secondly, govern-ments' digital governance and operational capabilities still can't meet public demand for refined governance and personalized services. Finally, regarding governance philosophy and the way of thinking, governments urgently need to break out of their mindsets and organizational cultures to achieve innovation.

In digital government transformation, most countries also lack digital transfor-mation strategies and are ineffective at data integration. All these factors are vital for government digital transformation.

Governments Can't Use New Technologies to Support Digital Govern-ment Development

Represented by the Internet and telecommunication industries, the digital economy contributes to the widespread use and continuous development of emerging technologies. The growing digital economy also facilitates the devel-opment of cloud services, big data, and Smart Cities. However, unlike digital-native enterprises, such as Internet companies, government agencies are no longer able to use new technologies sufficiently for digital government trans-formation and growing demand for public services.

Existing Digital Governance and Service Systems Don't Address Digiti-zation Challenges

With social settings and demands rapidly changing and becoming increasingly complex, governments are innovating and experimenting with digital means to improve governance and services in terms of convenience, efficiency, and ser-vice experience.

Compared with more well-developed and flexible applications in the business sector, though, government agencies often lack a holistic system and workflow covering customer research, application design, development, testing, launch-ing, and ongoing optimization of operation. These limitations can lead to weak links in the planning, construction, development, operation, and optimization of the digital governance and service system.

Traditional Mindsets Are Insufficient for the Widespread Practice of Dig-ital Governance

In a December 2020 Forrester Consulting survey commissioned by Huawei, 87% of respondents said the lack of forward-looking digital thinking and digital acumen in government agencies is a major challenge that governments around the world face during the transformation process.

Digital government transformation is fundamentally about transforming the governance and culture to support the country's overall development vision, strategy, and accomplishing sustainable development goals.

When advancing digital transformation, governments also face challenges like the lack of digital transformation strategies, difficulties in digital culture trans-formation, shifts in digital thinking, and ineffective management integration.

Building Digital Leadership to Accelerate Digital Govern-ment Transformation

Digital government building is a long-term, systemic project that requires plan-ning, target-setting, and implementation strategies at the national strategic lev-el. In digital government transformation, countries around the world prioritize digital strategy and planning for its role of guiding policies. Developed countries and regions such as the US, the EU, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand have developed top-level digital government plans.

As early as 2012, the UK government published the Government Digital Strat-egy to improve and develop digital government services. The strategy reflects a people-oriented principle, and is highly flexible and inclusive. The country lat-er implemented the Government Digital Inclusion Strategy in 2014, and it launched the Government as a Platform initiative in 2015.

In 2012, the US federal government developed the Digital Government Build-ing a 21st Century Platform to Better Serve the American People strategy. Digital transformation of the US government is based on digital information sharing and data access, and is oriented toward public services, in order to transform from a regulatory government into a service-oriented one.

In 2014, Singapore launched the Smart Nation initiative, which connects citi-zens, the government, and public services in an unprecedented way. The initi-ative allows institutions and citizens to benefit from open data, contributes to future economic development, and improves people's living standard.

Digital Leadership of Government Agencies Is Key

In the Forrester survery, 76% of respondents said that they believe that digital leadership of government agencies is vital for digital government transfor-mation. Digital leadership refers to the digital and leadership mindset govern-ments need to lead digital transformation.

There are three main aspects: The first is to lead digital transformation with a top-level designed digital vision and forward-looking digital thinking to lead transformation across government agencies as well as society. The second aspect is digital acumen, which is the ability to gain insight into business digiti-zation and notice opportunities in turning digital technologies into business in a rapidly changing environment. Finally, there's a digital foundation mindset, which allows the government to understand that new technologies can become new infrastructures that facilitate the platform-as-a-service transformation.

Focus on Digital Governance and Operations

Governments around the world are using digital technologies to transform gov-ernment operation, information interaction and analysis, policy decision-making, and service delivery.

In terms of governance and operations, the development of society and the emergence of new digital industries will shift the governance and operation model from a single entity model to one that is shared by multiple entities. This shift can be viewed from five main aspects: new governance areas, new digital territory, new drivers for development, new governance models, and new op-erating systems.

People-Oriented Digital Serivce and Experience

Regarding service and experience, digital development drives government ser-vices to shift from a function-driven model to an experience-driven one, includ-ing five main aspects: Creating optimal service experience, enhancing the ef-fectiveness and capabilities of government services, reforming service delivery models, re-engineering processes, and encouraging innovation.

Comprehensive Enhancement of Government's Digitization Capabilities as a Guarantee

While building digital leadership and transforming the way of thinking, it's nec-essary to comprehensively improve governments' digitization capabilities. Governments should also combine digital technologies with the characteristics of practices and different departments, and develop a pragmatic digital strate-gy.

Building a service-oriented government to meet the growing public demands of businesses and citizens can improve cross-departmental and cross-level coor-dination mechanisms and achieve a new model of whole-of-government ser-vices.

Digital governance is the process by which government agencies — under the premise of protecting national digital sovereignty — regulate the development of the digital economy; promote orderly openness of public data resources; and safeguard cybersecurity, data, and personal privacy through basic sys-tems and corresponding laws and regulations.

It's necessary for government agencies to enhance their abilities to use data, modernize the governance structure, and facilitate the transformation of gov-ernance structure toward an open and delayering model jointly governed by diverse players. Finally, government agencies need to build the next-generation digital infrastructure with end-edge-cloud orchestrated infrastruc-ture.

Digital Government Ecosystem Facilitates the Building Digital Govern-ment

In the practice of digital government, the traditional ecosystem is organically integrated with the digital ecosystem to transform public services into capabil-ity- and efficiency-driven model, achieve open access to information and ser-vices under controllable security, empower economic innovation and develop-ment, as well as embrace the development of new business forms and stimu-late innovation and vitality throughout society. Meanwhile, it's necessary to use the whole social ecosystem and adopt open technologies and platforms to op-timize the construction and procurement mode of digital government.

The construction of digital government is a continuous and gradual process. To comprehensively review digital government development, it's necessary to evaluate it through the Digital Leadership Index (DLI). The DLI includes five indicators: Digital Strategy Index, Digital Service Index, Digital Governance In-dex, Data Intelligence Index, and Digital Technology Index.

The DLI helps governments to identify any weaknesses in digital transfor-mation and digital leadership building, and learn from best practices to avoid risks and accelerate the transformation.

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