Published on Digital Development

Somebody somewhere in the world has already solved the problem

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That is how Mr. John Suffolk, former UK CIO, began his keynote address. So why, you might ask, do we keep on trying to re-invent the wheel?

The eDevelopment Thematic Group delivered yet another splendid session two weeks ago called  "Global CIO Dialogue on the Future of Government Transformation", featuring, along Mr. Suffolk from the UK, Mr. James Kang, CIO of Singapore; Mr. Bryan Sivak, CTO for the District of Columbia (US); and a delegation from the Government of Moldova, including Ms. Dona Scola, Deputy Minister of ICT, and Ms. Stela Mocan, Executive Director of e-Government Center.

The three-hour session is available online at the eDevelopment Thematic Group website, and it is really worth going through it. The site also includes additional resources for people interested in this topic.

Following just some of the things that grabbed my attention, in no specific order:

  • Governments can not keep doing all by themselves

Following on the title for this blog, there is so much going on out there that could be used to deliver better services at affordable costs. The UK has approximately 65% of its IT-related activities oursourced to the private sector, and just by allowing citizens use information that is released to the public has created lots of applications that Government could not have ever thought of (or paid for). Risk tolerance and security issues are of course things to consider when deciding what to release and how to do it, but all speakers agreed that collaboration with other parties is a key part of the agenda going forward.

  • Collaboration and open data policies require a change in mindset from within

I found quite interesting that all speakers from four different countries agreed on the paramount importance of changing the mindset of existing government entities (and the people inside them) as a necessary condition for any kind of transition towards a more open and collaborative environment.

Uncertainty (what will people do with all this information?), Risk tolerance (Will it work?), the need for "safe-zones" where failing is tolerated (it reminded me a lot about the whole discussion on design-thinking), among others, were mentioned as potential areas/issues government officials in charge of the transition should address.

  • Seven trends to consider

Mr. Kang mentioned these seven trends that will shape the way Governments interact with citizens:

  1. Cloud computing. We covered this in a previous post. Basically, a hybrid approach to cloud computing allows for lower costs with low risk.
  2. Meta data. It is expected that next year 35 zettabytes (1ZB = 1 trillion of GB) of information will be created. The information that governments and citizens create will keep increasing.
  3. Business Analytics. Ever more Governments need to analyze the data they create and share with citizens.
  4. Mobile devices. With more than 5 billion connections in the world, mobile devices have become the biggest distribution and communications channel. 
  5. Open data. DC was among the first to do it, but now many governments have transparency and open data policies that release a wealth of information to citizens.
  6. Government as a platform. As data flows and government standards are defined, government applications are emerging, many of them developed by the private sector. For example, the UK has plans to set-up an App store a-la-iTunes. 
  7. Social networks. Governments will have to participate in social networks to reach citizens and interact with them.


  • Where to start?

There is no "secret recipe". Governments have to start in those areas that provide "quick-wins", simple service that can be turned around relatively fast and that can show results to stakeholders in the short term. If possible, services or infrastructure that can later be used as a basis for additional services should be prioritized.

This opportunistic approach should not imply not having a strategy, including a definition of basic architecture, interoperability standards and required legal frameworks that will allow consistency and growth later on.

Finally, all speakers agreed that working with the private sector was needed. Private sector is where cutting-edge knowledge resides, and smart collaboration agreements allow for risk diversification with lower investments.

  • Moldova e-Transformation Project

The Government of Moldova is embracing these global trends, and with 80% mobile penetration and 80% of settlements covered by fiber optics, it has started its transformation agenda in collaboration with the World Bank and many leading CIOs from around the world, including the ones that attended the workshop.

The World Bank will help the Government of Moldova during this transition through a project aimed at supporting the e-Government Center, allowing the government to create an enabling environment for e-Transformation and identify those key interventions / services that will guarantee the success of the overall strategy.



So, in essence, there is no written handbook. Every country will have to find its own way to transition towards an open and modern platform for Government services that leverage technology to increase service delivery. That being said, some "Dos and Don'ts" are taking shape as many governments start their process, and learning from these experiences will probably increase chances of success. After all, it may be the case that somebody, somewhere in the world has already solved the problem.



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