Views from Silicon Valley: Helping client countries keep up with changing technology


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Graphic: Nicholas Nam/World Bank

It is time to tell you a secret my friends. I am a girl who codes. Before joining the World Bank, I was fluent in ASCII, developing systems and applications to make it easier to get things done.

Nearly 20 years after writing my first lines of code, I stepped onto the Microsoft Campus in Redmond, Washington, representing the World Bank Governance Global Practice and the GovTech Global Partnership task team. Along with a delegation representing leadership across the Bank, we visited Redmond and Silicon Valley to meet with some of the top players in Big Tech.

You can imagine how surreal it was to see firsthand how quickly technology has evolved and what is on the horizon. Artificial Intelligence (AI), smart “things”, robots, machine learning, data aggregations, and visualizations that I only dreamt about back in my early career.

During the visit, our partners said it best: change will never be slower than it is today, and governments are falling behind.  This is our challenge: how do we help our clients keep up? And, how do we use tech to help crack some of the trickiest governance problems that hinder development – from corruption to low tax collection; from poor service quality to unequal access to key services?  

For years I’ve said that public sector reforms will require ICT components. From tax administration, financial management and procurement, to service delivery and citizen engagement, technology plays an increasingly important role. Citizens are demanding more from their governments. As a result, the aims of governments around the world are even more ambitious – striving for instant delivery of seamless services to people and businesses, cost savings for taxpayers, and smarter, better government that proactively engages with citizens.

Our private sector partners are developing solutions that can help meet these aims: human-centered design of digital services; Software as a Service (SaaS) and data warehousing for operations; analytics and AI to monitor risk and fraud; clouds to access data anywhere in the world; digital payment systems to increase economic and financial inclusion; digital identities for those without – just to name a few. The applications of these innovations for governance are wide and varied.

The opportunities created by technology raise new questions. Are solutions secure, inclusive, accessible and affordable? How do we ensure our clients have the institutional set-up, capacity, leadership and change-management skills to reap the benefits and realize tangible impacts on poverty reduction? Buying software and systems intelligently requires new procurement approaches. This is necessary, but not sufficient; there is also the human element to governance.

This human element is where we will find the true value and application of technology.


Kimberly Johns

Senior Public Sector Specialist

Join the Conversation

John Munro
January 17, 2019

The critical problem is that our federal government is captured by political representatives and special interests that are anti-science and committed to maintaining a status quo that they profit from. The first step is to ensure that the public understands the importance of technology and science. The second step is to elect folks that understand and are committed to technology and science.

January 17, 2019

The solution to partnering countries to join this trend or move with the fast moving tech innovation is to encourage the government of countries to run a technological driven government. Where most of their Agencies activities are technically aided.
For tax, every citizen should hold a national ID card which serves as their credit or debit card.
Even though they have multiple accounts, these accounts are linked to that card.
Also this card should also serve as their tax payers card.
For firms, their Corporate account should also have a citizen card as a corporate citizen. Then linked to all directors cards so transfer of funds can be easy.
Well there are many was to solve this problem, we just need a little session of brain storming.
Well I'll be glad to offer my services because I believe if we solve this problem we will be contributing to global progress.

Herbert Rwamibazi
January 18, 2019

Technology as a Driver: Indeed, change in technology will never be slower than it is today, and the public sector will continue to play catch up if technology is not adopted a driver of public sector reforms. Improvements in service delivery and associated demands for increased efficiencies will only happen if the public sector adopts some of the new technologies to support the development agenda in different sectors. Nowhere is the need for enhanced and increased use of technology more needed than in the developing countries, which can use new developments in the technology landscape to accelerate development. This will require changes to the fabric of public sector processes, some of which are traditionally based on manual processes, documents and procedures, all of which can now be automated. The biggest effects of ICT led changes will be the human effects i.e. what happens to those that resist the change and what strategies should be put in place to smoothen the effects of such resistance to change, how will the generation divide between those ready to use new technologies and those not prepared to change be bridged? What will be the effect poor or little investments in technology research for nations that are in dire need of technology to advance development and yet can't afford purchase costs of vital systems that will be a necessity for running the public sector? How will they keep with the pace of technology change? Certainly, the public sector is in for a big change in the coming years, and for the early adopters, a possibility to leverage the fast changing technology to achieve the development agenda.