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People 'n' Issues

SA Government needs to embrace digital

Digital transformation of the public sector can drive government excellence, writes ANDREW BOURNE, Zoho regional manager for Africa.

A lot has been spoken about businesses benefiting from cloud technology. The same technology can also bring about a digital revolution in the public sector. While digitalisation efforts in various spaces, such as filing tax returns, have already started to positively impact the government and the public, many more services can be digitised.

Convenience, efficiency, and accountability

Before looking at how that can happen, it’s worth taking a deeper dive into the benefits of a digital public sector workforce.

Some benefits are obvious. Digital services can, for instance, be accessed at any time, from anywhere with an internet connection. That makes it easier for citizens to avail the services they need whenever they need them and wherever they might be. Digital services can also help bring down a government’s operational costs by automating tasks and reducing paperwork.

The operational efficiencies created by a digital government could also mean reduced human errors. Additionally, a fully digital government workforce can help improve transparency and accountability. It can help senior government officials gain a complete overview of the services offered, identify bottlenecks, and improve processes.

For governments that have embraced digitisation and digital transformation, the results have been positive. A United Nations study, for example, found that digitalisation can reduce corruption by up to 30%. Governments can use technology to actively make a positive difference in citizens’ lives, too. The Estonian government, for instance, uses a combination of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technology to match job seekers with jobs. The programme boasts a 72% success rate, compared with 58% for human advisors.

Digitisation of government services will not just help citizens avail government services from the comfort of their homes, but also help government officials do their work more quickly and with greater ease, making them more productive and efficient. Having quick access to the relevant data they need can also help government employees resolve public grievances in a shorter amount of time.

Simple changes make a big difference

The digitalisation of public services can start with small steps, such as accepting digital signatures for services that have already been digitised such as driving licence renewal, filing grant applications, applying for passports etc. South Africa already has a strong privacy act in place, and with bolstering of the cyber security infrastructure, government offices can start embracing new technologies.

However, here, government departments may face challenges similar to what businesses face, namely data silos, integration hassles, and costly scaling. Therefore, it is important for any government entity to carefully evaluate vendors not just on their privacy and security practices, but also on how well their solutions interoperate with other solutions and the flexibility they provide in terms of customisation.

A multi-solution vendor, in this case, becomes a preferable choice because it will reduce the problem of integrations and data silos. While a department doesn’t have to start with digitalising all the services they offer, they should keep in mind the end-goal, which is to enhance not just the efficiency of one service, but of the overall department and government body. This can happen when there is a single source of truth. For example, if a company registers itself with the Company and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC), its essential details should automatically be made available to the South African Revenue Service (SARS), and if the company was to change its name with one of the departments, the same change should reflect for all government services dealing with the said company.

Embarking on the path to government excellence

Elevating citizen experience is an important step for the progress of any society. With the digital age taking over and the private sector consistently driving excellent customer experience, it’s worth bearing in mind that digital enablement can streamline public service delivery and deliver citizen delight. In fact, if the right tools are used and implemented properly, change could be right around the corner.

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