Service deliveryDigital Customer ServiceMaking governance great again through GovTech

Making governance great again through GovTech

How is GovTech driving good governance and how can it be used to encourage encourage better service delivery and improved accountability?

In mid-November at the GovTech Summit in Paris, an event that sees European leaders and start-ups meet to explore how new tech can improve public services, its Chairman Daniel Korski announced that by 2025 this burgeoning sector will be worth $1 trillion. That represents roughly 15% growth year-on-year over the next six years, with the GovTech industry already valued at around $400 billion.

“If you look at the exponential growth we’ve seen in other sectors, and consider the growing demands of aging populations and increasing demands of citizens, it’s not so crazy to imagine GovTech becoming the next trillion-dollar sector very soon,” Korski said.

His high hopes for the sector are shared by several high-profile politicians, including French President Emmanuel Macron and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, with the former declaring that “there has never been a better time to make public services more affordable and accessible using new technology solutions”. But what exactly is this sector all about and how can GovTech improve public sector governance and democratic practices?

How can GovTech improve governance?

Around the world, technology is transforming the way federal governments and local authorities carry out everything from collecting taxes and delivering public services to distributing welfare and improving overall accountability. The industry is, and continues, to grow at an alarmingly fast rate due to the ongoing collaboration between start-ups and national governments, with both working with the intention of building better public services for citizens and improving the tools used by civil servants to deliver them.

The rise of GovTech is being driven by large-scale investment, with $400 billion spent on government technologies worldwide and 6.25% of that figure ($25 billion) emanating from Europe alone, according to IDC’s 2017 global ICT spending figures.

Investment in Denmark led to the creation of NemKonto, a citizen’s account for handling payments to and from government, which has altered the way Danish authorities interact with their citizens for the better and improved public sector governance in the country in a rather simple, yet exceedingly clever way. Most Danish citizens and companies occasionally receive payments from the public sector. These payments can come in the form of tax rebates or VAT refunds, child subsidies, pensions, student loans, unemployment benefits, housing support or social welfare payments. In a bid to simplify the process, NemKonto provides every Danish citizen with their own unique electronic identification in the form of a NemID that they can assign to their existing bank account. Since NemKonto was launched over five years ago more than 95% of all Danes have signed up and use the service, with the country on track to have complete adoption in a few more years. That’s a far cry from the take-up of the UK’s GOV.UK Verify.

Denmark isn’t the only European country using technology to find innovative new ways to improve public sector governance, however. It is actually lagging behind when compared to its Baltic neighbour Estonia, which has utilised the power of distributed ledger technology – more commonly referred to as blockchain – to create what is arguably one of the most sophisticated e-government infrastructures on the planet. Almost all of its public services are now accessible to its country’s inhabitants via a truly innovative blockchain-powered identification system. Everything in the Baltic state from its national health and judicial registries are harnessing the power of distributed ledger technology, with the country planning to extend its use to other spheres including personal medicine, cyber security and data embassies in the coming years.

Estonia is so committed to the cause of cultivating new GovTech solutions to improve public sector governance that its government started a movement. That movement is known as e-Estonia and was created to drive innovation and empower citizens to interact with the state and other local authorities by using electronic technologies. The initiative also led to Estonia becoming the first ever nation to offer online voting (i-Voting) all the way back in 2005 – something that the UK government is only now beginning to discuss with the Welsh Assembly. But even now, the UK is still way behind the times, with the machinery that powers e-voting known for being costly and prone to data breaches. Meanwhile, Estonia’s i-Voting scheme on the other hand is an open-source solution that is both simple and secure.

“i-Voting has become a reality only thanks to the fact that the majority of our residents have a unique secure digital identification provided by the state,” according to e-Estonia’s website. “The i-Voting system allows citizens to vote at their convenience, no matter how far they are from a polling station, since the ballot can be cast from any internet-connected computer anywhere in the world.”

To make these technological leaps a reality, the Estonian government did not work in isolation. Instead it sought out entrepreneurial start-ups and scale-ups that are already pushing the envelope. Smaller, nimbler companies like this make for excellent creative partners, offering greater agility, creativity and innovation than larger incumbents. This partnership model is still being employed by the Estonian government, with the country recently inviting 19 IT enterprises to present solutions in a competition to develop a new e-governance solution organised by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications and Garage 48. In the end, a company called Net Group came out on top, after it found a solution to a problem that had been plaguing the country’s emergency centre regarding submission of images and videos during emergency calls.

“The three-day hackathon was our test project on how to conduct this type of a competition in regard to resolving the challenges of e-governance. We wish to carry out several other similar events in the next two years and we hope to see familiar faces as well as new companies and state authorities participating,” noted Rene Tammist, Minister of Entrepreneurship and Information Technology. “Several solutions developed during the event are ready for use after finishing touches and would increase the efficiency and simplify state functions, as well as make them more user-friendly.”

Citizens demand personalised services

Estonia provides a valuable blueprint for other countries to follow who are looking to improve public sector governance. It has never been easier for governments and local authorities to find partners to improve public sector governance and citizens are crying out for change. According to research by management consultants Accenture, around 75% of citizens globally believe that their governments need to tackle complex by collaborating with them and roughly 60% saying that they would be more than happy to take an active role in helping authorities improve the personalisation of public sector services.

As businesses like Amazon and Airbnb have revolutionised the way that people shop online and travel, it is only natural that citizens have begun to expect a better experience when it comes to how their public services are delivered. Just as business has made accessing consumer goods and services simpler and more personalised to individual wants and needs, governments must find ways to offer the same level of service when it comes to paying taxes or accessing welfare. The GovTech sector can, and will, help governments provide their citizens with the cutting-edge service that they crave, with the CivTech sub-sector specifically designed to help government institutions create new channels for engaging and communicating with citizens. There is a plethora of new technologies that the GovTech sector is developing to suit the needs of governments, with blockchain offering greater transparency, improved data quality and better compliance. Then there are devices like sensors and trackers that fall under the banner of Internet of Things (IoT) that are helping make cities become smarter so-longed as governments ensure that provide sufficient levels of connectivity.

Great future for GovTech

The future really is looking bright for GovTech, with demand from government and citizens alike helping to establish more start-ups as venture capital money comes flooding in to capitalise on this burgeoning sector. Europe is certainly well-positioned to become a leader in GovTech, which is an opportunity the region would be stupid grab with both hands considering that it lags far behind the likes of China and the US when it comes technology.

The European Union (EU) is certainly doing what it can to sow the seeds of success, with the EU establishing the eGovernment Action plan in 2016 and more recently the Tallinn Declaration with the aim of driving investment, policy reform and a shift in the way member states deliver public services. The region has already made headway as more and more governments take public services online, but there is still a long way to go and a real opportunity up for grabs that could see Europe not only improve public sector governance but become an exporter of GovTech solutions.

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