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Trends in the Public Sector: E-Governance Enables Better, More Transparent Services

How can governments use technology to empower their citizens?

by Subramanian Iyer

January 2015

Governments across the world are realizing the positive impact of empowering citizens by leveraging technology to provide more efficient and more transparent services. The key challenge in this endeavor is to deliver integrated services across departments that will move legacy IT deployments from information-storing silos to information-sharing environments. This is possible if the deployment architecture is flexible enough to gather and deliver information across multiple devices and applications. The deployment would need to be future-proofed and would not just allow for smart governance, but would also scale easily as governments move toward the smart city model.

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Some of the technology trends that can enable this include:

  • Deployment of smart city platforms, enabled through technologies such as Machine-to-Machine (M2M) and Internet of Things (IoT).
  • Social media interactions and analysis—used for information dissemination, analytics, interaction with the public, and gauging public sentiment.
  • Deployment of private and public clouds to enable fast and innovative service deployment.
  • Deployment of applications using mobile computing devices as a medium.
Key Elements for the Smart Government

Most government departments have automation enabled to varying degrees, including “single-window services” for citizens and business. However, these are usually transactional service fulfillment systems that have challenges with scalability and functionality.

It is important that automation be done with the purpose of improving the quality of citizen life or easing business engagement with the government.”

It is critical to have a holistic end-state to these automation projects that enable data-sharing contextually. This will allow for services to be more efficient. For example, if the government decides to provide property tax rebates for widows and widowers, this would require data sharing across property tax and birth and death registers as well as with the land title applications.

As governments look to improve services and retain as well as increase business investments, there are five specific areas that need to be considered across efficiency of services, sustainable development, and streamlined governance.

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1. Citizen services: This involves holistic programs that have integrated processes accessible through multiple channels, allowing services to be delivered through a framework of eligibility, demand, and impact. A classic example is the NYC311 service, which allows New York City to seamlessly field more than 60,000 calls per day, providing more than 4,000 services (accepting property tax payments, listing school schedules) across multiple channels of communication.

2. Fraud detection and prevention: Fraud detection and prevention require various digitization projects to move out of silos and establish an integrated data-flow mechanism that links various departmental processes with each other. This enables transparency through the process.

3. Operational efficiencies: Increasing operational efficiencies for government departments would mean the ability to enforce policies and improve accountability through various public-private partnerships. This would also involve streamlining internal government processes such as human resources, disbursement, and procurement.

4. IT agility: For IT to be able to support smart government effectively, it is important to ensure agility. This involves ensuring that data exchange is configurable and scalable, allowing cross-departmental applications to be securely integrated and to exchange the right data, reducing time needed to launch new services as well as IT implementation costs.

5. Reporting and analysis: Providing on-time actionable reporting—both operational and analytical—are extremely critical to decision-making and impact citizen services directly. Integrated dashboards provide a clear picture of leading indicators of service requirements and improve the government’s decision-making ability by ensuring that the data is accurate and complete.

Key Considerations

Understanding what needs to be done for smart government requires thorough knowledge of the current state of citizen-centricity in automation. A maturity model would provide this information and lay the foundation for evolution of the state to a smart government.

Building out an IT roadmap to enable smart government depends on a number of key considerations. These include:

Citizen/business engagement: Digitization of existing processes does not lead to more efficient governance. It is important that automation be done with the purpose of improving the quality of citizen life or easing business engagement with the government. Citizen engagement is critical to ensure better governance.

Improved financial models: Given the shrinking budgets that governments manage, it is critical to ensure the right financing models are in place to support citizen-centric initiatives. This could mean deploying innovative solutions that require “renting” the solution (cloud solutions on subscription model) instead of outright buying. Payment innovations such as centralized e-procurement or electronic benefits also provide governments with the flexibility to invest in the right kind of solutions.

Shared infrastructure-platform clouds: Siloed applications use siloed infrastructure, leading to a significant waste of resources. The deployed infrastructure also consumes significant real estate and power, increasing overall costs and complexity of deployment. Deployment of private or community clouds that allow for sharing of infrastructure optimizes this cost significantly. This also reduces the complexity of the environment.

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Seamless data exchange: Legacy applications are purpose-built or deployed as point solutions. For integration, they require data exchange solutions that are built later and are usually offline in nature, leading to potential challenges with cost and effort. It is important to ensure the overall architecture deployed is flexible and loosely coupled, allowing for integration between diverse applications. This will allow people to get access to near real-time information on utilities usage, taxes, social service programs, and other services.

Multichannel deployment: There is no disputing the fact that mobility is a critical mechanism for reaching out to a large section of the population across the world. Any initiative by the government that needs to reach out to the citizenry needs to have a multichannel mechanism of deployment, allowing for easy access to functionality and enabling an interactive operation with various government departments. New York City’s transformation from a single-channel transactional call center to a holistic, multichannel solution that provides a single-window mechanism to citizen grievances is a classic example of how multichannel and mobile access can radically transform citizen services.

Smart cities and the Internet of Things: Increasing urbanization has led to a huge shortfall in supply of facilities and infrastructure, requiring cities to innovate with better services at the lowest possible costs. This has led to smart city initiatives that connect and exchange information across multiple systems and devices across the city with an objective of improving the overall quality of life for citizens. Individual services that need to converge into a holistic view for a smart city deployment include providing citizen and business services in multichannel mode. Some examples of such services include smart transportation that manages traffic based on conditions including road congestion, and smart policing that uses analytics and trend management to predict probability of crimes across neighborhoods.

Cloud computing: The emergence of cloud computing is an innovation that increasingly allows governments to optimize their technology spending. Available in three forms—infrastructure cloud, platform cloud, and application cloud—providing a pay-as-you-go model in shared mode is an ideal solution where feasible for governments. App stores allow for procurement to be centralized and transparent, enabling a subscription model that can be channeled through the procurement process. Such a model allows for quick turnarounds on projects and reduces costs through rapid application deployment and shared infrastructure.

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Subramanian Iyer is a senior director on the Insight & Customer Strategy team at Oracle.

Social relationship management: With consistent improvement in connectivity, the internet has become an increasingly important medium for governments and citizens to interact with each other. Social media hubs are rapidly gaining traction as they provide a common platform for various government departments to interact with citizens in a uniform manner. A sample set of use cases for social relationship management for the government includes understanding constituent sentiments, enhanced citizen engagement, online reputation management, disaster management, public safety, and threat management. With cloud computing enabling it, social relationship management is poised to be a critical innovation for governments looking for ways and means to reach out to the citizenry.

Implementing technology deployed over cloud computing platforms that enable speedier service deployment, communication to different devices, and social relationship management is a natural process for governments that aspire to be globally competitive and provide better facilities to businesses and citizens. In order to create and sustain these benefits, it is important that technological innovations be implemented in a phased manner, beginning with smart government and ultimately evolving into smart city deployments.

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