How digital technologies are fuelling the transformation of the government sector
Would governments be able to operate smarter, faster, and more efficiently in a world where digital technology is the basis of decision-making and service provision? Which technologies will form the basis for the government of tomorrow? In the future, advanced technology will ensure that governments are able to communicate more efficiently with their citizens and that internal systems – such as tax, licensing, telecommunications, security, transport, social benefits, education, and healthcare – become smarter.
Digital identity for digital citizens
Digital citizenship is a crucial component of real digital transformation and enables citizens to exercise their democratic rights. The emergence of smart governance has led to the creation of a medium for interaction between governments and their citizens. Technology like the IoT, citizen-centred platforms, big data, and apps enable citizens to give feedback on and submit suggestions for new government programs and policies. This tech leads to increased transparency as it enables citizens to access all kinds of government information, such as data related to expenditure, funds, and investment, ensuring government accountability.
Australia’s Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) recently launched a new digital identity scheme called Govpass, which will provide citizens with a more convenient way to access various government services. “Presently, consumers of Australian Government services may have up to 30 different logins for different government services,” says the DTA. “Govpass makes it possible for Australians to create their digital identity once and reuse it multiple times to access a range of government services, safely and simply.” Imagined as an ‘identity federation’ that features multiple public and private sector identity providers and services, the opt-in scheme operates under a decentralised model that allows citizens to select their own identity provider. Furthermore, it uses a double-blind architecture, which means that identity providers can vouch for a person in third-party transactions without having to disclose any of their identity credentials.
At this point, Govpass features two major IT platforms: the Australian Taxation Office’s myGovID identity credential and a Services Australia-operated identity exchange, which provide access to services like the ATO’s tax agent portal, the unique student identifier organisation portal, and Defence’s employer support payment scheme, with other services planned to be included in the future. The government also plans to add a liveness detection feature to the myGovID app, which would enable it to determine whether the person is real and provide a higher degree of certainty regarding their identity, reducing the risk of fraud and identity theft.
Taiwan’s government recently unveiled plans to launch a new electronic identification card that will enable smarter access to government services for its 24 million citizens. The new digital ID is, however, envisioned to be more than just an ID card. The government wants it to also serve as a driver’s license and a national health insurance card. It will also boast high-tech features like digital signature capabilities, state-of-the art privacy protections, and anti-counterfeiting protections.
Democracy moves online
Digital democracy has led to improvements in the information exchange between governments, political and community organisations, and citizens. It also encourages and supports public debate and enhances citizen participation in political decision-making. Digital citizens can exercise their democratic right to freely access any knowledge they can find on the internet, and are no longer solely dependent on information supplied by the government or mass media. E-ID cards can create secure and convenient voting systems by offering digital authentication, while secure online ballots enable voter anonymity and privacy.
Estonia is a global leader when it comes to the adoption of online voting and is currently the only country in the world that allows its citizens to cast their votes online for the entire electorate in every election. The percentage of people voting over the internet has grown steadily since 2005 — when the Estonian government first introduced the i-voting system — with nearly 44 per cent of voters casting their ballots online in a recent national election. To vote in the election, citizens first have to download an app and identify themselves using their electronic ID, after which they can proceed to a virtual voting booth, where they can review the electoral lists and choose their candidates. To prevent voter coercion, people can cast multiple ballots and only their last vote will count.
According to the electoral commission, the i-voting system has had a positive impact on election turnout, especially for Estonians abroad and those living more than half an hour away from a polling station. To ensure security and transparency, the system allows voters to check whether their vote has been entered correctly. There is also a third-party system that creates logs and compares them to the final results to determine whether there are any inconsistencies. “Trust is the paramount factor in making sure that Internet-based voting actually takes place,” says Tonu Tammer, executive director of the government agency responsible for the security of Estonia’s computer networks.
Government’s digital transformation
In the future, everyone – citizens as well as businesses – will be able to do digital business with the government, thanks to technologies like AI, big data, IoT, cloud computing, and machine learning. This includes applying for permits, voting, arranging social security, and filing tax returns. In the future, our ID cards will contain RFID chips. Or perhaps our identity will be verified via facial recognition technology. Once all government systems are connected, service delivery will be much more efficient, but it could also lead to privacy issues. The pros and cons of these smart systems will therefore have to be carefully considered.
The city of Hull recently unveiled a new smart city operating system that will connect and centralise all of its municipal services and information – the first city in the UK to achieve that feat. Developed in collaboration with the sustainable smart city innovation firm Connexin, the CityOS platform will aggregate all of the existing and planned smart city solutions into a single intelligent dashboard. This will allow Hull City Council to view and manage all of the relevant information more efficiently and promptly respond to any issues that may arise with council services.
“Developing Hull as a Smart City will give us the opportunity to work with public and private sector partners to deliver real benefits to communities, businesses and visitors to Hull. The project will involve innovative technological solutions to enhance data sharing and decision making, which will help us to deliver more effective services, including everything from traffic management to health and social care,” explains Councillor Daren Hale, Deputy Leader of Hull City Council. “The system pulls together information that currently sits within separate council computer systems to enable city wide management of the city’s public assets in real time using state-of-the-art technology. Residents will receive better information to make choices about transport, traffic and parking.”
Co-creating a better society
In the future, citizens will play a more prominent role in the public domain, leading to a participatory society – partnerships between government and citizens, also known as co-creation or co-production. The aim of co-creation is for local authorities to become more involved in initiatives, so that public services can be better attuned to the needs of the citizens. Through crowdfunding, local governments can achieve social goals and get communities more involved in decision-making processes. Co-creation allows different parties to work together to innovate and develop new practices, turning traditional transaction processes into ecosystems.
Smarticipate is an EU-funded project that aims to give citizens access to transparent and free-to-use data and enable them to interact with their local governments in a new way. The project provides citizens with a dedicated platform that allows them to get a preview of proposed projects, comment on ongoing plans, and even submit their own proposals. They can also see their ideas presented as 2D or 3D models and receive real-time feedback about their feasibility. “Citizens are growing tired of voting on decisions that have already been taken. They want to actively contribute and share ideas, to help shape the city they live in,” says Ms Veneta Ivanova, Project manager at the Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics Research IGD and coordinator of the Smarticipate project. Rome, London, and Hamburg have already implemented several pilot projects through the platform, including those related to urban gardening, 3D building planning, and tree planting.
WeGovNow is another project funded by the European Union. It offers an innovative civic engagement platform that facilitates communication and collaboration between citizens, businesses, public administrations, and civic society. “Practically speaking, WeGovNow provides an integrated toolbox that enables flexible support for diverse stakeholder participation process designs rather than a single, predefined participation workflow,” explains Mr Lutz Kubitschke, project coordinator and executive at Empirica, the project’s lead partner. It’s a comprehensive online ecosystem that allows everyone to come together and work on finding practical solutions to local policy challenges. In Turin, for instance, the platform enabled city administrators to get non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and citizens more involved in various decisions about cultural projects, including the development of a section of the city’s Dora Park.
Keeping the streets safe with AI
Technology like AI can help predict crimes, and facial recognition is a great asset in smart surveillance operations – for instance to identify criminals in large crowds. Smart cameras with sensor technology can assist with traffic management. With this technology, traffic lights can be more efficiently coordinated, leading to optimised traffic flow. Law enforcement agencies across the globe will increasingly implement robotics to safeguard their communities. ‘Robocops’ can engage in various security-related functions, such as maintaining security around airports and other public places.
A US police department recently unveiled a new weapon in the fight against crime — a robot. Standing 157 cm tall and weighing 181 kg, the Knightscope K5 robot will patrol the streets of Huntington Park, California looking for suspicious activity. Using onboard sensors and cameras, the robot can capture images of pedestrians’ faces, scan license plate numbers, and record unique identifiers of individual smartphones. This information is then compared against records in the police database. If it detects someone on the wanted list, it immediately notifies the police. The robot can also record video footage and send live video feeds back to the department.
South Korea’s Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute (ETRI) is developing a real-time CCTV system that will use AI to calculate the likelihood of a crime taking place and prevent future incidents. The Predictive Video Surveillance Core Technology, as the system is called, will first be installed in Seoul’s Seocho District, where 3,000 surveillance cameras will monitor and analyse citizens’ behaviour patterns to detect suspicious behaviour, such as someone being followed, or people wearing masks or carrying potentially dangerous objects.
To train the AI, ETRI analysed more than 20,000 court documents and past crime footage. This will allow the software to determine whether what it’s looking at constitutes a crime and notify the nearest police station. “Our aim is to establish a futuristic cutting-edge social security system developed by a neural model, where CCTV systems will not only be able to merely perceive crimes, but also possess the ability to foresee and prevent up to 80% of crime risk,” says Kunwoo Kim, Director of Certification and Physical Security Research.
The future of work in government
For the most part, the public sector has seen nowhere near as much transformation as the private sector. Government organisations are still very much locked into set job classifications and reliance on seniority instead of capability. But major changes are needed, and in the future, even the public sector will see humans and technology engaged in partnerships. Government departments will increasingly integrate the abilities of humans and machines – using human social skills, teamwork, leadership, and creativity – to complement the endurance, quantitative capabilities, speed, and scalability of machines.
The proliferation of smartphones and IoT technology has had a profound impact on every aspect of our everyday lives. While the public sector has generally lagged behind others when it comes to the adoption of digital technologies, the growing insistence of citizens on having information and services accessible to them from any place and at any time is finally starting to reach government as well. Whether they’re giving their citizens a new digital identity, introducing online voting systems, or using AI to improve safety in the streets, governments around the world are increasingly turning to technology to reduce administrative costs and make their services more accessible to all citizens. Are you ready to embrace the digital government?