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By Hicham Saoud, head of e-government practice and Claire Khoury, marketing & communication director at Sofrecom

All around the world, 193 UN member states keep developing digital transformation investment programs to optimize the costs of their public sector, reform their administrative processes and improve the quality as well as the efficiency of their service provided to the users. They develop dematerialized public services mainly in the fields of e-education, e-employment, e-health, e-environment and social e-protection.

Even in continents like Oceania and Africa where the level of digital maturity remains low, several countries such as Tunisia, Mauritius Island or South Africa significantly improved their range of digital public services these last two years, thus managing to elevate themselves between the 38th and the 65th places in the world.
Sofrecom has chosen to highlight below some of the new emerging issues related to this global progression of e-government strategies: 

  • The key question is the digital identity as it is the cornerstone to develop new digital uses in e-government, as well as in digital economy (e-commerce, e-bank). More and more governments work on digital identity projects, and more specifically, on biometrics. As an example, the World Bank with its “Identification for Development” program as well as other investors like the African Development Bank and BRED are interested in the subject to encourage a Pan-African solution.
  • The development of mobile electronic payment is also critical for governments to cope with the significant growth of their financial transactions with users, particularly in Africa where the mobile remains the most used terminal for payments. The transactions take place in both directions: P2G (People to Government) for the payment of fines and taxes and G2P (Government to People) for payment of financial aids, subsidies, salaries and scholarships, etc. Many countries initiate studies on platform projects enabling more specifically an interoperability of payments.
  • The implementation of public services platforms still focuses too often on the development of infrastructures rather than on services, especially in Africa. The time has come to lead both approaches simultaneously without neglecting the quality of the information supplied to the users: the latter shall match the needs of the citizens and simplify their journey to generate more traffic on the governmental portal. It’s also time to think about a more industrial approach of public services platforms which would include other actors than the government (citizens, companies, startups, civil servants, NGOs…) to develop more innovative and creative e-public services more pragmatically. Such an approach involves rethinking the government role in the development of public e-services.

Many great projects of smart cities are rising in various parts of the world, including in Africa (Senegal, Rwanda, Tunisia, Morocco or South Africa). But the absence of a political leadership, the lack of digital maturity and many more obstacles sometimes delay their realization. Even the urbanization progresses in these countries; the village remains a strongly anchored reality. Consequently, a new concept emerges: that of “connected village” which would provide the villagers with real-time practical information about subjects of their everyday life: access to education, to the health services, the weather report, the electrification, etc. First reflections are in progress in Niger through the project of the intelligent villages.

Many governments have gained interest in the Open Data Gov already strongly developed in Europe for legal reasons. They wonder about the way of balancing the appeal of technologies owners and of the free technologies.

Today, the e-government projects are everywhere. They are supported by:

    • A legal framework which fosters the digital economy’s development thanks to the governments’ support. Main measures include personal data protection, electronic transactions, electronic archiving and cybersecurity.
    • The technology is the massive deployment of internet in the territories and is also a cornerstone for the development of e-government.

However, the process that starts with project drafting to full completion often takes long years due to the inner public sector complexity and the fact that governments fail to drive successfully their digital transformation and change management themselves.
The digitization of public services requires:

  • Strategic vision: express the need, define clear objectives, action plan, budget and funding.
  • Governance: essential to appoint a project leader capable of assessing the stakes with a 360° vision, empowered to make technological choices and enforce standards; set up an organization to manage and monitor the many milestones such as launch of consultations, selection of service providers, notification and signature of contracts, implementation monitoring, etc.
  • Human capital trained to set-up platforms, to buy, manage, execute, drive, maintain and upgrade the infrastructures to match the services development. In a nutshell, many qualifications and skills that the government fails to have internally most of the times.

Ultimately, we think it is not countries’ responsibility and job to become technological operators. Should they want to speed up their digital transformation, then, they would benefit from the expertise of private operators through public private partnerships (PPP) in various forms (concession of service, revenue sharing, etc.). The most mature governments have already adopted this model, not only for the management of infrastructure but also for the management of services (VISA, tax payment, payment of car stickers, etc.).

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