Numerous countries around the world are on a path towards transforming their government into their digital “e-government” counterpart. The overarching goal of these digital transformations are two-fold: first, to increase the quality of public services or “e-services”, as they are generally referred to, and second, to decrease the costs of administering these services to the citizens and residents of a given country.
Prerequisites for a successful government digital transformation
While each country will face its own unique challenges when transforming its government into an e-government, there are two factors that appear to come as prerequisites to the transformation process: political will and economic wealth.
Digitally transforming a country’s governance is no small endeavour. By their very nature government structures are complex and it follows then that digitalizing them whilst ensuring that the services remain accessible by all, requires a multiprong effort from all levels of government, i.e. political will.
A country’s economic wellbeing is also important. For example, when considering the robustness of a country’s telecommunication infrastructure and especially its broadband coverage (given that an e-governments services will primarily exist online). Another example is the high level of literacy required by citizens in the respective country’s official languages (as government e-services will most likely be available in these languages first) as well as the ability to use a computer, and of course to navigate the internet and be able to create or access an online account (in order to access the government e-services).
Currently about half of the world’s population has access to the internet, if not at home, then at a local library or via a smartphone with a data plan. Our World in Data provides a solid estimate of global internet connectivity up to 2016. Their chart plots the number of people who have used the Internet at least once in the last 3 months, which is probably sufficient for e-government purposes (assuming that some of that time is used to access e-government services).
Source: Our World in Data 2021
The above diagram clearly demonstrates that wealthier countries make up the lion’s share of people using the internet. It can be assumed then that the majority of citizens of these wealthier countries are probably also educated and literate in their country’s official language(s). It is probably also true then that the majority of these citizens are able to use a computer and that these countries are thus more capable in transforming their governments into e-governments.
The proof is in the EGDI
“… presents the state of E-Government Development of the United Nations Member States … the E-Government Development index incorporates the access characteristics, such as the infrastructure and educational levels, to reflect how a country is using information technologies to promote access and inclusion of its people. The EGDI is a composite measure of three important dimensions of e-government, namely: provision of online services, telecommunication connectivity and human capacity.”
It comes as no surprise then that wealthier countries receive higher scores when it comes to digitally transforming their government services. As seen in the UN EGDI list below, the top 10 countries are as follows: Denmark, Republic of Korea, Estonia, Finland, Australia, Sweden, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, the United States of America and the Netherlands. All economically well-to-do countries.
Source: United Nations, 2021
However, the UN EGDI report is careful to point out that:
“While e-government rankings tend to correlate with the income level of a country, financial resources are not the only critical factor in advancing digital government … A country’s political will, strategic leadership and commitment to advance digital services, can [also] improve its comparative ranking.”
As noted above, political will is also very important to the UN EGDI score and this factor is likely why many middle-income countries appear relatively high (with scores between 0.5-0.75) in the UN EGDI list. Nevertheless, a quick look at the countries that make up the bottom of the EGDI list are primarily located in Africa and belong to the least economically developed countries.
Case study: Canada’s e-government transformation
The Canadian government is well on its way to a successful digital transformation. At number 28 on the UN EGDI list, it is by no means leading the pack of wealthy countries, but its EGDI score of 0.8420 places it in the “very high” group. Canada’s high EGDI score is in part due to it being a wealthy country and the connected factors of having a solid telecommunication infrastructure and robust broadband network as well as maintaining high literacy rates (in two official languages) throughout the country.
A strong political will for digital transformation also factors highly in Canada’s EGDI score. In his 2006 book, E-government in Canada: Transformation for the Digital Age author Jeffrey Roy writes about the Canadian digital transformation. What is most notable here is that already in 2006 (and the decade preceding that, which is the period where most of Roy’s data was gathered) Roy was able to draw upon the Canadian digital transformation to write 350 pages on the subject.
Of particular interest is that at that time (the years immediately encircling the year 2000 – remember Y2K?) only 50% of Canadians had access to the internet (the highest in the world at the time along with Norway).
Canada’s digital transformation today
Canada’s digital transformation is accelerating today, in part thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic (if we can be thankful in any small way for this debilitating virus). Canada’s first Minister of Digital Government, Joyce Murray, is leading the digital transformation and has recently set out a framework for Canada’s Digital Government Strategy
The just linked official website of Canada’s digital government strategy reads: “digital government is about modernizing and adapting the way we work to make the Government of Canada more responsive, more resilient, and most important, better at serving people… to accelerate the move to digital in a trustworthy and secure way… that government services are secure, accessible, and easy to use from any device.”
A number of case studies linked to the above website demonstrates the myriad ways in which a country’s digital transformation can play out. Some examples:
Travel Advisories on Canada.ca: for travel content related to the COVID‑19 pandemic, various government institutions worked together to integrate their content so that users could find all the information they needed in one place.
Canada Child Benefit: Nearly 3.7 million Canadian families receive Canada Child Benefit (CCB) payments each year. An online portal providing recipients with up-to-date information cut call center calls in half, freeing up resources.
Accessible workplaces: About 6.2 million Canadian adults have a disability, the government of Canada uses a reporting tool to ensure that every service delivery has accessibility built in, in order to offer equal access participation and inclusion to everyone.
Weather forecasts: Environment and Climate Change Canada wanted to provide Canadians access to up-to-date weather information on their mobile devices.
Trusted digital identities for government digital transformation
Maintaining trusted digital identities is an important step for a successful government digital transformation. Of course not for all aspects such as the weather app listed above but certainly for something like the distribution of child benefits. It would not be smart for a government to distribute money without knowing who is actually receiving those monies. Fraud would surely prevail!
But how can a government ensure that someone is who they say they are without verifying that person in-person? In an e-government, there should be no need to visit a government office in order to verify yourself – as that would partially defeat some of the underlying benefits of the digital transformation.
Fortunately, new technologies centered on artificial intelligence, machine learning and computer vision are providing the necessary backbone for a fully automated identity verification that can be remotely processed.
PXL Vision: Trusted digital identities for Canada
PXL Vision is an official member of the Digital ID & Authentication Council of Canada (DIACC), a non-profit coalition of public and private sector leaders committed to developing a Canadian digital identification framework. The focus of the DIACC is digital identity interoperability and their principles are based upon open standards and private/public partnerships. Further key considerations of the DIACC include: privacy, transparency, inclusivity, choice and competitiveness.
According to the DIACC, a majority of Canadians (70 percent) are interested in a government led digital ID framework that would provide better access to government agencies, financial institutions and healthcare providers. At PXL Vision we are proud to be a member of this framework and are working together to bring our identity verification technology and solution to the Canadian people.
Contact PXL Vision to learn more about our values and how we are well-positioned to offer our digital identity verification solution to government offices and businesses across Canada, the United States and around the world.