Digital Transformation of Government Services – Lewis Ndonga
The Ministry of Lands and Physical Planning embarked on a digital transformation of all public services related to land. This means that all services are currently being transferred to the Ardhisasa platform, the government’s newest digital creation. The transformation has however led to the stalling of many essential services, more particularly within Nairobi. The Ardhisasa platform and its operation informed the decision to delve deeper into the issues of digitization of government services, its benefits, and its challenges.
Digitization, digitalization and digital transformation
Digitization, digitalization, and digital transformation are often used interchangeably. However, these words, though related, have different meanings.
- Digitization is the process of converting physical information into a digital format. This includes scanning documents.
- Digitalization is using digital information to improve business and service delivery. This integrates technology into already existing physical systems to improve service delivery. An example of this is the use of cloud storage
- Digital transformation is referred to as transforming business activities, services and processes to fully use digital technologies. This includes providing full services online, such as online shops and streaming services.
In this piece, we shall be focusing on digital transformation of government services to provide public services fully online.
What is digital transformation?
Digital transformation of government services is the provision of public services through digital and online platforms. It gives the public access to administrative services provided by the government on digital platforms. A government integrates technology to respond to the needs for improvement, optimization, modernization and simplification of government operations and processes.
Digital transformation of government services has led to the coining of the term ‘GovTech’ which is application of innovative and modern technology towards improving government services. GovTech focuses on public sector modernization.
There are three elements of any successful digital public service:
- Citizen-centric public services that are accessible to all.
- Provision of core government systems through digital transformation.
- Simple, efficient and transparent government systems.
Proper integration of GovTech is a step towards fulfilling the government’s mandate of public service delivery. Successful digital transformation sees to it that government services are easily delivered and accessible to all citizens.
How has GovTech been integrated in Kenya?
The advent of COVID-19 led to people shifting their daily life online. This also saw governments across the globe move their services online as means of curbing the spread of the disease. Now more than ever digital transformation is at a record high.
In Kenya, digital transformation of public services has been taken one step at a time. The biggest stride came with the creation of the eCitizen platform in 2014. eCitizen provides a seamless user experience by consolidating numerous government services under the same ‘digital roof.’ The platform lives up to its motto a “gateway to all government services” by ensuring one can get services from the Ministry of Immigration to the county services of several counties listed on the platform.
The Kenya Revenue Authority digitized its filing system through the integration of the iTax system. Formed in 2013, iTax ensures that businesses and individuals can now file tax returns. The platform also guides users with answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs).
The most recent step towards digital transformation is with the inception of the Ardhisasa platform by the Ministry of Lands and Physical Planning in collaboration with the National Lands Commission. The Ardhisasa website provides information on land in Kenya and allows individuals and other stakeholders to undertake land processes previously done physically across land registries. These services include registration, transfers, searches and valuation.
Why is digital transformation of government services necessary?
- Digital transformation reduces on time and costs that would usually be expended if the public undertook the processes physically.
- Digital transformation increases access to core services. By integrating GovTech, the public can access services anywhere at any time, rather than physically visiting government offices which are only open for a specified time.
- Digital transformation frees up resources for other priorities. Many administrations deal with the challenge of bloated personnel that cause a huge chunk of resources to go towards settling the wage bill. With digital services, such resources are diverted towards establishing new services or strengthening existing government services.
- Digital transformation increases jobs, particularly in the tech sector. These platforms must be established and maintained by well-trained people. The reverse effect is increased digitization requires an increased number of well-trained personnel, therefore supporting the education sector.
- Digital transformation increases transparency and accountability of the government. Several digital services provide a platform for citizens to air their concerns or issues directly with the service provider.
What challenges do governments face in digitizing public services?
- Digital transformation is known to reduce jobs and income for many citizens. One of the greatest challenges with innovation is the possibility of technology taking over functions and services provided by people in public offices. This is the situation seen since the Industrial Revolution. By bringing services closer to the public, a platform such as Ardhisasa might lead to many clerks losing their jobs.
- Digital transformation needs a strong technological foundation in the country for it to be successful. Technological infrastructure must be easily accessible to the public. If much of the population does not have access to internet connection, computers, smartphones then no level of digitization will bring services closer to these people. An administration needs to first ensure that the infrastructure is easily accessible to the public before embarking on any form of digital transformation.
- Proper digital transformation must be accompanied with both general technological literacy and specific information on how to interact with the digital platform. The public may have the infrastructure in place, but they need to know how to use said infrastructure. Where the public has not received basic training on use of technology, then they will still flock public offices for services.
- Good governance is a pillar of digital transformation. With good governance, the public will have enough resources to buy the necessary infrastructure such as smartphones and computers. The public will also have been properly trained on how to interact with the platforms. Also, proper governance ensures that digitization processes initiated by previous governments do not fade on transition from one government to the next.
- Digital transformation brings up a question on data management and protection. For all GovTech services in Kenya, people need to register and feed information on the platform. The systems also hold personal information of millions of Kenyans. Data security is a large concern for such platforms. Without proper security measures, people’s personal information is left vulnerable. However, we do not know what measures, if any, are in place to protect the public’s data from malicious individuals or bodies.
In the current age, digital transformation of government services is the next step in the evolution of governance. The benefits in the long run outweigh the costs to be incurred to integrate GovTech. However, this needs to be done with the keen interest in ensuring that the nation progresses together with technology.
By setting up a proper foundation, digital services will make governance easy and reliable.