Interview with Hicham Saoud, E-government Manager at Sofrecom
E-government has been around for quite a while, but it is still much in the news in the emerging economies. Digitized public services modernize and simplify the relationships of citizens, enterprises and public bodies with the administration. A number of well-identified factors are essential for efficient, secure and durable e-government.
What is the value of e-government for emerging economies?
H.S. Middle Eastern and African countries see e-government as an opportunity and are giving it high priority. It offers administrations the possibility of reinventing their operational processes and encouraging citizens to use innovative public services that are efficient and secure and yet relatively inexpensive. As citizens become more "connected" in their personal and professional lives, they aspire to modernity, interactivity and transparency.
Public service digitization also helps alleviate the socio-economic isolation of rural populations living far away from government agencies.
Importantly, it also enhances the image and economic appeal of countries in the eyes of local and foreign investors. Indicators published in the World Bank's Doing Business report confirm that the attractiveness of a country correlates with easy access to economic and legal data and the transparency and fluidity of administrative procedures.
What are the levers for efficient e-government?
H.S. The cornerstones of successful digitization are technological architecture quality and governance. Operators have a very broad experience in building and managing broadband wireline and wireless networks (fiber, 3/4/5G) and IT infrastructures (cloud platforms, datacenters, etc.), so they have all the expertise needed to harmonize public communication systems, to host centralized, shared IT equipment, to store data and support evolutions of e-government services over the long term.
Thinking nationwide is essential: the government must adopt a harmonized industrialized approach that provides for sharing and interoperability of technological resources between its different administrations, and standardized procedures and services for end-users.
Another key factor is to propose value-added interactive services that respond to users' preoccupations; they must be accessible via a cellphone which is the preferred interface in the MEA zone. Public employees, citizens and businesses want fast access to practical information (80% of declared expectations); they want to be able to fulfill their administrative, legal and social obligations online; they want e-payment schemes to settle their taxes and charges.
Is change management also important?
H.S. Digital transformation engenders major managerial, organizational, operational and cultural changes. Change management and capacity building programs are very important for civil servants ─ and even for the public. Such programs in schools and universities improve the digital skills of tomorrow's public employees and make them more motivated, which is important for they will later become players of change. These programs also help adapt enterprise cultures. By exposing children to digital throughout their schooling, starting in kindergarten, and creating free-entry cyber centers staffed by coaches we can help all citizens make the most of digital services. Such initiatives help attenuate the social and generational digital divide .