If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything over recent months, it is that the future of government and public-sector services – both in the Asia Pacific region and across the world – will be increasingly driven by a shift towards digital and data in their operations.
The scale of the transformation is huge, and as our report on Modernizing government: Global trends makes clear, understanding and embracing these changes will be crucial to making better decisions and delivering improved social, environmental, and economic outcomes that have a lasting impact. Across the Asia Pacific region, national and local governments are already doing an incredible job of managing these changes.
Based on in-depth research and examining concrete global examples of where governments have embraced modernization, it is clear that in order to succeed, there are several factors that consistently lead to the right results. These include taking a direct customer-centric approach; embracing the power of technology and data; attracting and retaining the next generation of diverse talent; and creating enterprise capabilities that map and implement the connectedness of legislation, data, goals and people.
Here is an outline of some of the key considerations.
Transforming public services to meet needs and expectations
The days where members of the public physically travel to government offices, fill out forms and spend endless volumes of time standing in queues are over. Much like the private sector, where what’s best for the customer is best for business, forward-looking governments and public-sector bodies must embrace a citizen-centric mindset in their policies, systems and decision making. Rather than being ruled by procedure focused on ease of administration, progressive governments are moving towards a model and culture based on citizen-first impacts.
Digital enablement is creating an opportunity to make this happen. Numerous tasks that previously would have to be done in person at local or national government offices, for instance, can now be done online – as demonstrated during the pandemic – while traditionally office-based government employees are also increasingly opting for work from home.
Ultimately, citizen-centricity is about solutions designed to save people time and money, and deliver enhanced value in their interactions with public sector bodies and service provision.
One example of this can be seen in Singapore, where a dedicated statutory body the Government Technology Agency is responsible for the delivery of all digital services to the public – from storing personal data of citizens to processing payments for parking. The Agency looks after coordination, long-term planning and investment, in keeping with Singapore’s aspiration to be a ‘Smart Nation’. In recent years, Singapore has been consistently recognized in the international rankings of digitally enabled governments.1
Embracing the power of technology and data
Digital transformation is not only about delivering efficiencies through reducing delays and making life easier for citizens and civil servants. It is also about creating and utilizing a body of gathered data to improve decision- and policy-making. Effective data capture allows governments to move towards evidence-based decision making and deliver transparent information and logical policies that can withstand the scrutiny of public, media and other stakeholders.
Focusing on the citizen and digitization at the same time creates a data-feedback loop, which then helps government policymakers make better decisions for their next wave of initiatives. Better decisions lead to greater economic impacts and therefore opportunities to deliver enhanced social and environmental outcomes – be it greater levels of income and wealth equality, support for the underprivileged, enhanced public services and investments in sustainability.
In other words, technology and data can enhance and benefit policy makers by giving them the tools to develop public policies based on comprehensive impacts to the community. This approach moves away from less progressive models based on “cost to the taxpayer” or short-term political dynamics, and inevitably targets more sustainable and longer-term positive results to citizens.
What it means in practical terms is government bodies transforming their organizations through data and digitization at all levels: moving to the cloud, digitizing back- and middle-office systems, and developing data-gathering and analytics tools.
In a recent initiative by a prominent Asian government, a KPMG firm delivered a Managed Services solution to support the implementation of an economy-wide maternity leave policy change. The multi-year engagement is to receive, vet and process a large volume of applications from eligible employers for reimbursement of a portion of maternity leave pay paid to employees. The process has been automated in a cloud-based solution connecting all relevant stakeholders, thus helping to ensure a highly efficient application, vetting and audit process and final reimbursement of claims.
Attracting civil servants and reshaping public sector workforces
Moving towards impact-based policy and delivery using technology and data inevitably means changes in the roles that government and public-sector employees will take, so different skills will be needed.
Modern governments are proactive in attracting and retaining the next generation of civil servants, teaching them critical new skills, and ultimately re-configuring the workforce to align with the demands of a digital society. Re-skilling and upskilling today’s civil servants can play a crucial role in instilling valuable knowledge, overcoming talent shortages and enhancing public services.
This upgrading of staff involves continuous education and development around the latest technologies and market dynamics, and how to apply them. It also requires recruiting talent across a wider range of disciplines (digital experts, data scientists, environmental specialists, economists, engineers, sociologists, and many others); providing data feeds to decision-makers in order to enable better-informed execution; and implementing the digital-workforce tools to drive this, including human resources, finance, operations, and citizen facing services.
One recent example of this is an effort by the government of Hong Kong SAR to develop a leadership development program2 for civil servants responsible for leading major construction and infrastructure projects. The program is delivered with an academic institution in the UK, while KPMG in China supports in advisory capacity. This is an example of a broader trend where governments are seeking global best practice to help develop their workforce for the challenges of tomorrow.
The future of government demands a Connected Enterprise
To thrive in this new era, our research shows that governments must evolve their operations to focus on the public as their customers and position themselves to continuously respond and adapt to ever-changing circumstances. The most effective way of achieving this is by embracing digital transformation and implementing with the citizen and other end users firmly in mind.
That means creating what we at KPMG call a Connected Enterprise. Our research shows that organizations that invest strategically in the eight critical capabilities of a connected enterprise are twice as likely to meet customer expectations, achieve their business objectives, and deliver return on their digital investment. These capabilities are insight-driven strategies and actions; innovative products and services; experience-centricity by design; seamless interactions and commerce; responsive operations and supply chain; an aligned and empowered workforce; digitally enabled technology architecture; and an integrated partner and alliance ecosystem.