“In just 2 years by 2022, over 60% of global GDP will be digitized.”

Intelligent Nation 2020 and Beyond: Making Digitization Real

Reading Time: 5:30 minutes

By Chee Lioy U, Industry Cluster Lead – Public Sector, Southeast Asia, SAP

Top trends and technologies?

I often get asked these questions: What are the key trends and technologies governments must watch in 2020? What about the next 10 years? And how will they impact us? Are we the first to adopt these technologies, will it be too risky?

I have a humble reply. The trends are rather similar I say. For governments looking to digitize and transform into Intelligent Nations, the goals have not shifted, the only changes are probably technologies are getting better each year. They still center around (a) Digital and Data-Driven Government, (b) Better Healthcare, (c) More Robust Higher Education, and (d) Getting Citizens Ready for the Digital Economy.

It’s the same with key technologies. Even though we’ve cracked open a new decade, the critical technologies that will help governments leap ahead are those highlighted in recent years. Big data and advanced analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning, cloud, the Internet of Things, blockchain.

Not much has changed under the sun in this regard although I must qualified we have better and faster technologies that enable the above. And it will be so for the foreseeable mid-term.

The crux: Making digitization real (not trends or tech)

What then is my job as a technology evangelist? “Aren’t you supposed to advise us on the next step in digitizing government, Chee Lioy?”

Yes, it is. But we have reached an era where flogging shiny new digital capabilities has lost its meaning. Instead, what’s key is “making it real”.

‘It’ here being, first, the successful digital transformation of the public sector. And progressively, the digital transformation if not digitization of a nation. This is of concern because according to the World Economic Forum (WEF), about 50% of the world’s population currently does not participate in the digital economy at all – and growth in internet adoption is slowing. Yet, in just 2 years by 2022, over 60% of global GDP will be digitized. Plus, an estimated 70% of new value created in the economy over the next 10 years will be based on digitally enabled platforms.

This has serious implications for countries struggling with their digital ambitions.

Today, digital advances have created immense wealth in record time. But that wealth is concentrated around a small number of individuals, companies and countries. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) predicts the continuation of this trajectory if current policies and regulations do not change. Competition from fast-evolving digital economies will exacerbate income inequalities, drive greater digital divides, create deeper wedges in societies.

Governments hence have a responsibility to make successful digitization real. To build a digital economy that delivers for citizens and businesses. This is what I would say is most important for 2020 and this decade.

Going back to basics

It may sound simple, but to do that, governments need go back to basics:

  1. Take stock of the digital journey thus far:
  • Where are we against what we envisioned?
  • Why have we successfully achieved our goals? What factors led to it?
  • Why have we lagged in other areas? What were the impediments?
  1. Assess our digital ambitions:
  • Based on our past progress, are these goals sensible?
  • How should we adjust them?
  • What new goals should we set our sights on in view of the current situation?
  1. Take pragmatic and concrete steps to get there:
  • What gaps do we have currently? (Skillsets, systems, technologies, processes, leadership etc.)
  • Are the policies in place? Do we need to overhaul some sacred cows?
  • What are the tools and expert resources available?
  • How should we use past success factors to our advantage?
  • How can we mitigate against past vulnerabilities?
  • How should we reorganize to optimize our structures and processes?
  • How should we re-channel our resources to drive success?

This exercise usually yields a common conclusion: Challenges arise not because governments haven’t heeded trends. Neither is it because they have not implemented a particular technology. Rather, the impediments tend to be policy bottlenecks and bureaucratic inertia, budget and capability constraints, digital exclusion and divide, or a lack of the right skillsets.

In this regard, it is important to recognize – as EY pointed out – that digital transformation is not just about new technologies, but requires an overhaul of organizational structures, governance, work processes, culture and mindset. This is essential for governments to capture the wider benefits that digital transformation can bring to people and society.

Success factors: Digital Governments and Intelligent Nations

With this in mind, I will share some key elements – the 4Rs – for success that we uncovered in our journey of working with customers, as well as during my career in public service:

Radically simplify. We can only fully exploit technology if we are willing to boldly rethink how things can be simpler. Learn the rationale behind the past practices. And assess if they are still relevant. Discard this mindset: “This is the way that we have been doing things”. Be frank and fearless if you encounter this blockade. Challenge status quo.

Robust governance. Breaking down silo thinking is imperative for any successful transformation. In that regard, when driving change, it is critical to ensure the clear definition and proper empowerment of policy/process owners especially in cross-functional areas. This helps the organization move forward as a whole – rather than in silos or at departmental levels.

Reinforce commitment. Leadership commitment is crucial but so is commitment across all levels of the organization. How can cascade you this commitment across the organization? By making employees take ownership of success, no matter how small. Weave a component of digital transformation success into their daily work. Of course, leaders also need to walk the talk.

Reskill and upskill. New technologies, especially artificial intelligence, will create new jobs while some will disappear. The digital economy requires new and different skills, and a new relationship between work and leisure. To have a workforce ready to take on the future, they need to be adequately trained or redeployed. Employees also need to be educated on the future of work – which may not entail 8am to 6pm hours, and a break thereafter. Afterall, mindset is key to transformation. And people fear what they do not understand. By helping our people be more prepared, they will also become more open and confident of the future.

The future of society depends on the actions of governments now

Digital governments and intelligent nations have the capability to solve many of today’s most fundamental challenges – globalization, economic inequality, lack of education and healthcare, urbanization, pollution, and climate change. These outcomes are too important for digitization to be left to chance.

The collective future of society depends on the decisions our governments make today. Right now, taking pragmatic steps to drive successful digital transformation is one of the most important decisions to make.

Stay Informed

Become a more intelligent enterprise. Stay up to date with industry trends, in-depth research, upcoming events and more, delivered to your inbox each month for free.

Stay Informed

Become a more intelligent enterprise. Stay up to date with industry trends, in-depth research, upcoming events and more, delivered to your inbox each month for free.