Some governments have taken this a step further. Australia’s social welfare agency, Centrelink, has adopted self-service practices for its customers via both the Internet and phone, allowing them to use self-service as a first resort for a range of activities, including applying for advance payments, updating personal details, and reporting income. Giving citizens 24-hour access to selected services that they can perform on their own can save money and free up agency staff to provide greater value-added services.
Inevitably, these digital shifts will call into question long-standing views about the rule of law, the proper role of government, and the consent of the governed. One pertinent example is citizen ID cards. Many governments have resisted them because of privacy concerns, and because building a platform for them is a huge and expensive undertaking; it requires an authoritative identification and authentication system to ensure secure access. But ID cards can make the delivery of services significantly more efficient. The Italian region of Lombardy is considered by many to have the most advanced regional identification program; 95 percent of its population uses a single card to gain access to a range of government and private services and functions such as healthcare, loyalty programs, fuel purchases, electronic payments, and digital television services. A private consortium developed the service for a periodic license fee per citizen.
In some parts of the world, policymakers are realizing that digital government is not focused on spending for the sake of spending or to simply make ICT departments bigger. Digital government can maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of future ICT spending, and boost the growth of the industry overall. The challenge policymakers face is to bring the benefits to scale while maintaining a strong line against abuse of privacy; to engage more effectively as collaborators with industry while maintaining the regulator’s responsibility to provide safeguards and a level playing field; and to move rapidly to fulfill pragmatic goals while still addressing the needs of a broad range of constituents. Digitization has made this shift necessary, and it is also providing the tools that will make it feasible.
Reprint No. 00155
- David Hovenden is a partner with Booz & Company, and is based in Kuala Lumpur. He leads the firm’s Southeast Asian business and its global markets information technology practice.
- Chris Bartlett is a principal in Booz & Company’s communications, media, and technology practice, and is based in Sydney.