How does digital government become better government?

12 minute read 10 Apr 2019

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Digital transformation is now a public sector imperative. We examine five critical areas where governments can harness digital technologies to create better outcomes for citizens.

At the recent WEF Annual meeting in Davos much discussion centered around the need for public-private collaboration to overcome global challenges - ranging from climate change to economic inequality. Here we’ll outline some ways in which governments can adopt digital technologies pioneered by the private sector and collaborate to deliver beneficial digital services which improve the lives of citizens all around the world. These digital technologies can help governments to:

  • Understand their citizens better and achieve better outcomes
  • Provide services more effectively and efficiently
  • Find new solutions to policy challenges
  • Engage with external partners to develop new delivery models
  • Commercialize some public services and develop fresh sources of revenue

And yet, despite some pockets of excellence in innovation, most governments are lagging behind the corporate world in harnessing the power of digital. A recent report from the World Economic Forum (WEF) labels governments “the dinosaurs of the digital age: slow, lumbering and outdated.” And according to WEF’s 2016 Network Readiness Index, which assesses digital advancement, the gap is widening between the growth in individuals’ ICT use and governments’ engagement in the digital economy.

To build a public sector that is fit for the future, government must reinvent itself. Digital transformation is not just about new technologies, but requires an overhaul of organizational structures, governance, work processes, culture and mindset. It also means realizing a wider vision of relationships and business models that will redesign how public services function. Only then will governments capture the wider benefits that digital transformation can bring to people and society.

To create this digitally enabled public sector of the future, governments have five critical areas to consider.

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Chapter 1

Customer experience

Making it easier to use government services.

Today’s citizens expect public services to be as personalized and responsive as the services they get from the private sector. Governments need to reimagine how digital can be used to enhance the citizen’s end-to-end experience of public services. This requires the adoption of a ‘citizen-first’ culture and mindset in designing policies and delivering services. The ultimate goal is to improve service quality, promote transparent and efficient interaction, enhance the level of public trust in government, and drive better citizen outcomes.

Social media and mobile platforms are replacing traditional channels as a means to interact with government, report concerns and provide feedback. Mobile services, such as apps and SMS, enable people to access the services they need in a more convenient and targeted way. These e-participation tools also encourage greater collaboration with citizens by involving them in decision making, policy setting, budget prioritization, problem solving and the co-design of services.

The use of advanced analytics allows governments to leverage data continually gathered from people and devices to improve service design and personalize delivery. For example, patients making online appointments with a health service provider could be guided to additional sources of help with their condition, such as a nearby support group or exercise class.

Already, artificial intelligence (AI) can help deliver services to citizens, using chatbots to complete transactions within government websites. It can help improve urban planning by optimizing routes for transport operators, reducing commuters’ journey times; provide educational support to students based on their individual learning needs; and enable online self-referral and screening, signposting citizens to social services based on their needs and eligibility.

  • Unlocking data improves child protection services in Australia

    In New South Wales, Australia, the last decade has seen a steady rise in the number of children needing protection services. The lack of evidence-based investment by the government and poor use of data meant that service delivery for child protection was often ineffective and reactive.

    In response, the state’s Department of Family and Community Services (FACS) is implementing major reforms to strengthen the system. The reforms aim to give children and young people the chance to have a safe, loving, permanent home for life, and help them reach their potential. To realize this vision, FACS needed an information system that could support decision making and improve collaboration between the network of family, carers, caseworkers and service providers. The department has replaced 14 disparate legacy systems with a single cloud-based platform. It integrates, matches and merges data to provide a holistic, single view of every child and young person under care. Given the sensitivity, strict controls and protocols have been established to govern data sharing.

    The platform puts relevant information about a child in the hands of frontline staff, helping them make the right interventions at the right time. It also provides the means for service provider organizations, family and carers to access and share information, and improve collaboration between all those involved in the support of the child.

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Chapter 2

Public value

Optimizing the return on public investment.

In an environment of uncertain growth and rising demand, governments must find sustainable ways to finance public services and infrastructure. Digital technologies create opportunities to explore new models for providing services, improve management of resources through smarter spending, and link the money invested in programs and services to the outcomes they produce for citizens, boosting accountability and trust.

Blockchain technology can help track how money is spent through the system — for example, from finance ministry to spending department and then delivery agency. With better visibility of spending, governments can make better decisions about how to allocate public resources. 

Robotic process automation (RPA) offers increased speed and efficiency, the flexibility to cope with peaks in demand or backlogs, and the reduction of manually introduced errors. Some governments are already using a virtual workforce to automate routine business processes, relieving the burden of high-volume, repetitive tasks, and freeing up time and resources that can be focused on frontline services.

Predictive analytics and text mining can make an important contribution to the smart management of public resources by anticipating problems and enabling preventative action — for example, identifying taxpayers at risk of nonpayment.

3D printing has the potential to improve turnaround time and reduce construction costs for infrastructure and public transportation projects; establish more efficient and lower-cost supply chains for defense agencies; and facilitate job creation and economic transformation of remote locations through the introduction of new manufacturing capabilities.

As well as deploying these technologies to boost public value, governments must think differently about their role, becoming a platform for an ecosystem of partners including agencies, private businesses, not-for-profit organizations, social enterprises and citizens that together can develop innovative services and business models.

  • Intelligent automation helps a UK local council improve services

    EY has been working with the City of Edinburgh Council to introduce intelligent automation (IA) as a way to sustain essential services in a challenging environment. “The challenge is that citizens’ needs are getting more complex while at the same time everyone expects councils to do more with less,” says Shelia Haig, the council’s Revenues and Benefits Manager.

    Automations developed so far include:

    • Freeing up social workers’ time by automating the carer payment process
    • Increasing the accuracy and speed of the landlord registration process
    • Improving the social housing repairs process
    • Accelerating the customer contact process
    • Introducing automated audit and reporting relating to all purchase card transactions
    • Enhancing the scheduling of social workers to support vulnerable children

    The council has realized significant benefits. Customer service has improved, and there is greater availability of services — 24/7 in some cases.

    Administrative tasks are being provided with high accuracy and reduced effort. In turn, employees are freed up to spend less time carrying out routine tasks, and more time using their specialist skills. Employee engagement and job satisfaction are higher as a result.

    “The fundamental question is: do you want a social worker spending 80% of their time filling in forms or helping someone?” says Kirsty Louise Campbell, formerly the council’s Head of Strategy and Insight. “After all, a desire to help people is why they went into the profession in the first place.”

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Chapter 3

Citizen security

Keeping people, information and strategic interests safe.

We live in uncertain times. The threats from unpredictable states, terrorist groups and other non-state actors are increasing and made more complex through digital technology. Today, conflicts are waged not only on the battlefield but on public transport, on social media and in cyberspace.

Governments have a responsibility to safeguard their citizens from a whole range of threats, enabling them to live and work without fear. Digitalization is both a hindrance and a help in this struggle.

On the one hand, as governments embrace digital technologies and become more interconnected with partner organizations and smart devices, new vulnerabilities arise that can be exploited by cyber attackers. Terrorists, fraudsters and hackers can jeopardize the delivery of essential public services and the smooth running of civil society, including the election process.

On the other hand, digital technologies and better data sharing provide a sophisticated means of combating threats. Defense organizations are investing in AI and machine learning; cyber weapons and threat detection programs; cybersecurity apparatus; robotics and digital tools to make them nimbler and more effective. Police forces are using mobile technologies to reduce incident response times, while data analytics is enabling predictive policing models and better threat analysis planning.

Citizens are becoming increasingly concerned about the way their data is being used. So governments are introducing information security management systems to safeguard the data they keep and increasingly rely on.

Governments must also exploit the power of cloud computing to increase their own computing capacity, support secure biometric identification programs and provide safe payment platforms for citizen transactions.

  • Managing cybersecurity risks on Norway’s railways

    Bane NOR, Norway’s rail infrastructure provider, is in the process of replacing its 1950s-era technology with a next-generation traffic control system. It has also introduced other digitalization initiatives aimed at reducing maintenance costs, making services more reliable, and providing better and faster information for travelers and train operators. However, it lacked a coherent framework for managing cybersecurity risk.

    The EY team helped Bane NOR develop and implement a risk management process for cybersecurity. Introducing new technology such as IP (Internet Protocol)-based traffic management, new IoT systems and analytics not only solves problems — it introduces fresh challenges and risks that the organization must take into account. So it was key to make cyber-risk analysis an ongoing part of risk management, so that the correct measures can be put in place to help mitigate against emerging threats.

    Bane NOR is now able to manage the risks of its systems and networks in order to deter, detect and respond to cyber threats and implement recovery procedures if a cyber incident does occur.

    The government is satisfied with Bane NOR’s cybersecurity management, which now meets the required standards. The cybersecurity improvements have led to more transparency regarding risks, making the network more secure, passengers safer, and data better protected.

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Chapter 4

Future workforce

Improving capabilities in the public sector and reimagining work.

Economic growth, social cohesion and equality of opportunity rely on a country’s workforce being skilled and ready to embrace the needs of 21st-century employers.

Governments need to build the skills and capabilities of their own employees in order to drive greater efficiencies, elevate customer focus and strengthen diversity and inclusion. In a competitive labor market, the public sector has not always been an employer of choice for top talent. Governments need to do more to attract, retain and develop people with the required skills and capabilities. As they gradually build a more dynamic and responsive environment, governments will attract younger workers who are in search of purpose-led roles where they can make a difference to society.

Creating this culture partly relies on governments freeing up employees’ time to concentrate on more stimulating and value-adding tasks. This can be done by deploying intelligent automation tools to complement human workers. Reducing the amount of manual and repetitive work leads to higher levels of productivity and satisfaction, in turn helping to attract and retain high-quality candidates and improve citizens’ experience with government services.

Mobile technologies can help agencies empower their workforce to do their jobs more effectively. As a high proportion of public sector employees regularly work outside the office, they can be equipped with devices such as smartphones, tablets, and laptops to perform their duties wherever they’re located.

While governments prepare their own workforces for the digital age, technological changes such as automation and AI have far-reaching implications for the future of work, economies and society in general. Governments must adopt, update and strengthen policies to mitigate adverse social and economic consequences — such as the displacement of workers in some lower-skilled jobs, and widening social inequality.

  • Smartphones and wearable tech boost Manchester police

    To reduce crime and repeat offending, police officers need to understand their communities. In a key plank of digital transformation undertaken by Greater Manchester Police, EY designed and procured new mobile capabilities to allow officers to spend more time in valuable, public-facing activities and less time processing paperwork back at base.

    Over the course of a nine-month deployment, 6,500 officers and other staff were equipped with more than 9,000 devices including smartphones, tablets and wearable tech. For the first time, they could use a mobile app to complete key policing procedures on the spot, such as taking witness statements, logging evidence and consulting the main database.

    This major shift in policing methods was underpinned by a new operating model and an integrated operational policing system that gives users access to better-quality information, supports citizen interaction and improves information sharing with partners such as fire fighters and paramedics.

    The time and resources saved equate to 66 additional officers in the field per year. “The project to provide all of my officers with mobile technology has been a resounding success,” says Greater Manchester Police Chief Constable Ian Hopkins. “Giving officers the modern tools they need to help them solve incidents and problems without needing to return to the police station has improved our performance and efficiency dramatically.”

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Chapter 5

Smart infrastructure

Helping societies and economies to function better.

Many of today’s most fundamental challenges — urbanization, globalization, pollution, water shortages and climate change — can be tackled with smart infrastructure developments such as connected cars, electric vehicles, smart power grids, energy-efficient buildings, Internet of Things (IoT) networks and open data portals.

Governments are facing strong pressure to build and upgrade infrastructure, particularly in urban centers where expanding populations are putting increasing pressure on aging facilities. Many emerging countries need new infrastructure to support their growing populations and increased economic activity, while mature markets must renew deteriorating or inefficient infrastructure. However, the years of underinvestment in infrastructure is now catching up with countries around the world. Estimates show that nearly US$100 trillion globally needs to be spent on infrastructure in the next 20 years.

Smart infrastructure offers a way to harness the latest technologies to obtain maximum value and efficiency and create resilience and sustainability. It applies digital technology – such as smart devices, sensors and software – to physical structures, from power plants to bridges. These intelligent devices enable more efficient and effective monitoring and control of energy and water systems, transportation networks, human services, and public safety operations – all core government functions.

Governments must also pursue policies to encourage a thriving digital economy. This involves working with private businesses to provide enhanced 4G and forthcoming 5G networks, and data centers; create high digital literacy among citizens; promote digital inclusion; and enable secure access to services, through digital identification systems.

The public sector cannot fund every infrastructure project itself; it must find innovative ways of working with other investors.

  • Nagpur uses technology to improve growth and quality of life

    The Indian city of Nagpur is expanding rapidly, and unplanned urbanization has resulted in slums, pollution, poor waste management and inadequate public transport.

    Drawing inspiration from the Indian government’s Smart City Mission, the state of Maharashtra developed a charter for transforming urban centers using technology. The first city selected for this transformation was Nagpur. Nagpur Municipal Corporation (NMC), the body responsible for the administration and development of the city, wanted to harness the power of technology — including digital networks, smart sensors, advanced analytics and IT solutions — to build a better living and working environment for all its citizens.

    The EY team prepared a smart city vision and integration plan. Citizens’ input and ideas were vital, and were used to help prioritize the delivery of smart services, to tackle key areas of concern such as safety, cleanliness and access to the internet.

    The program has been successful and the benefits for citizens are starting to flow:

    • Public services are accessible to all residents 24/7.
    • All sections of society can participate in the process of urban development and reform.
    • Citizens feel safe and secure.
    • Emergency services can be accessed seamlessly throughout the city.
    • A cashless economy is being promoted, paving the way for financial inclusion initiatives.
    • Traffic management has improved, leading to cleaner air and better mobility.

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Governments that effectively manage digital transformation will create a world-class quality of life for their citizens, regain public trust and improve their country’s competitiveness within the global economy. They will also be in much better shape to weather the next surge of disruption, whatever form that may take.

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