4 minute read 11 Jun 2020
How can data governance drive economic advantage for southeast asia

How can data governance drive economic advantage for Southeast Asia?

By Benjamin Chiang

EY Asean and Singapore Government & Public Sector Leader

Forward-thinking advisor. Helps governments to address the complexities in public service innovation and building future-fit cities.

4 minute read 11 Jun 2020

Establishing robust, interoperable data governance frameworks is key to unlocking the potential of Southeast Asia’s digital economy.

Southeast Asia’s internet user base leapt from 260 million in 2015 to 360 million in 2019.1 Its digital economy is expected to add as much as US$1 trillion to regional GDP over the next 10 years.2 The surge in internet users and technological advancements in data generation and capture have resulted in a rapidly expanding data environment. As Southeast Asian governments work to establish robust, interoperable data governance frameworks to grow the region’s digital economy, how can they address existing challenges?

During the current COVID-19 pandemic, governments around the world are leveraging data in contact-tracing applications to contain the virus’ spread. As manual contact tracing is too slow and cannot be scaled up once the epidemic grows beyond the early phase, these applications will allow governments to quickly identify an infected person’s most recent movements and interactions. With more information captured, contract tracing will be more effective, and appropriate testing and isolation measures can be implemented to contain the pathogen.

Governments are also investing heavily in smart nation programs, leveraging new technologies, such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and the Internet of Things, with data at the core of these initiatives. For example, Davao City in the Philippines has established a public safety and security command center by adopting technologies that collect data across platforms, such as its citywide CCTV surveillance system, emergency call records, traffic cameras and INTERPOL’s database.

As governments hold increasingly vast amounts of citizens’ data, it is not surprising that citizens have high expectations of how their data is collected, used, shared and protected.

According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Perception Survey 2017–2018, data protection issues have become the biggest concern for countries after environmental threats. To realize the economic potential of the digital economy, individual ASEAN governments must not only fully capitalize on the huge amounts of data they hold but also ensure their data governance programs are robust and able to integrate with, and operate across, regional networks.

In 2018, Singapore, as then-ASEAN chair, adopted the ASEAN Framework on Personal Data Protection and ASEAN Framework on Digital Data Governance. That was a starting point for internet governance and privacy regulation in the region. Since then, the National Privacy Commission of the Philippines has agreed to co-lead with the Singapore Personal Data Protection Commission in the development of the ASEAN Framework on Digital Data Governance to strengthen the region’s data ecosystem and cross-border data flow.

The ASEAN Framework on Digital Data Governance recognizes that the level of readiness and development among ASEAN member states varies. It highlights the importance of coordinating policy and regulatory approaches by providing a set of guiding principles to help member states in developing data governance initiatives for their specific digital ecosystems.

What effective data governance looks like

Data governance sets out the policy and guidance for data definition, ownership and stewardship, quality parameters, as well as classification of, and security guidelines for, the organization’s strategic data assets.

At the most basic level, government agencies and organizations need to find common business definitions across departments for critical data elements to avoid discrepancies. A thoughtfully designed data governance framework identifies these data elements, with common definitions assigned and maintained. It is equally important to assign ownership of data elements to appropriate stakeholders for accountability and to avoid conflicts.  

A robust data governance program should also cover the entire data life cycle from its creation, interpretation and storage to processing, analysis and archiving. While ad hoc technical data quality checks and monitoring may already be in place in some public agencies, a wider data quality framework involving data owners and stewards is essential. With the transition of governments and businesses to remote working arrangements in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, a strong data governance framework is more important than ever. This is especially so in anticipation of any use of non-standard infrastructures and tools by unknowing employees or suppliers, which can have far-reaching implications that may compromise sensitive data.

Another important strategic priority is considering the cross-border flow of data in the ecosystem when designing for interoperability and integration across various systems — domestically and regionally — with the ability to scale and adapt to evolving circumstances and risks. In the current pandemic situation, the ability to access cross-border and cross-domain data will allow for a more comprehensive analysis and better understanding of the virus, as well as a collective regional response to the outbreak.

An economic differentiator

The current state is such that not all ASEAN member states have instituted comprehensive privacy laws and established data privacy regulators. But what is clear is that all countries have recognized the importance of data governance and taken steps to move the agenda forward. For example, in January this year, the Indonesian government submitted a bill to parliament that seeks to protect consumer data in the digital era. Taking another example, Singapore, in its national Budget announcement in February, has set aside S$1 billion over the next three years to build the government’s cyber and data security capabilities to further safeguard citizens’ data and critical information infrastructure systems.

On the domestic front, the proper governance of data will help to build citizens’ trust. It will also empower nations to use data more securely to enable public agencies and businesses to be more agile, effective and efficient in decision-making, and responsive to citizens’ needs.

Beyond that, the real challenge for ASEAN member states is to develop interoperable data governance systems. This will be vital to strengthening the intra-ASEAN digital economy, as well as the region’s ability to respond to the volatile external environment and meet the data regulatory standards of other major economic partners around the world.

Developing interoperable data governance systems will be vital to strengthening the intra-ASEAN digital economy, as well as the region’s ability to respond to the volatile external environment. 

Summary

To realize the digital economy’s potential, ASEAN governments must capitalize on the huge amounts of data they hold and ensure their data governance programs are robust and able to integrate with, and operate across, regional networks.

A robust data governance program should cover the entire data life cycle. With the transition of governments and businesses to remote working arrangements in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, a strong data governance framework is more important than ever.

About this article

By Benjamin Chiang

EY Asean and Singapore Government & Public Sector Leader

Forward-thinking advisor. Helps governments to address the complexities in public service innovation and building future-fit cities.