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What Do We Mean by Digital Public Services?

Governments play a key role in our society by providing citizens and businesses with access to a range of essential public services. As such, there is a constant demand for ways to improve transparency, responsiveness and efficiency in the delivery of these services. The adoption and use of digital technologies provides a number of obvious benefits in this regard and the digitalization of public services has been a constant item on the agenda of policymakers for over a decade.

The potential benefits generated by the adoption of digital public services have become even more visible during the Covid-19 pandemic when the public were forced to move much of their daily activities online due to restrictions put in place to contain the spread of the virus (European Commission, 2020). In this context, any service that was not online was not accessible, so public organizations were forced to accelerate the adoption of digital technologies and to find more innovative uses of existing e-Government solutions to manage the crisis (United Nations, 2020).

The remainder of this chapter defines digital public services and discusses the benefits and the existing challenges for the implementation of these services in the rural context. Three main types of public services, namely e-Government, e-Health and open data, are then discussed together with extant attempts to measure their adoption and use.

What Do We Mean by Digital Public Services?

Digital public services, often termed e-Government, refer to public services provided using digital technologies wherein the interaction with a public sector organisation is mediated by an IT system (Jansen & Ølnes, 2016; Lindgren & Jansson, 2013; Lindgren et al., 2019). While most of the focus around e-Government is on public service delivery, the concept of digital public services is broader than that, as it encompasses all interactions between citizens and public bodies.

Lindgren et al. (2019) discuss the impact of the digitalisation of public services from the perspective of the public encounter as conceptualised by Goodsell (1981). The public encounter is defined as “the interaction of citizen and official as they communicate to conduct business” (Goodsell, 1981, p. 4) and is characterised by four general aspects: (1) nature and purpose of the encounter, (2) the actors involved, (3) the communication form and setting in which the encounter occurs, and (4) the encounter’s initiation, duration and scope. The shift from traditional to digital public services has an impact on all these characteristics of the encounter, as summarised in Table 3.1.

With regard to the nature of the encounter, digital technologies have mostly been adopted to mimic traditional paper-based processes (Heeks, 2006) and act as mediators of public services. This means that the technology is typically used to provide citizens with access to a public service but the technology does not deliver the service itself (Lindgren & Jansson, 2013). From the perspectives of communication and ease of access, this generates clear efficiencies. However most services still rely on human intervention, so the impact on the average lead time is marginal. Recent advancements associated with machine learning and artificial intelligence offer clear opportunities for seamless automated service provisioning and associated benefits in terms of shorter lead time and higher transparency (Wihlborg et al., 2016; Matheus et al., 2020). Automation may also introduce new risks. These are mostly related to the potential bias in the algorithms that could exclude specific groups of citizens from accessing a service (Wihlborg et al., 2016), and the introduction of new actors, technology providers, who are typically private institutions and multi-tenant in nature. As such, they are responsible for securing and maintaining multiple different service delivery platforms—thus introducing additional risks (Janssen & Klievink, 2009; Lindgren et al., 2019).

The adoption of digital technologies may also change how the provisioning of public services is initiated. In a traditional setting, one of the actors involved would initiate the encounter, but now the use of algorithms and predictive analytics may lead to proactive service provisioning based on a constant incoming data flow (Scholta et al., 2019). In this context, the definition of a start and an end point becomes blurry and potential concerns regarding government surveillance may arise. Furthermore, digital public services introduce a major change compared to the traditional public encounter with regard to where the service is actually accessed or provisioned. The fact that citizens can access digital services from a digital device instead of a physical public office provides obvious benefits but it is still unclear whether there may be negative outcomes associated with detaching public services from the traditional places of government (Pollitt, 2012).

Despite some concerns, some of which are briefly mentioned above, the increasing adoption of digital public services promises to deliver enormous benefits for both public organisations and citizens. This promise however is based on two major assumptions. First that citizens will have equal and widespread access to the Internet, and second that they will possess the skills required for interacting with public bodies online (Pors, 2015; Williams et al., 2016; Almeida et al., 2019; Lindgren et al., 2019). Previous studies suggest that e-Government initiatives can be hindered by the digital divide and even contribute to it in some cases (Ebbers et al., 2016). Bélanger and Carter (2009), for example, demonstrate that demographic factors such as income, education and age have a significant impact on the intentions of citizens to use e-Government services. This is mostly related to the so-called “access divide” where specific cohorts of the population have access to the Internet and digital services while others do not. While enabling widespread access to connectivity has traditionally been one of the main objectives of public and private initiatives (Salemink et al., 2017), research suggests that the physical access divide has evolved into a skills divide where citizens’ ability to use the internet and online search experience represents a key determinant of adoption and use of online public services (Bélanger & Carter, 2009; Van Deursen & Van Dijk, 2011). This is particularly important in rural areas as they are typically characterised by lower than average levels of education and skills (Salemink et al., 2017) and may therefore be left behind when governments pursue greater digital provision of public services (Van Deursen & Van Dijk, 2011; Ebbers et al., 2016).

E-Government

A number of frameworks have been proposed to measure the maturity and sophistication of e-Government solutions. An early framework was that proposed by Layne and Lee (2001) comprising four main stages:

Cataloguing: government information is made available on a publicly accessible website.

Transaction: as the level of sophistication of both government and users evolves, digital channels become another way for citizens to access public services and seek to utilise them. Citizens begin to demand that government requirements can be fulfilled online.

Vertical integration: at this stage, the focus is on transforming government services instead of just digitising existing processes.

Horizontal integration: databases across different government departments or functional areas communicate with each other so that information obtained by one department propagates to other functions.

One of the most referenced follow-up frameworks to Layne and Lee (2001) is that adopted by the United Nations Global e-Government Survey (United Nations, 2003). First presented in the early 2000s, like Layne and Lee’s (2001), the UN model comprises four stages:

Emerging: this stage is somewhat comparable to Cataloguing in Layne and Lee (2001) as the government simply provides information to citizens via digital means.

Enhanced: basic one-way or two-way communication between citizens and government is introduced at this stage.

Transactional: services can be requested and delivered via digital means through forms.

Connected: governments engage in cross-agency integrative services using multiple technologies and platforms.

As Heeks (2015) points out, maturity models are a product of their time and are often context-related. In fact, these initial frameworks are mostly focused on technology adoption reflecting the early stage of development of Internet technologies at the time and are not particularly concerned about the real impact, use, and usefulness of e-Government solutions (Kawashita et al., 2020). Similarly, these initial models are quite rigid and are not able to take into account changing requirements, conditions and developments related to contextual or technological changes (Bertot et al., 2016). A number of frameworks have tried to overcome such limitations by using a variable number of maturity levels which makes a direct comparison quite difficult. Table 3.2 provides a summary and comparison of these models.

The EU eGovernment Framework Benchmark (European Commission, 2020) departs from the concept of maturity. Rather, it “is built on the foundation of the EU policy priority areas in the field of e-Government” (van der Linden et al., 2020, p. 8)—user empowerment, preconditions and the digital single market—and translates them into four key dimensions:

 

  • User centricity: the extent to which information and services are available, supported and compatible with mobile devices.
  • Transparency: the extent to which service processes are transparent and co-designed with users, and users can access and manage their personal data.
  • Key enablers: the extent to which main IT enablers such as, electronic IDs, eDocuments and security are available to users. The presence of these enablers can be used to assess the technical pre-conditions for the efficient and effective use of online services.
  • Cross-border services: the extent to which online information and services are integrated with eIDs and eDocuments for users from other European countries.

Furthermore, most indicators included in the EU eGovernment Framework Benchmark are collected by “mystery shoppers” who are “trained and briefed to observe, experience, and measure a service process by acting as a prospective user” (van der Linden et al., 2020, p. 15). As such, the EU framework represents a shift from supply-side maturity (government) to demand-side experience (citizens).

This user-centricity is also reflected in the UN e-participation index which emphasises citizen participation as the cornerstone of socially inclusive governance. As such, it focuses on the provision of information by governments to citizens (“e-information sharing”), interaction with stakeholders (“e-consultation”), and engagement in decision-making processes (“e-decision making”) (UN, 2021). Links to additional information on selected indicators are provided in the Useful Links section at the end of the book.

 

The Role of AI Technology and Advanced Analytics in Public Sector

It’s not only organizations in the private sector that are continually trying to transform to stay “in the game” with the ever-changing economy. Organizations in the Government and Public Sectors have also come to acknowledge the importance of automation to increase work efficiency and cut unnecessary costs, leaving more to invest in enhancing citizen experience when it comes to public services. Governments and Public Sectors are onboard to prepare for a technology advance citizen-centric era.

Meeting Expectations

Local governments were pushed to explore innovative solutions to keep up with these demands as consumers and citizens are expecting to be served the same way they are served while dealing with organizations in the private sector that have dramatically shaped how consumers are assisted. Consequently, Government and Public agencies are turning to technological developments to deliver new value for citizens, streamline processes and increase work efficiency within employees in these respective agencies. Government and public sectors are using technology to:

  • Ensure transparency
  • Meet citizens rising expectations for a digital services
  • Offer better streamlined quality services
  • Increase openness and participation between government agencies and citizens

Stay Connected

With the demand growing to deploy technologies that improve operations it’s not a surprise when we see a deeper engagement becoming common with Government and Public Sector agencies using software and apps.

Leveraging the newest technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced analytics allows public sector organizations to:

1) Digitize their process 

Ensure faster and easier collaboration between agencies and departments to directly benefit to every person seeking any public service.

2) Improve their services 

Benefit from state-of-the-art tools that help public sector institutions provide high-quality solutions and derive valuable data in the process.

3) Build trust 

Create better customer engagement through secure procedures and comprehensive solutions to earn the trust of your citizens.

Technology & Intalio

Intalio© solutions for the public sector and governments gives citizens personalized experiences. They understand and respond to individual needs and help maintain a relationship over time.

Public Sector organizations as well as governmental institutions are becoming more agile as they are continuously automating their processes and implementing modern digital strategies. Governments are automating their Government to government (G2G), government to business (G2B), or government to citizen (G2C) operations allowing end-users to leverage an all-inclusive solution to benefit from e-services like company registration, auditing, as well as contracts, violations, strategy management, and many more. With Intalio, Public Sector and Governmental organizations can contribute to a better future that allows individuals to grow and thrive within a connected ecosystem that ensures higher productivity and a collaborative workflow.

Digital Services

By the beginning of 2016, we saw that most of the governments around the world were beginning to look into implementing cloud technology, which isn’t only saving money, but it’s helping Government and Public agencies move with greater flexibility. These software and apps are connecting residents, tourists and businesses directly to government services creating better engagement and more satisfaction. Automated and connected processes from Intalio improve efficiency, quality and effectiveness throughout. Government and Public Sector agencies have been implementing the main “blocks” of digital transformation through solutions that we offer – workflow automation, correspondence automation and archiving. In order to further meet the listed objectives and ensure sustainability, transparency and openness, Intalio caters to specific needs through a set of e-services such as:

• Electronic Auditing

Facilitate and accelerate the auditing process and easily submit results to stakeholders all from the same platform. Organize the preparation of annual and third-annual plans in addition to carrying out field missions.

• Company E-Registration

Leverage all the needed functionalities to record and manage the information of legal entities quickly and seamlessly. Add different types of organizations in one comprehensive register.

• Violations Management

Create, process, and validate violations from a unified platform. Standardize all procedures using all the tools and components you need. Manage incoming requests and liaise with relevant government entities.

• Strategy Management

Set and manage the strategic goals and initiatives of the state departments to ultimately implement a specific vision. Create a repository containing all your strategies and link them to their projects.

• Contracts Management

Control the process of creating and managing contracts, from initial proposal to closure. Benefit from an all-inclusive workspace containing all the needed components and information.

 

 

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