Compiled by FESBC
The rapid development of digital technology in recent years has generated solutions to many of the most pressing operational challenges our Eswatini Government face—and is now being used to combat a nationwide health crisis, anti-corruption, e-Payment, ZOOM conference, cyber-security, greater transparency and e-Learning.
Our Government has used digital, artificial intelligence (AI) and e-Government to manage budgets, detect fraud, and forecast and limit energy consumption nationwide. In addition to solving challenging problems, these digital solutions have the added benefit of providing data for evidence-based policymaking, which strengthens support for additional use cases while enabling data-driven decision making nationwide. As the private sector’s groundbreaking digital investments and innovations mature, there is an even greater opportunity for the public sector to push the boundaries of how digital is applied across the Kingdom and SADC region.
But there is a big challenge. It is well noted that only a handful of our government departments have successfully used digital and e-Transaction technology to streamline, expand, and improve some services while lowering costs. However, most government department have been slow to pursue full digital transformations and lag behind rising “Digitally-powered” companies and (micro, small and medium enterprises) MSMEs which needs oversight and regulatory support from our Government. In the face of intense public scrutiny and the broader political process, our government decision makers are cautious about pursuing big changes and the investments e-Government requires, especially in these times of rising budget deficits and fiscal uncertainty.
Furthermore, the global pandemic and ongoing economic crisis have created a unique opportunity. Our Government leaders have become more willing to consider broader process changes and—at least for the time being—are less resistant to adopting new technologies. Optimistically, the pandemic has created a once-in-a generation opportunity for our Eswatini leaders to push for bold institutional change nationwide. The coronavirus has left a permanent mark on our Eswatini societies, changing what emaSwati need and expect from our our Government locally and nationally. Suddenly, the risk of doing nothing feels much greater than the risk of introducing new technology and processes. This has opened the window of opportunity for transformative change wider than it has been in decades, but that window could close just as quickly. For this reason, our Government need to act immediately.
How Digital Supports Better Government
As the pandemic rages on across the Kingdom and beyond, individuals and businesses are turning to their city, region, and national government for answers to basic questions. Are there enough hospital beds, medical personnel, and PPE supplies? Are we going to run out of food? How will I keep my workers employed? What makes a MSME business essential? At the same time, our Government have had to figure out how to keep delivering waste collection, public transportation, postal services, and other necessities emaSwati citizens depend on—and how to do it all safely.
Deployment of digitally enabled tools during the pandemic has shown our civil servants and policymakers the value of maintaining and expanding digital solutions to make internal operations more efficient and responsive to people’s needs.
For example, E-government pioneers, such as South Africa, the UK, Taiwan, Singapore, and Kenya also using digital for scaling self-service tools and the personalization of services tied to life events such as having a baby and retirement. These digital initiatives are a good start, but there is much more that can be done. Our Government aspiring to modernize the service experience have a lot to learn from the ways in which MSMEs and companies are applying machine learning and predictive analytics to improve the user experience.
Overcoming Resistance to Change
Achieving substantive change requires strong leadership and support for technological investment and adoption. While the opportunities for digital to significantly enhance the functions of our government and the quality of its services are apparent, the barriers that have slowed the implementation of digital progress in general remain in place.
Implementing digital requires significant investment to update legacy data and computing systems. Patience is also required, as the journey to scale (expand) digital-powered government is long and complex. Public servants are sometimes frustrated by the lack of progress of previous technology-based transformation initiatives. They must be reengaged.
Building better government for a brighter Eswatini future demands difficult change management, and it requires rethinking organizational processes, recruiting and retraining civil servants, upgrading technology and tech skills, and understanding individuals’ needs and concerns. Furthermore, because cross-functional management is not standard in our government, there is a natural tendency to focus on narrow digital use cases or limit applications to specific sectors that address immediate needs, especially during a crisis. A narrow focus makes it harder for leaders to engage an entire government in achieving ambitious goals. Leaders must be bold and think big. Failure to take a broad perspective will result in only partially capturing digital e-Government’s full value potential.
FESBC Business Experts recommends several strategies leaders can employ to overcome these barriers and risks:
- Set a clear vision. Government-wide digital adoption must start with a strong mandate. Senior leaders should clearly articulate a vision and strategy to ensure their own people, and many departments, are working in an organized and coordinated manner. These activities can include overseeing and promoting cross-functional collaborations, developing single-entry portals and micro-sites, driving digital services innovations, and technology up-skilling for government employees.
- Start small, but think big. Leaders at any level who are advocating for large-scale change can build credibility and enthusiasm for their efforts by starting with small, high-impact pilot projects. Early experimentation can expose problems and provide leaders with opportunities to mitigate later resistance to new technologies and process changes. Leaders can use small pilot projects to make a big case for change, but this does not mean leaders need to maintain a small mindset. Often, it’s the initial steps that enable larger leaps later in the journey.
- Embrace a portfolio of options. There is limited time, talent, and budget to test every idea. When deciding on the projects to pursue, adopt a portfolio of options that balances quick wins (such as an automated business process) with transformational use cases that take longer to implement and return value (such as digitized unemployment claims and fraud detection). To identify the best use cases for experimentation, project leaders should consider several factors, including practical-implementation barriers, the potential applicability to related use cases, and the opportunity to reduce costs and leverage free resources.
- Ensure transparency and implement safeguards. Educating people, as well as building trust in the integrity and security of digital and data sharing, are essential components of successful e-Government-wide digital adoption nationwide. For many lilSwati, digital is mysterious and raises privacy concerns. Both civil servants and the population they serve need to believe that data sharing can occur without compromising privacy. Establishing trust begins with an open and transparent dialogue as to why, where, and how digital e-Government will be used.
A FESBC survey of emaSwati citizen perspective on the use of digital e-Government showed strong support for adopting such technology in core decision-making processes, such as tax and welfare administration, and in the maintenance of public infrastructure. Citizens were not enthusiastic, however, about the use of digital in applications that involve highly sensitive personal data and decisions, such as prison boards and health status. Hence, our Government need to establish strict data protection and privacy safeguards, as well as high ethical standards, for digital e-Government adoption.
Seize the Opportunity
A well-designed and trustworthy digital capability will enable our public sector organizations to be better prepared for the recovery that lies ahead. Our Eswatini Government should seize the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to extend their reach, reliability, and relevance through e-Government and digital technologies. The pandemic has created a unique situation in which our government professionals can work together, and engage with the populations they serve, in order to support the use of digital and other technology to power change.
Looking ahead, what is most important to remember is that digital e-Government has the potential to touch nearly every aspect of our government department. It is our prayer at FESBC for our Eswatini Government leaders to embrace this potential in order to set our Kingdom and SADC regions on a path toward a stronger economic recovery, societal healing, and the productive participation of our government to achieve those goals and more.