This opinion piece was written by Luis Felipe Salin Monteiro, Brazil’s Secretary of Information Technology and Communication. This year he was featured on Apolitical’s list of the 100 most influential people in digital government.
Technology-driven changes in our economies and societies are happening fast, presenting new challenges to governments around the globe. In Brazil, we are 120 million internet users, mostly (96%) accessing it through mobile devices. Brazilians represent the world’s fourth-largest market for internet usage.
Yet I believe that the public sector digital transformation challenge is not really about technology. The most difficult part is, instead, bringing together the various — and often overlapping — actors in society and government to foster a collaborative and cohesive digital ecosystem, preparing the economy to take advantage of the enormous opportunities of this new era.
These opportunities are immense. A digital public service costs up to 97% less in administration than a face-to-face service. And digital transformation means an up to 74% reduction of service delivery time.
“A digital public service costs up to 97% less in administration than a face-to-face service”
So, our government has outlined its new vision for Brazil’s digital future in the Brazilian Strategy for Digital Transformation (E-Digital). It presents the challenges the nation faces and sets out the actions that will be required for the digitisation of the government and the economy.
In 2017, we carried out a public services survey in Brazil for the first time — and the data showed just how much work was still needed to be done. It revealed that only 31% of the 1,740 public services provided by the Brazilian federal government were online. That is, we had more than a thousand services that needed to be digitised.
“We launched a single website for all government services”
Since the survey, we’ve made huge changes.
We launched a single website for all government services, servicos.gov.br. With more than 900,000 user accounts and 1.3 million accesses every month, Brazilians can now find, understand and apply — with a simple online tool — for 1,750 services, from getting an ID, passport or visa to filing for tax return or social security benefit.
We’ve also automated the most basic processes of our public services: citizen identification and login, and the management of service processes including requests, notifications, delivery and evaluation.
In fact, in one year, we’ve been able to digitally transform 68 public services, saving 90% of service costs to government and society.
Here’s just one example. Until last year, 18-year-olds spent US$30 million per year physically commuting to apply for their mandatory military enlistment. Recognising this struggle, the government brought the process online. It saved up to U$45 million a year on logistics, personnel and service desks, and precious hours and money for young citizens.
We’ve now understood that in order to speed up the digital transformation even further, we need to provide and maintain a shared digital platform across the various departments and organisations of the public sector — a set of innovation tools and technology services that act as building blocks for government teams to create digital services on top of.
“Digital provides a new relationship experience with the end-user”
And, finally, we’ve begun to change our service design processes to adapt to the new relationship experience digital provides with the end-user: it’s essential in the digital era for the government to understand service journeys from the citizens’ point of view.
A rise in the rankings
The Inter-American Development Bank’s recent survey of Latin America found out that, on average, a quarter of public services provided to citizens require three or more interactions between citizen and government, most of them face-to-face.
This makes Brazil’s transformation all the more striking. And the country’s new focus and effort has already been recognized internationally.
In 2018, the United Nations ranked Brazil as the 44th most digital government in the world — which was seven positions higher than in 2016. The UN E-Government survey stated that the component that contributed most to this accomplishment was digital services delivery. In fact, Brazil is now 23rd in the world for providing digital public services to its citizens — and the leader in South America.
“Bureaucracy in the public sector ends up harming the people who need help the most”
It looks promising, but it is still far from where we want to be: it’s important to remember that bureaucracy in the public sector ends up harming the people who need help the most.
And, according to Accenture, every 1% increase in government digitisation will lead to an increase in 0.5% of the country’s GDP — and 1.9% in its international trade.
So, while this is a big challenge, the reward will be even bigger. So, who’s with me to digitise the public sector?
— Luis Monteiro @luisfsmonteiro
(Picture credit: Pixabay)