GCC: How can digital government services seize opportunities to accelerate trust
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GCC: How can digital government services seize opportunities to accelerate trust

GCC: How can digital government services seize opportunities to accelerate trust

GCC governments must build data management trust, develop data governance policies, engage with end-users to ensure they are continuously informed, and drive sustained digital service delivery improvements

Gulf Business

Inspired by broad impactful possibilities in a new connected world, recent events have witnessed governments pursue comprehensive and accelerated strategies geared toward digital transformation. As the influence and impact of emerging technologies continue to unfold, the need to remain at the forefront of change is becoming ever more apparent – decisive action without deviation a topmost priority.

Already, government leaders have acknowledged this imperative, expanding the scope and capabilities of their respective digital services. Now, they must build on this momentum, elevating citizen trust to greater heights by capitalising on pending opportunities.

This applies to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), where the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated demands for effective digital government services. Empowering populations through digital service delivery has come to fruition across various geographies, solidifying their status as a post-crisis mainstay. Citizens and residents are enjoying the newfound convenience and flexibility, while governments themselves are reaping efficiency rewards, harnessing digital service frameworks and end-user insights to improve lifestyles, well-being, and citizen engagement.

The UAE has witnessed the expansion and customisation of the UAE PASS, the National Digital Identity and Digital Signature solution. A valuable digital experience provided to UAE citizens in every instance through technological upgrades, with dozens of major end-to-end services. Other prominent cases are also visible throughout the regional public domain, namely, contact tracing applications. In Saudi Arabia, the Ministry of Health’s ‘Tawakkalna’ platform provides live Covid-19 updates concerning case numbers.

Due to the effectiveness of such solutions, GCC governments are nearing digital services leadership at the global level, having firmly established themselves as provision and adoption pioneers. This outlook has been substantiated in the recently released 2020 Digital Government Citizen Survey (DGCS) findings, which unequivocally showcase outstanding outcomes in this field.

Of the 36 countries involved, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Qatar achieved considerable progress, ranking second, third, and fourth, respectively, in the number of digital services they offer. Moreover, digital services have enjoyed widespread uptake across the GCC. Countries within this parameter boast adoption rates of 61.3 per cent, more than 30 per cent higher than the global average. The survey also shows that the respondents in the study are satisfied with the digital government services provided, with UAE and Saudi Arabia at the top quintile of net satisfaction scores of 76 per cent and 73 per cent respectively when compared to global averages. Similarly, Qatar recorded a net satisfaction score matching that of the averages of developing countries at 58 per cent.

Enthused by benefits including straightforward communication, multiple platforms and information accessibility, end-users and governments alike are undoubtedly happy with progress to date. Yet with transformative change, barriers to overcome are a natural but pressing part of the journey. Digital services are no exception, and challenges that have arisen require attention and resolution. For GCC governments, a persisting trust gap represents the next frontier, with citizens housing concerns regarding personal information collection, storage, security, and the role of data and artificial intelligence (AI) in related processes.

Overall, residents ask for reassurances that their personal information will not be subject to infringements or inappropriate usage of any kind. Lower confidence surrounding this issue hinders trust in the present – and could potentially damage further digital services adoption in the future. Moreover, widespread AI adoption has resulted in additional discrepancies. Many are unfamiliar with its true potential, without a clear understanding of its practicality. As such, the onus is on governments to implement a framework that supports citizens in developing their knowledge of how data and AI are utilized as a force for good.

Regionally, these steps will accelerate progress in this direction:

Prioritise sustained digital services improvements: While governments have enjoyed building their services and developing solutions, the most prudent course of action is to strive for greater accomplishments. Leaders should identify those most valuable to citizens and elevate convenience, accessibility, and capabilities.

Empower citizens, convey build-in privacy and control: With personal information a primary concern, leadership can facilitate a paradigm shift in assumptions by providing end-users with control of their information. Privacy and functionality will help dispel fears and promote ethical data usage and sharing. The benefits of data sharing are also required to be published effectively, with materials conveying precisely how data is used, secured, and accessed by others. Governments can also educate citizens about the steps they are taking to support and protect them.

Oversee data security investments: Although GCC governments already boast high and increasing levels of cybersecurity, additional challenges in the new digital era are inevitable. Digital services will become more and more mainstream over time, and with this comes an overarching necessity to utilise security expertise and translate this to all aspects of data security at multiple levels of digital service delivery.

Reimagine public sector data and AI practices: Considering the power of data and AI tools, responsible use and transparency with all concerned parties are essential. To capture their benefits while mitigating potential social risks, governments must ensure that robust public sector ethical standards are in place by implementing guidelines, offering training, and introducing mandatory regulations – all the while making this clear and public.

To ensure digital government services can deliver unprecedented value in the decade to come, GCC governments must build data management trust, develop data governance policies that provide clarity and protection, engage with end-users to ensure they are continuously informed, and drive sustained digital service delivery improvements. With decisive action, leadership can channel recent progress and make continuous strides forward, positing themselves and their society for an enduring period of digital services prosperity.

Rami Riad Mourtada is a partner and associate director and Dr. Lars Littig is a managing director and partner at Boston Consulting Group

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