Citizens as 'customers' of government agencies

November 15, 2019 09:59
In order to attract more foreign investment, Guangzhou has come up with a plan to improve its business environment by digitizing the business registration process. Photo: Xinhua

For years, enterprises have invested in cloud-enabled digital innovation. Businesses reap the rewards in terms of business agility, efficiency, cost savings and improved customer experience. People who have enjoyed the benefits of digital innovation now have high expectations for all their interactions, as they no longer differentiate who they are dealing with, be it their bank, a retailer, or a government agency. They expect fast and frictionless interactions with all of their service providers, including their local government.

People-centric services are one of the most important trends in digital transformation in government organizations across the Asia-Pacific Japan (APJ) region. The Hong Kong Special Administration Region government is committed to providing personalized and digitalized services to its citizens. The city has made a lot of progress since the launch of the Hong Kong Smart City Blueprint in 2017.

Examples include a city dashboard that presents livelihood-related open data such as traffic, weather and air quality over interactive charts and maps (from, a public sector information portal). Citizens can download for free all available data about the city, and use them for commercial app development, personal analysis or academic study.

There have also been other inventions such as electronic identity, single e-lock scheme and voice recognition chatbots to make everyday life more convenient. It is said that the second version of the Smart City Blueprint will be released as early as 2020, which includes many more suggestions.

Here are some other great examples of how other countries and cities in the APJ region utilize technologies, such as cloud, Kubernetes and artificial intelligence (AI), to transform their organizations:

1. Singapore: An app for birth registrations

The development of this app required collaboration across at least six different government agencies and the development of a government technology toolbox. This toolbox – call it a bundle of joy, if you will – gave developers in government agencies access to data-sharing platforms, scalable hosting containers and a library of microservices, all delivered through the cloud.

While initially bringing these pieces together was clearly not a child’s play, the project is a solid example of how a successfully implemented hybrid cloud approach can break down departmental silos and accelerate innovation.

2. Abu Dhabi: Kubernetes containerization

At the other end of the scale, it is possible to make use of multiple clouds to streamline government services while enhancing their features and ensuring data remains secure.

The Abu Dhabi government consolidated more than 1,600 services into 80 end-to-end user journeys through Kubernetes-based container services and hybrid cloud infrastructure. This not only vastly simplified the user journey for citizens, but government units can now better share data among themselves and launch new citizen services faster than ever before.

3. Australia: Streamlined data center footprint, better experiences

State officials at the Victorian government in Australia knew they had to reduce their physical data center footprint and transform the delivery of public services for the digital age.

By connecting and securing applications through hybrid cloud infrastructure, more than 35,000 public servants across 21 departments now have faster, easier access to information, tools and services. Also, the new cloud-based solutions improve resilience, reliability and security of the organization’s core infrastructure. This allowed the local government to be more responsive to citizens’ needs while still being cost-effective.

4. Guangzhou: Simplifying administrative process for citizens and investors

Cities in the Greater Bay Area are accelerating their smart city plans as well. Take Guangzhou as an example. The city has launched automatic machines that can help citizens to pay tax, check social security insurance, apply for visas, register for marriage, and more. Citizens no longer need to line up at counters to perform these tasks. Biayun, one of Guangzhou’s districts, has installed its first batch of 100 machines this year. The second batch of 320 machines will be ready soon.

Guangzhou is also eager to attract foreign investment by digitalizing administrative processes. The city announced a 2.0 version of its plan to improve its business environment by digitizing the business registration process in October this year. When in effect, it will simplify procedures, lower costs and improve service quality for anyone starting a business in the city. The plan also states that the city will integrate technologies like AI, cloud computing, big data and Internet of Things (IoT) in the service industry. With new technologies and its focus on a better business environment, Guangzhou is on the right track to deepen its industrial upgrade and increase its competitive edge.

Delve deeper into these cases and one will realize that digital governments all tend to have centrally driven digital mandates, coupled with evolutionary steps taken to strengthen and fulfil that mandate year-on-year. Take, for example, South Korea, which has been moving e-government services to the cloud since 2015 as part of its Government 3.0 initiative. Or Australia, which in November 2018, unveiled its first digital transformation strategy for the next seven years.

Hybrid cloud, the next evolutionary step for information technology, provides government agencies with choices in where they assemble and run current and future workloads. Once implemented, a hybrid cloud architecture enables government agencies to move applications and workloads between private and public clouds, while keeping everything secure.

Delivering modern services for new generations of citizens will become more demanding. For governments embarking on their journey towards becoming a “digital government”, following a citizen-centric approach and treating citizens like customers is the ideal starting point.

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General Manager of VMware Hong Kong & Macau