table

AS T&T enters a new phase of economic activity while continuing to face the challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic, it would be appropriate to discuss how the public sector can accelerate its digital transformation and technology adoption to improve the ease of doing business to meet future needs. In zooming out and taking a macro look at the topic, the United Nations has recorded that the global Digital Government policy response has been swift and multi-faceted (see figure).

Refocusing on the Trinidad and Tobago Government, it is well known that, by definition, it is BOTH the single largest employer AND buyer in the country. We therefore expect that it would take the lead in using technology to improve the operational environment so that its employees, public servants, can operate more effectively, and so that its suppliers can transact with it more efficiently. And perhaps more importantly, Government should lead by example in promoting the highest possible levels of customer service excellence with both its major groups - individuals and businesses. In summary, Government should be a “model user” reducing friction in BOTH processes AND transactions between its agencies and its customers.

How then can we move towards frictionless digital government? It is our view that Government should be thinking and operating with a #DigitalFirst mindset and approach.

Most of the friction between Government agencies and businesses and citizens can be found within the extensive processes that are currently flagged as mandatory in order for services to be delivered. These processes incur costs (both literally and figuratively) in terms of compliance and are usually derived from documented AND undocumented rules and procedures. While it is recognised that legislation and regulations generate this friction, it is also apparent that many of these obligations also result from rules and procedures that exist because “that’s how things have always been done”.

A key, and obvious, area where the level of friction can be reduced is by moving as many paper-driven transactions as possible to a paperless environment. It is to be noted that the partially proclaimed Electronic Transactions Act (2011), and its amendments under The Exchequer And Audit (Electronic Funds Transfer) Regulations, 2015, through the principle of “functional equivalence”, gives legal recognition to information or records in electronic form. Electronic records (including documents) should, therefore, not be deemed to be without legal effect on the grounds that they are in electronic form.

Logically, accompanying this transformation should be a Government-wide approach where the digital channel becomes the primary, preferred or default channel for service delivery— “digital by default”. Government services delivered through digital channels should be so easy to use, so straightforward, so convenient, so frictionless, that businesses and citizens will view this channel as their preferred method of interacting with Government.

It is to be noted here, however, that an inability to access services digitally should not inadvertently disadvantage any stakeholder.

Appropriate supplementary actions, whether through digital skills development or the deployment of access facilities, for example, must be provided to assist users who need additional support.

Another focus of the Government should be on the concept of what is known globally as the “once only principle”. This is where relevant, standard data is captured once by the Government and then, in accordance with data protection principles and regulations, and explicit, informed consent by users, shared and exchanged electronically with other agencies requiring the data to deliver services.

This approach would promote greater efficiencies within Government, and improve the speed and quality of service delivery, including reduction of human error, faster processing and turnaround of service requests and the reduction in low-value interactions between service requesters and customer service personnel.

Simultaneously, this thrust would need to be aligned with a necessary and urgent drive towards the long-delayed goals of enterprise-wide data classification, inter-agency interoperability and technology standardisation. While space constraints do not allow us to comprehensively address the expected digital outputs that would result from this approach, a select few would include:

• Electronic authentication framework—including aspects such as “data hubs”, unique identifiers, biometric authentication and digital identity management services

Other key or “foundational” shared services including:

•Digital payments

• Electronic forms

• Secure messaging & data exchange

• Common development environment

• Release of open government data—catalysing the development of a local digital services industry by promoting the use, reuse and free distribution of anonymised, open datasets.

In conclusion, as Trinidad and Tobago comes face to face with the new reality and a future that has been reset by the Covid-19 pandemic, Government must recognise its critical role. Establishing and nurturing multi-stakeholder partnerships—especially between the public and private sectors—will help with driving and achieving digital cooperation across many key areas (as indicated, in part, by the following table).

These partnerships should be focused on developing the requisite digital platforms and tools, sharing knowledge and expertise and, where necessary, providing incentives, to support the digital transformation process.

This is what will be required to jumpstart Trinidad and Tobago’s digital economy so that it can not only survive, but compete and succeed in the post-Covid-19 future.

The T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce thanks Tracy F Hackshaw, ICT & Digital Economy Strategist for contributing this article. See more of Mr Hackshaw at https://linkedin.com/in/tracyhackshaw and Twitter: https://twitter.com/thackshaw

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