A point of view on a research topic of the SAP Institute for Digital Government.
‘Naturally connected services’, the silent hand of government operating within existing transactions, ending fraud, improving services and driving down cost in one fell swoop. However, in all honesty many of us talk about naturally connected without really trying to define it. What does seem clear is naturally connected is not just more of the same. Government has been embedding itself in transactions for generations, shuffling the regulatory burden from one player to the next. What we need naturally connected to do is end the merry go round of burden shifting from citizen to business to government and back again. Therefore, the question is how we know when something is naturally connected and perhaps more importantly when it is not.
I think we need to put some boundaries on the very concept of naturally connected. Firstly, it has to reduce the burden of regulatory compliance for all parties involved in the transaction, not just shift the cost from one party to the next. Secondly, it should be invisible to those parties, removing the need for anyone to be aware that the regulatory activity is occurring. Thirdly, it almost certainly requires a digital connection between the parties involved in the transaction and the government entity. Finally, we need to recognise that for the full potential to be reached citizens and business need to be actively engaged in the process of defining and delivering these naturally connected services.
Having laid out the parameters for naturally connected services, the questions that flow from it are both practical, which services should we deliver in a naturally connected manner and philosophical, how do governments stay relevant in their citizen’s lives if they become invisible? We will need to grapple with both sets of questions as we move more services into a naturally connected model. Some of the answers will be easy, for instance the use of the naturally connected services to address reporting of a child’s birth reducing the regulatory burden on the family at a point in time when stress is high and time is short would be a given. Making use of naturally connected services to monitor family behaviour and using that information to push a range of government services, whilst apparently a given raise complex questions relating to privacy, accuracy and use of client information without their permission. What appears inevitable is that the growing level of interconnected systems and transactions will provide the technical infrastructure required to support naturally connected services.
Governments are already participants in this technical infrastructure often facilitated by investment in simplifying Tax and Revenue collection and compliance monitoring activities. As these networks have matured government has been a late adopter, challenged by the issues raised earlier around appropriate use of citizen data and the right mix of services to deliver first. We have seen stumbles on the path, as early adopters have overstepped the acceptance of their citizens. Ultimately, however government will leverage this infrastructure simply because it must. Ever shrinking budgets and the promise of simpler interactions with government will drive the imperative to adapt. The challenge for government is to realise the benefits of naturally connected services without debasing the trust and relationships that they are dependent on.
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