Singapore’s Smart Nation initiative is already reshaping the delivery of public services and citizens’ experience of dealing with government. But, as digital transformation continues to radically reshape how we all live and work, and citizens’ digital expectations continue to grow, how will government’s role evolve? I see two main ways that digital technologies will decisively change the role of government: one is how services are designed and delivered, and the second is government moving into a new space as an enabler and ecosystem provider that could change how entire sectors and industries operate. 

Let’s look at the first of these: service provider. Of course, governments have provided services to citizens for decades. But how they do it is changing dramatically in the context of a rapidly digitalising society. Let me explain. Rather than looking at simply what individual services are provided, the shift that we see is to re-examine service provision in the context of citizens’ experiences at different stages of their lives. 

We call this a ‘moment of truth’ perspective. It means looking at the different clusters of services that meet citizens needs at particular stages of their lives and delivering them in a more holistic way. Technology is enabling this, by removing barriers between silos within government and sharing data more effectively. But even among the frontrunners like Singapore, there is more that needs to be done to close the gap between citizen expectations and the services they receive. The solution? Make data sharing easier between agencies (something Singapore is actively pursuing) and continue to develop holistic policies that bring together service design around the needs of citizens rather than the administrative requirements of specific agencies. 

The second major change that I see for governments is a more dramatic departure: the ability to act as an enabling platform. 

The rapid evolution of technologies will make redundant many of the administrative functions and processes that governments perform today. Advances in automation and data science will largely eradicate the need for governments to manage and process information. 

But rather than individual technologies – chatbots, blockchain, IoT etc. – making this possible, it’s their combinatorial effect that will create a step-change in delivery. Singapore’s Public service leaders agree[1], with 89 per cent seeing opportunities for innovation breakthroughs arising from the multiplier effect of technology.  Many – if not all – government services will be delivered to citizens invisibly, automatically and seamlessly. If that’s the case, what does government’s key role become? In my view, government’s move towards providing platforms will enable other parties across sectors to achieve social and economic outcomes. 

Government will play the role of trusted, neutral third party creating the space in which others can exchange, operate and transact. It’s what Singapore has already done, for example, with the development of the new National Trade Platform. Built and managed by Singapore and enriched with government data, the platform is designed to facilitate new forms of interaction and exchange around customs and trade that no private sector player would have been able to create independently. In much the same way, the recent signing of an MoU[2] between Singapore and HK Monetary Authorities is paving the way for a similar platform for trade and trade finance that has the potential to support many different forms of financial activity. 

And it’s easy to see how this could extend to other sectors with multiple players and stakeholders, such as tourism. But the key is that government’s role is essential to get things started. Singapore citizens already recognise the need for new forms of co-operation to solve complex problems. Nearly 80 per cent[3] of them think that government agencies could better tackle complex social issues (e.g, youth unemployment, integration of refugees, support of entrepreneurship) by collaborating with companies, non-government organisations, and/or citizens. 

But playing this new role will make new demands on government. It means a big shift for civil servants in the kinds of behaviour for which they will be rewarded. Attitudes to risk will have to become more commercial and the willingness and ability to engage and partner with private sector organisations effectively will also need to come to the fore. 

Digital is creating new roles for government, evolving what they do today and opening entirely new possibilities. All governments need to take note and start preparing for their new roles without delay or risk being left behind. 

For more insights about Accenture’s role supporting Singapore’s Smart Nation Initiative visit us here. 

See this post on LinkedIn: Governing in the New: Why Digital Means New Roles for Governments. 

[1] Accenture Research: Government as a Platform (GaaP) Readiness Index 2017 


[3] Accenture Research: Government as a Platform (GaaP) Readiness Index 2017 

Ng Wee Wei

Country Managing Director – Accenture Singapore

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