Data creation is one of the most evident and natural results of IT adoption in any public sector organization. Adding more IT systems to government departments will undoubtedly increase data production. However, this raw data needs to be processed to be meaningful for decision-makers, leading to the development of a data-driven policymaking culture. Good governance is based on sound data, which can lead to good decisions. On the other hand, insufficient data causes irrational decisions, which results in poor management.
The promise of faster, simpler operations requiring little to no human interaction comes with IT adoption. This implies that the government can assist its citizens without bias or discrimination. In addition, this ensures universal and straightforward access to government facilities for the general public and involves remote, paperless, and cashless transactions with the government.
The Digital Transformation of Punjab
With a population of over 100 million, Pakistan’s Punjab Province presents a significant challenge in maintaining social harmony and peace. Punjab’s ten-year journey toward digital transformation is astoundingly astonishing and deserving of share. Throughout this journey, I have played a significant role in the delivery and implementation of more than 250 technology-based reform projects and initiatives.
Two of these projects, in particular, have been incredibly satisfying: The 17 government departments working together to combat dengue in Punjab were tracked using smartphones by the Dengue Monitoring Platform. To date, this system has reported over 100 million activities.
The second was the effective implementation of the e-transfer system, which led to the computerization and automation of all police stations in Punjab, which revealed thousands of openings in the police department. The Punjab Police’s employee personnel files were converted to digital format, allowing transfer and posting orders to be created electronically. As a result, numerous open vacancies were found. In addition, the 36 districts of Punjab’s complaints registration process, the entire lifecycle of criminal and civil cases, and the records of more than a million criminals and suspects were all digitalized. The systems in Sindh and Balochistan Province, which have copies of this practice, communicate digitally. Due to these linked systems, around 100,000 criminals have been located and apprehended.
There are eight obstacles Pakistan must overcome to complete its digital transformation, notwithstanding the advantages that are adopting IT in the public sector would provide.
- Workplace morals and culture
The fundamental difficulty arises when technology is introduced into the government ecosystem, whether in software solutions or digital infrastructure. The disruption of the status quo is the real cause of technological resistance, not technophobia. Technology seeks to increase responsibility, visibility, and transparency for all stakeholders, yet most tend to react negatively. Therefore, careful management of this social transformation is required from a professional in organizational behavior or cultural change.
2. Absence of domain expertise
On the execution level, incompetence is pervasive. Departmental business regulations are either nonexistent or have lost all relevance. The parts of domain knowledge are spread out throughout numerous functional units, like puzzle pieces. Sign-offs on project deliverables will thus always be difficult for immaterial software.
3. Regular Leadership Transitions
The department’s top leadership has a crucial role to play. First, they must guide the entire digital transformation process to a logical conclusion; otherwise, their time and efforts will be well-spent when top management changes and projects that generate small returns during a single tenure may phase out and become stuck in limbo. Panic, irrational demands from the delivery crew, and needless hurry follow. Here, expectations need to be controlled with extreme care.
4. Delays in Funds Release
The approval and release of cash for government projects are very laborious and drawn out. As a result, the visibility of a government’s internal financial flow at any given time could be more precise. As a result, payments need a more accurate timeline. This significantly affects the engagement, performance, and morale of all parties involved in working with the government and may dramatically hinder hiring top vendors and contractors.
5. There are no specific rules for software procurement
There are additional maintenance and support issues for the software systems that have already been given. According to government regulations, whatever is delivered must be a physical good or service. Software delivery does not have a separate delivery category. Therefore, software maintenance and support contracts are frequently handled similarly, yet it is highly improbable that two software engineers would approach the same problem again. Even if they do, their algorithmic implementations will likely differ. However, best practices and coding standards can be adhered to as part of a software company culture and might or might not be practiced in another organization. Software maintenance and support contracts must be handled differently as a result.
The software developer who created it should ideally be located and awarded the contract. Otherwise, maintenance and support should also be contracted out to the business that received the initial development contract. Year after year, a permanent financial outlay would need to be set aside. Otherwise, the departmental personnel must put up with perpetually annoying buggy software.
6. No National Data Governance Policy
Collaboration about data is still a challenge, especially for internal use by government agencies. Why, for instance, can’t police provide public prosecutors and courts with an authentic digital record of an FIR? Why can’t jails, police, prosecution, probation, petitioners, or respondents get court orders digitally? We need a national data governance policy that outlines the protocols for data backup, storage, anonymization, sharing with internal and external parties, and monetization. With one, there will always be more administrative delays in creating public policy and providing services to the public.
7. Context-Driven Digital Payments Gateway
A context-driven digital payments gateway is necessary for capturing and documenting all economic activities, trade, and commerce. Still, it is crucial to recognize and comprehend the context of each payment. Is it in violation of an invoice or contract? Is it a full or partial payment? Is it a payment made for the provision of goods or a service? In a perfect world, all penalties, fees, and taxes would solely be processed electronically, never using actual currency.
Once developed and fully operational, this will give the government a much-needed way to assess the success of its tax policy, including whether it has increased revenue or decreased it. Similarly, e-payments at commodity markets will provide accurate information on regional and event-specific demand for critical commodities. Consequently, by establishing a more excellent balance between supply and demand, these goods’ prices might stabilize.
8. Reliable and Secure Online Access
Last but not least, finding a safe, quick, and dependable communication network can be complex, especially in small towns, rural areas, farms, and on highways and motorways. To have any real impact on Pakistan’s digitization efforts, this is a crucial prerequisite. We will only ever have thorough, trustworthy, and timely information about events on the ground, which is necessary for sound decision-making at the top unless equitable internet access exists throughout Pakistan.
Continuing the Journey of Digital Transformation
One cannot overstate the importance of moving Pakistan’s digital transformation forward. Extensive data management, artificial intelligence, and good human-computer interface are the three main areas that will speed up the e-governance process. Pakistan, the world’s fifth most populous nation, is well-positioned to utilize technology for efficient policymaking, government, and service delivery.