As we mark a new decade, efforts to digitize governments continue to deepen across Southeast Asia, and with good reason.

Deepening Digital Government Efforts Across Southeast Asia

We are no longer at the early stages of digitization. Across industries, companies and organizations have become digital. And consumers (also citizens) – used to seamless interactions and conveniences from big techs such as Apple, Google and Amazon – have come to expect the same from their governments. At the same time, Industry 4.0, also known as the fourth industrial revolution, is well underway. To sustain a nation’s economic competitiveness, and drive continual positive social outcomes, the pace for technology innovation must keep up.

“Think of an economy as a human body, and the digital core as the heart. In this regard, data is the lifeblood.”

Data: Lifeblood of Digital Government

But this is not about digitizing more processes or offering more government services online. Neither is it about innovating in an ad-hoc manner. To reap the full potential of a digital economy, governments need to be digital from the core – with the right foundational technology infrastructure. And become capable of using data as a strategic asset.

To illustrate this, let me draw an analogy: Think of an economy as a human body, and the digital core as the heart. In this regard, data is the lifeblood. To ensure vitality and amplify the body’s ability to fuel growth, one requires a healthy blood flow.

To attain desired economic and societal outcomes – whether in education, health, employment, transportation, security, sustainability or justice – governments, and in turn, their economies, must become data driven. This is critical. And its importance is emphasized by the extent of the resources channeled into this outcome. For example, OECD has a guide on The Path to Becoming a Data-Driven Public Sector.

Data-Driven Government: What It Means

What does that mean pragmatically? How can we achieve data-driven governments, and in turn, data-driven economies?

Governments need to rethink how they work and engage with citizens and businesses, so they become more data-driven – from policy and planning to operations, and across service delivery to citizen engagement. This begins with questions such as “How can we drive our constituents to interact with us digitally so that we have data to fuel transformation in a sector, and across the economy?”

This step is key. As citizens and business engage with public sectors digitally, governments can collect valuable data for policies to be adjusted based on data, rather than by trial and error. Combined with intelligent technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, operational responses can become predictive and proactive, instead of reactive. While services become anticipatory and personalized, instead of one-size-fits-all.

Examples: Becoming Data-Driven

Some examples of data-driven public services include:

Important Reasons to Make Data-Driven Government Real

The Thai government has important motivations to become a data-driven government and to make Thailand a data-driven economy.

Enabling the EEC Aspiration: The Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) initiative, conceived as part of Thailand 4.0, is one such reason. Covering Rayong, Chonburi, and Chachoengsao provinces, with a total area of 13,000 square kilometers, the EEC will offer modern and efficient infrastructure such as deep seaports, airports, rail systems, highways, and industrial estates, as well as a skilled labor pool, plus a leading location for tourism. This large-scale program cutting across government ministries, businesses and nonprofit organizations require data as its lifeblood to succeed.

Supporting Tourism Goals: Ambitious tourism goals are another. For the fiscal year of 2018, the Thai government allocated THB 8.5 billion (USD 265 million) to develop tourism in all dimensions – including an emphasis on respect for the environment and geographical balance. It is hence investing in efforts to spread tourists out across a greater range of sites so that there is no overcrowding or environmental stress in popular areas. To that end, the Thai government has launched a new tourism app, TAGTHAI. It’s even funding domestic tourists to less known tourism sites via an e-payment system. For the overall effort to flourish, data is too needed for informed decision-making.

Turning an Aging Workforce into a Boon: Thailand, like many of its SEA neighbors, faces an aging workforce. This makes the digitization critical in the face of its EEC and tourism goals, as well as the overarching Thailand 4.0 ambitions. AI, machine learning and robotic process automation (RPA) can be used to direct a contracting workforce to areas which provides greater value-add to the economy. Furthermore, by adopting the right technologies and innovations, an Asian Development Bank (ADB) study has showed that aging economies can turn demographic challenges into opportunities.

Collaborative Approaches Drive Success

Indeed, for Thailand 4.0 goals to come to fruition, the government must first become a digital and data-driven government. In turn, key sectors such as national logistics and tourism will digitize and become data driven. These series of efforts will then cascade across the country – for Thailand to prosper.

Fortunately, there’s no need for government agencies to tackle data-driven transformations in isolation today. Increasingly, there are community-based approaches that includes co-innovation across federal, state and local governments, as well as with technology partners, nonprofits and other relevant businesses.

Collaborative partners often have a wealth of experience to draw on which reduce risk and accelerate transformation. Working with different stakeholders also promote ownership of outcomes.

Danairat T., Digital Transformation and Enterprise Architecture