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Digital government, or Government 4.0, refers to the use of digital technologies for modernization strategies. GCC countries, among other developing countries, have undergone the transformation which is fundamental for internal and external government relations, private organizations, businesses, and individuals.

In terms of accessing data, services, and content through the government, digital government transformation lies in support of a country’s overall national development vision and strategy as well as the achievement of sustainability.

This requires a holistic approach that is value-driven and institutionalized across all levels of government and society, aimed at promoting digital inclusion. This means everyone should be able to access new technologies to improve their well-being.

In line with this, the rise of the Government 4.0 model is becoming evident. The digitization of public service administration to optimize work processes and systems, and eventually leading to operational efficiencies and boosted productivity, are observed regionally and globally.

ICT, digital infrastructure, and other digital tools are utilized to shape the way governments work. It is not only another software that civil servants have to learn and get familiarized with. Instead, it is about rethinking the workflow and the processes through an in-depth and agile approach.

With digital government, it’s all about breaking down silos and enabling a collaborative team that can execute a well-thought, strategic organizational upgrade for governments.

A quick look at GCC governments

The six high-income GCC states namely Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE have high internet penetration and high literacy rates. As per the 2020 UN e-government survey, UAE is ranked highest on the e-government development index (EDGI) and is part of the V3 rating class. Bahrain and Saudi Arabia follow with V2 rankings, while Kuwait and Oman have V1 rankings, and Qatar is in the highest (HV) rating class of the high EGDI group.

Investment in telecommunication infrastructure (TII) is the fastest means of improving a country’s EGDI ranking, whereas online services (OSI) and human capital (HCI) also affect a healthy and functioning digital government system in the long run.

Below are key digital government policies being carried out within the GCC:

Bahrain. In early 2022, Bahrain launched the 2022-2026 telecommunications, information technology, and digital economy strategy. This GCC country aims to increase the number of ICT start-ups by 20%, automate an additional 200 government services, and train at least 20,000 citizens on cybersecurity.

Kuwait. Kuwait is ambitiously steering towards achieving the country’s Vision 2035 of ‘New Kuwait’. To empower the government sector for digital transformation, Tamkeen, an IT assessment initiative, was launched to understand areas of technological strength and weakness.

Oman. The e.oman 2030 strategy focuses on making IT industrial development an enabler to society and individuals as well as enhancing e-government services. Spearheaded by the Information Technology Authority (ITA), this GCC country plans to digitalize around 59 public services by 2022.

Qatar. The Qatar e-government 2020 strategy is complemented by the national broadband plan, the eHealth strategy, and other sector-specific plans. In addition, it contributes substantially to each of the four pillars and objectives of the Qatar National Vision 2030.

Saudi Arabia. In 2021, KSA launched the E-Government Regulatory Framework and created the Digital Government Authority (DGA). This GCC country currently offers 6,000 e-Government services and records 3 billion transactions per year – an exhibition of a proper digital government roadmap.

UAE.  In the UAE digital government strategy 2025, there are clearly defined KPIs with ambitious targets such as having 100% of services digitized by 2023. Moreover, the objective is a 100% very high level of maturity for all UAE government entities on both federal and local levels by 2025.

In this age of technological evolution, changing societal needs, and unexpected crises, it is crucial to address how governments can best use digital technologies to increase productivity and resilience.

Enhancing the quality of public services can let citizens have an inclusive, equitable, sustainable, and trustworthy experience. Thus, becoming a digitally-mature government requires good governance as a foundation while being transparent and responsible.

BCG data reveals that driven by a strong foundation, the KSA, UAE, and Qatar rose to the top quartile globally for both digital services offered and their adoption. The strong adoption of digital government services in the GCC are driven by a high satisfaction rate as a study shows that GCC citizens are happy with their government services’ convenience (e.g., understandable language, accessibility from multiple platforms, ease to access, etc.) and understand their benefits.

Smart apps

An obvious manifestation of the digital government initiative of GCC countries was during the COVID-19 pandemic. Lockdowns, quarantines, and distancing requirements pushed governments to deliver a comprehensive and compelling digital experience that will make people’s lives better and safer.

Contract tracing apps were launched in 2020, ranging from the UAE’s Al Hosn, Kuwait’s Shlonik, and Saudi’s Tawakkalna. These apps covered a full suite of COVID-related needs including real-time information, valid access to enter certain establishments, vaccination registry and records, and reporting of suspected cases.

Without a doubt, the unfortunate pandemic accelerated the adoption of digitally-enabled government services and fundamentally shifted citizens’ expectations for how services can and should be delivered.

Another common trend is jumping to one-stop-shop/unified services through smart apps. As we know, digital government services stimulate online engagement, helping increase citizen involvement, improving the quality of the services, and raising efficiency.

Hukoomi, Qatar’s official online information and e-services government portal, has grown exponentially in recent years, offering around 400 services of which 150 can be completed electronically. Kuwait’s Sahel App is a unified government application for e-services for various government agencies where residents can perform their services and transactions easily, quickly, and effectively according to the highest quality standards.

In the UAE, Dubai has the UAE PASS, the digital national identity and account for citizens, residents, and visitors giving access to 5,000 government and private services nationwide while Abu Dhabi has established a one-stop-shop for all government services, referred to as TAMM. It is an entire ecosystem of digital capabilities and offers a growing portfolio of more than 500 digital services.

To improve the customer experience, governments have been building unified service delivery platforms, and it is among the key to achieving enhanced customer experience.

Key pillars for digital government transformation

"The gains from shifting to a more digital economy are exponential and governments should do everything they can to remove barriers preventing such a transition. The sooner and faster the push, the bigger the gains," said Ferid Belhaj, vice president for MENA, World Bank.

With this in mind, there are essential aspects to be considered to fulfill a digital government’s duty:

Digital infrastructure. To promote the development of the digital state, a high-speed, reliable digital infrastructure is required. This is why advanced telecom networks like 5G, data centers, and the cloud have become the backbone of a digital economy.

Organizational and governance structures. Specific government entities should be held responsible for driving the entire digital transformation process. A recent example is the establishment of the UAE council for digital economy that will support doubling the contribution of the digital economy to the UAE’s GDP by 2031.

Optimized processes. A more flexible IT infrastructure powered by AI, ML, and other automated software techniques is vital for the interoperability and information-sharing within service-oriented architectures. Chatbots and APIs can also help citizens self-serve.

Data-and-user driven. Data is a strategic asset that should be kept secure to generate public value throughout the service design and delivery cycles. With the participation and feedback of users, a digital government can know if its services and processes are effective or not.

Digital skills. A workforce that is equipped with the knowledge and capability of handling new technologies is pivotal to the digital government's success. A culture of collaboration and innovation must be at the core to be able to attract, engage, and expand digital delivery.

Towards a digitally-inclusive society

Digital technology has become a typical part of our daily life and this has opened the world of digital government services to bring a simple online experience coupled with efficiency and innovation for each citizen.

Hours of waiting in long lines and filling out piles of paperwork have been transformed into online forms and easy-to-follow instructions. From the comfort of our homes or on the go on our smart devices, e-government technology aids in the efficiency of document verification processes and data collection.

In the post-COVID world, Government 4.0 will become more in demand, making it a continuous and collective action to thoroughly digitize public administration, automate public service workflows, enhance cybersecurity, strengthen regulatory platforms, and support society’s technological needs.

The way forward is a new digital normal in responding to global challenges and pursuing sustainable development, and GCC governments are testing and deploying digital and exponential technologies to do that. A brilliant example is Dubai becoming the world's first government to turn 100% paperless.

Focus and interest in data warehouses, cloud platforms, enhanced data, cybersecurity, smart devices and applications, and big data analytics will also play a critical role in driving governments to deliver on the digital government promise.

By catalyzing these changes, digital can potentially contribute double to the Middle East region’s GDP in the years to come. In the GCC alone, this could represent a $50 billion increment, compared to the roughly $15 billion currently spent on digital transformation-enabling technologies.

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