Global Chief Public Services Industry Scientist, Enterprise Business Group of Huawei Technologies Co Limited, Mr Hong-Eng Koh, in this interview with EHIME ALEX, speaks of how Nigeria can maximise eGovernment adoption
Briefly define eGovernment in relation to Nigeria?
Nigeria is a huge country 36 different states plus the Federal Capital Territory. Digital transformation is important and I believe the new technology is bringing a different status, a new transformation of data and so on.
If you look at the eGovernment today, it is not sufficient. With data and new technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, you can actually have the information to make a country more competitive. If you look at Singapore, we are such a small country, half the size of Lagos, and our population is one-fifth of Lagos; yet we are on the global map, probably because of the use of technology and data. I truly believe in Nigeria because it is huge and people everywhere. It is important that we also use technology to improve the livelihood of the people and make businesses more competitive. That way, it will make the country to be citizen-centric or business-centric. Given that your ministries at the federal or state levels can offer eGovernance services to the people and businesses, they tend to be very slow. This is departmental-centric as opposed to user-centric. For example, if you want to start a business in any city or state in Nigeria, I believe you would probably have to apply for a few permits from different governments and departments. This is not encouraging the people to set up business, whether it is a Nigerian or a foreigner. So, it is important for the government to have a service-oriented platform where you put all the information together. The way the (Singaporean) government is organised is sort of transparent to the user, and this is what I meant by citizen-centric.
Basically, because you want to make these people more successful, you remove your bureaucracy. Of course, with technology and data, we are not saying that you must merge government departments. Government needs to have different professional departments, but with the use of data, you can make them appear as one and be more user-centric to the citizens, foreigners and enterprises.
What framework has Huawei laid down to achieve eGovernance in Nigeria?
I think leadership is important. Over the last 30 years, I have seen many simple computerised projects or complex digital transformation projects. Usually, strong leadership is the first step. Nigeria is a big country, not like Singapore that is a small country; so your eGovernment projects or initiatives or transformation should be geared towards the state or city levels. I think, at the state level, the governor will play a very important role to push for it. Leadership is important, and in your leadership, I think we should have more local talents and to develop local applications as well. I believe that in Nigeria state differs from state. So, to bring out the local flavours of your governors, it is important that the applications and services are developed locally. This will help you to continue to sustain investments and innovations, which are important as part of the transformation journey.
You cannot have applications without the underlying technology. The most basic is connectivity. Last year, not just Nigeria, developed countries had the problem of connectivity because many people were working, studying, and shopping from home. If we have the connectivity, especially in the North, it will help to reduce the digital divide. But once you have the connectivity, you need to have the computing platforms. This is where I think Huawei is strong, offering you the platform with different enablers for the locals to develop their services on their own.
What challenges has Huawei encountered as regards eGovernment and what do you intend to do with respect to Nigeria?
It is not just about Nigeria, it is global, and it is not just about Huawei. If you look at traditional governments’ journey in terms of technology, they tend to do it at different times of the journey with different procurement systems. This resulted in silos of system, typically in a government, whether it is a federal, state or small city. The moment you are silo, you are able to move to citizen-centric, user-centric or business-centric. So, the challenges most companies, not just Huawei, face is how to bring all these silos together on a platform. It is not done overnight. We still want to respect the traditional legacy system, of course, to protect investment because the government must have spent some money, so you still maintain them. Some of them could be mission critical; so you may also want to switch them off suddenly.
So, for a start, you can have a platform where all the data from these production systems can be replicated on the platform that I described earlier, where Huawei can help. On top, you can develop a mixed generation of services that are citizen-centric. This challenge of becoming a silo is one of the major problems and this silo is not just a technical challenge because even if we can solve the technical issue, a lot of time, we look to the government to ensure that a lot of these ministries and departments are willing to share information. I am not defending any country in particular, but it is common in the business of governments where ministries and departments hold dear to their systems and data they do not want to share. This is why the top leadership is important. Top leadership is not just about forcing the ministries to share data, but to show the value that one plus one is greater than two. If your department shares data with my department, the total result is going to be beneficial to both you and I beyond the original data that we have. There are many such case studies around to create the value and awareness that different ministries and departments are being less bureaucratic and willing to share. So, when I say silos, one is the government and the other is a technical issue.
Looking at digital transformation and eGovernment, how do we connect the dots?
Fact is, eGovernment is very traditional. Therefore, we are looking at the services of the government to the citizens, businesses and employees, so we begin with G-C (government to citizen), G-E (government to enterprise), G-B (government to business) or even G-G (government to government). One case I would like to use is the United Nations’ five stages of eGovernment. The very first stage is presence – a simple presence. A particular department or ministry has a website, that is a first start. The other extreme, the fifth stage, is what is called integrated. It means you want different ministries or departments to work together so they can offer you a citizen-centric service. So, you do not need to go to five different websites just to get your licence to start a company. If you are citizen-centric and integrated, you can simply go to one portal and get it done. So, eGovernment is what we have been seeing since the last 15 years. Singapore did it many years ago.
As I always say, government’s customers are usually unwilling. What do I mean by unwilling? Your transactions with the government are usually a means to an end. You are required by regulations to register a business before you can float a company.
Digital transformation is not just going online or computerization; it is using technology to transform what we are doing to bring out the value for the people.
Beyond the fifth stage of the United Nations, this is where I came up with the sixth stage of personalised service with digital transformation. This is a stage where the government creates a lot of value. Because when these businessmen apply for a licence to open a restaurant, it has provided a lot of data and information. The government could have used the data to do some analytics and offer services back to the businessmen. Yeah, your application to open a Japanese restaurant has been approved; here are all your permits. Government can, since you are opening a Japanese restaurant, offer you some information, maybe where you can find many Japanese to open a restaurant and attract more income.
This is a case where the government is proactive and offering personalised service through the applicant. It is different from the integrated approach because up to integrated approach, you are converting the unwilling customer to a more satisfied and willing customer. If you go beyond the data analytics in digital transformation, you can literally make this unwilling customer willing. Imagine, in the future, I know that the government is capable of providing me these services, I will be willingly to apply for my colleague, knowing that at the end you are offering me information insight to make my business better or to reduce the cost of my business operation.
What other message do you have for Nigeria?
I think you (Nigerians) are famous for a few things. One of them is Nollywood. You have a young population in Nigeria. The younger generation is tech-savvy. Tech-savvy is good if you are into social media. I think it is great to be tech-savvy and you can use the skill-set to actually grow into technology, innovation and to be techno-product. I believe with a population of over 200 million, even with a small percentage, we can create a lot of stars in technology.
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