The challenge is to find the right balance and overcome hurdles in each country’s own circumstances of national agendas and priorities.

In the recent past, mature markets and emerging economies alike are making nationwide digital transformation a priority. For instance, South Korea launched its National Strategic Smart Cities Program in 2018 to drive the development of smart cities across the country, while Vietnam is making headway on their National Digital Transformation Programme with a vision for the country’s digital sector to contribute 30% of the nation’s GDP by 2030.

For this transformation to be successful in a meaningful way, there are a few pertinent challenges: legacy infrastructures, disproportionate access to the Internet, and cybersecurity concerns. With the private sector setting high standards for virtual experiences, peoples’ expectations of the quality of public services have risen.

Simply put, citizens want to access public services through one easy process. Yet, the reality is that governments serve hundreds of entities, making it difficult to streamline siloed systems. Compounding this issue is legacy infrastructure that impedes the delivery of high-quality virtual experiences to the masses. Like the private sector, outdated hardware and software is still being used within some public sectors in the Asia Pacific region, leaving room for inefficiencies and security vulnerabilities.

The implementation of public services is also sometimes constrained by internet connectivity, and the resources required to maintain such systems can divert resources away from other critical digital programs.      

Therefore, APAC countries are already taking steps to upgrade their networks with cloud-ready, efficient, scalable solutions to support provision of the innovative public services that will be expected of them, such as smart cities, intelligent transportation, and enhanced public safety. 

Driving digital inclusion 

The delivery of high-quality, trustworthy digital public services can improve the lives of APAC’s four billion citizens. So, there is the question of inclusion. APAC is home to some of the world’s technological pioneers, but the region also grapples with uneven technology infrastructure and significant skill gaps. These challenges are particularly pronounced in rural areas, where connectivity is often limited or non-existent.

For example, although mobile broadband networks cover around 96% of the population in the region, only 44% of the population is connected to the Internet. While governments can potentially supercharge public services through digitalization, it is only effective if it can reach all citizens.

Thankfully, initiatives are being rolled out to enable the smooth delivery of public services to all. In the Philippines, the Free-Wi-Fi-for-All Program aims to provide free internet access in public places such as schools and hospitals, while the Tech4ED project provides digital literacy training and access to e-government services in rural and underserved areas. 

At the heart of it all, investing in high-quality, resilient connectivity infrastructure is key to powering such initiatives. According to the World Economic Forum every US$1 dollar of ICT investment drives US$13 dollars in GDP output. Crucially, enacting scalable networks at the edge is key to achieving wider coverage across APAC — to deliver quality experiences to end-users and meet the needs of new compute-intensive, latency-sensitive cloud-native applications that come with digitalization.

Many governments in APAC are already implementing progressive policies, but closing the digital divide is not solely the government’s responsibility, and must involve the entire business ecosystem.

Matthew Vesperman, Vice President (Asia Pacific), Ciena

Earning the trust of the citizenry

Digitalization does not just mean easier access to services. It also raises concerns over cybersecurity, data privacy, and even national security. Amid the rise of cyberattacks globally, there is a clear imperative to improve governance of data and strengthen public trust in the delivery of digital public services.

To do so starts with implementing solutions like data center interconnect (DCI) that can help keep data safe by enabling resource-sharing across multiple data centers for better sustainability. This will result in greater computing power without needing to build more data centers — especially useful for some land or power-limited APAC hubs. With data sovereignty concerns growing, governments are building networks that are secure and intelligent enough to circumvent any cyberattack.

Governments across the region are already making it a priority to put in place strong, consolidated, and adaptable networks and infrastructure that will lay the foundation for the region’s transformation. With a strong infrastructure, access to public services for citizens of all strata of society will be strengthened — helping everyone to participate in a digital future.