Asia’s public sector efficiency earned a poor standing in a recent UN study. Here are five ways to break the trend.

Local governments are seldom known for their swift responses to queries from residents. From potholes that never get filled, to broken streetlights that never get replaced—it sometimes feels impossible to find the right channels and reach the proper authorities.

In the case of pandemic management, public sector organizations have been stepping up efforts to transform government-citizen communication to improve everything from participation and engagement opportunities to resource sharing, to protecting vulnerable groups.

How can technology be utilized to improve citizen engagement, and how can these innovations lead to benefits across the private sector, further down the line?

Five tech enablers

Here are some ways that technology can improve government-citizen communication, and how they can offer trickle-down opportunities for the private sector.

  1. Provide simple, straightforward online services
    According to the United Nations, the digital readiness of various governments in Asia comes out at 26%, which is less than half of the world’s top performer: Europe.

    One way to improve the situation is to introduce online services that are powered by voice-assisted AI. Such services will improve digital inclusion by allowing citizens to perform tasks quickly and easily. This includes obtaining official documents, making requests outside working hours, as well as arranging meetings with the right people.

    In Singapore, for example, the national authentication system SingPass allows residents to readily access a myriad government services—everything from birth and marriage certificates to property and vehicle registrations. Convenience aside, security is also built on the app level, which means that personal data of Singapore citizens and permanent residents are well protected from potential breaches. Yet, the system has yet to allow voice-assisted transactions.

    Such a function will undoubtedly lower the digital barriers for users—which has benefits that transcend the public sector: for example, simplifying the process for private businesses to obtain official documentation will make it easier for financial institutions to verify their customers, which is a key function for account opening and maintenance.
  2. Maintain ‘live’ voice assistance for low-tech citizens
    Implementing online services is all well and good, but the Asia Pacific region continues to suffer from a severe digital divide. About 52% of the region’s 4.3bn people continue to lack internet access. This means that a significant population still relies on traditional methods such as phone calls to access various government services.

    Technology can be used to bridge that divide. For example, instead of relying on the caller to identify which department or person to connect to, interactive voice responses can pre-qualify these incoming calls and route them to the right service provider.

    Such features are especially critical for customer-facing agencies. Interactive voice responses can  enhance efficiency and improve the overall customer experience and satisfaction for non-technically-inclined groups.

    When it comes to customer service, friction-less encounters or interactions are crucial for delivering consistent, positive customer experiences.
  3. Reduce physical queues
    No matter where you are in the world, bureaucracy is alive and well, and siloed services make it extra difficult for members of the public to get the help they need—especially on a face-to-face basis, but even when lockdowns lift.

    Technology can help ease such congestions. Indoor geolocation services can orient citizens to the right offices and offer public-facing information on wait times. Location services also help public authorities rethink crowd safety in high-traffic public spaces or buildings.

    Geolocation services can be used in public transport systems to point passengers in the right direction and study crowd patterns in busy stations and terminals. Instead of relying on pamphlets and on-site staff, crowd control can be achieved through geolocation services at conferences, exhibitions and other events.

    In short, as long as a queue forms, there are business potentials for geolocation services.
  4. Simplify the feedback loop
    The best way to improve citizen engagement is to make the process of giving feedback as simple and straightforward as possible. A mobile app is a good place to start, considering that South-east Asians spend more time on the mobile internet than anyone else on the planet.

    In Indonesia’s West Java, Sapawarga is a smart app that allows residents to report problems directly to the local government. It is also being used by the local anti-hoax task force to debunk fake news. Such a mobile-enabled feedback service enables citizens to engage and interact with relevant authorities, allowing issues to be addressed within a shorter time.
  5. Secure all personal data
    Considering the incessant rise in cybersecurity threats, certain industry sectors have shored up their defenses, but the public sector falls short on this front.

    According to an IBM report, the public sector is among the least prepared in detecting and containing data breaches compared to other industry sectors, taking an average of 324 days to identify and contain security lapses.

    Therefore, cybersecurity is a critical component of effective government-citizen communication. From setting up geo-fencing and revising cybersecurity policies, to automating security processes and hiring the relevant talent, governments can use technology to protect citizens and residents to building long-term trust.

As the world slowly but surely recovers from the economic impact of the pandemic, the ability to harness the power of technology will give countries and businesses the competitive edge they need to thrive in the recovery phase and beyond.