Traditionally, governments and public sector organizations (PSOs) have relied on brick-and-mortar operations. Services are delivered in person, by individual departments across geographies, and often using paper forms. While digitalization has been disrupting every other industry, governments and PSOs have been resistant to change given their scale of mission-critical operations, sensitive nature of data they handle, and a largely traditional workforce. Most transactions, query resolutions, and other requests still require citizens to physically visit government offices, repeatedly share documents across PSOs, and yet citizens have no control over how their own data is stored and used. This is creating dissatisfaction among modern citizens who expect more from governments. A survey of more than 6,500 respondents across 11 countries in Europe, North America and Asia Pacific found that just two-fifths (41%) of citizens were satisfied with the level of interaction they received from government departments.[i] While the past few years saw PSOs shed some of their inertia towards change and adopt digital technologies to address the changing citizen expectations, the COVID-19 pandemic came as a brutal shock. It exposed hidden multi-level vulnerabilities in PSOs’ ways of working. The new post-pandemic reality calls for an accelerated shift towards Digital Government Services i.e. service delivery within government — as well as between government and the public — using digital technologies.
This paper discusses Digital Document Exchange as a solution to enable truly remote transactions for public service engagements, while improving the citizen experience through seamless exchange of digital citizen data between organizations.
COVID-19: The catalyst for digitalization of government services
COVID-19 has come as a wake-up call for governments across the world. Besides making physical delivery of services risky to PSO professionals and citizens alike, it has highlighted the already pressing need for digitalization of government services. Highly critical citizen services such as banking, healthcare, issuing driving licenses, passports and other vital documents must continue uninterrupted and relying solely on physical infrastructure and service delivery methods isn’t an option. Moreover, physical documents and storage facilities are prone to damage, theft, and misuse – consequences that can lead to heavy potential legal, financial and reputational damages for PSOs, besides loss of citizen trust. Modern citizens demand that the civic experience be at par with the digital experience they receive in their personal lives. One that is seamless, simple and consistent across channels and touchpoints. They also want quick service delivery, query resolution and high responsiveness from governments and PSOs. Even as most citizens expect government departments and PSOs to be able to exchange data with each other in order to accelerate service delivery, yet autonomy matters to them. Modern citizens want to have control over who their data is shared with, how it is used, etc. According to a recent survey, 91% of citizens have concerns about submitting personal information to state government websites, over 50% voice concerns about hackers targeting government sites, and 33% of citizens worry that the government may use their information in ways they don’t agree with.[ii]
Another key consideration in the post-COVID reality is the need to do more with less – both in terms of manpower and budget. Public service agencies, all over the world are working with reduced manpower in office, lot of offices have been closed and where open, office visits are by appointment only. They are also under pressure to cut costs while simultaneously increasing service speed and quality.
By switching to digital service delivery and leveraging a technology-driven solution for Digital Document Exchange, government departments can enable seamless data exchange between themselves – and citizens in real time. For instance, quick exchange of information that already exists with one agency with another can help to quickly approve/reject applications for passports, loans, etc. Such a solution will not only improve the government experience for citizens but also empower them to be the masters of their own data. Let’s deep delve to see how this plays out.
Digital Document Exchange: Leveraging Blockchain to ensure safety and transparency
A Digital Document Exchange solution is built on the premise of ensuring safe, seamless, and transparent data exchange between parties in real time and blockchain is the best-fit technology to drive it. Here’s how a blockchain-driven digital document exchange solution would work:
- State IT departments host a Blockchain database which will enable a decentralized exchange for all the government documents issued such as Driver License, Date of Birth certificate, Passport, Registration, proof of residence, and others.
- Document issuing agencies – public or private, create a document credential and issue it to the citizen, which can be stored in a Digital Document Safe – User wallet. The proof of document credential issuance is recorded on Blockchain
- An agency requiring a supporting document requests the user to share the required document credential. The validity, ownership and proof of issuance by authorized document issuing agency is cryptographically established through Blockchain.
- Citizens have the ultimate control of how and with whom the document is shared, and to what extent information should be revealed. For instance, if the requirement is for ‘address verification’ alone and the document credential shared is passport, the citizen can choose to hide the other fields such as spouse/parents name, date of birth, visas obtained and more.