Decoding Digitization – Newspaper – DAWN.COM
WE have all been waiting for the history of information technology in Pakistan to unfold and show its true potential, but short-lived plans and senseless bans seem to be holding it back.
Log on to Twitter and you will see young people tearing their hair helplessly at yet another political intervention (or lack thereof) that is completely separate from the realities of the changing global digital landscape, and blames the ‘boomers’ for be in charge. Equally frustrated journalists would associate these failures with broader bureaucratic inefficiencies and government inertia towards meaningful reforms and changes in most sectors. While this critique is valuable in keeping decision-makers on their toes, pushing them to act, and holding them accountable, it does not offer meaningful insight into the crux of the matter. It’s like slapping your randomly withered old computer enough times in frustration and causing the computer to kick in; sure it will work a bit, but only to collapse all over again. Eventually, you’ll need to take a deep breath, pull the computer apart, and really troubleshoot to see what happens in order to fix it for real.
While there is a lot of talk about what goes wrong, there is much less about the way forward. As someone who has tried to breach this sector in government – albeit without much success – I have taken a long and careful look at the internal mechanisms that are supposed to enable a forward-looking digital ecosystem in the world. Pakistan. Today I wanted to share why I think things are stuck and what threads need to be unraveled for the system to start working – for good.
What Pakistan needs to do to accelerate its technological transformation
Specific objectives and long-term vision
The scope of information technology or digitization continues to be discussed in a rather limited way in the mainstream discourse. To narrow it down to apps, online portals, start-ups or software companies is a costly injustice. The lack of a broad and comprehensive definition has prevented the development of a long-term holistic vision for lasting change. Rather, the parochial point of view allowed political decision-makers to welcome small isolated projects and to give an illusory impression of real progress. For example, in recent years flashy programs involving the distribution of laptops to colleges or grants to start-ups have popped up in various parts of the country. At the time, they are deemed worthy of praise; it is understandable, however, that this is the case – given the lack of resources, any small initiative that temporarily fixes a problem for a few people is a welcome ‘change’.
However, we now have proof that these disparate diets are not contributing to any significant and lasting change. Distributing grants and creating fancy incubation spaces (by a debt-ridden government) for entrepreneurs will not help develop the start-up ecosystem unless they are accompanied by bold policy reforms. from the State Bank, Pakistan Securities & Exchange Commission and Federal Revenue Council. Investors must be able to repatriate their funds. Entrepreneurs shouldn’t have to spend three months setting up a business and registering it, or a few extra months trying to open a business bank account and set up payroll. The distribution of laptops and Internet dongles to students, while noble, does not solve the central problem of access. Making internet access (both devices and data) more affordable can have a multiplier effect on connectivity, which has proven to be the greatest force in democratization overall.
Therefore, instead of implementing short-lived plans that momentarily verify the IT buzzwords and make the headlines, we need to decide where we want to see ourselves in a decade and then set some specific goals that will help us achieve this goal. dreaming in stages. The process begins with expanding the reach of IT and this is an exercise we did at the start of the Digital Pakistan initiative. Generally speaking, five streams should operate in parallel and complement each other: 1) access and connectivity, 2) digital infrastructure (which is the most underestimated), 3) e-governance, 4) digital skills and literacy, and 5) Innovation and Entrepreneurship. We need clear short, medium and long term KPIs for each pillar and, more importantly, we need to ensure that relevant stakeholders take ownership so that they can be held accountable for these goals.
Clear ownership and responsibility
Both intuitively and officially on paper, it’s very clear who has the capacity and responsibility to lead the charge of delivering a healthy digital ecosystem: the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (MoITT). Currently, however, this easily discernible property has become unnecessarily cloudy in two respects.
The first aspect is that there are parallel structures in the form of divisions or advisers who sit outside the MoITT. The government may call on the most capable advisers and task forces in the world, but they simply will not be able to deliver if their vision is not supported by the relevant bureaucratic machinery and significant legal authority. Any new policy or reform is implemented by the government through its operating rules. The entity that has the capacity to take advantage of these rules is the relevant ministry and there are no two ways to do it.
The second aspect is that there are a variety of sub-organizations under MoITT or provincial governments that work in silos.
● There are organizations like the National Information Technology Board, Ignite, and the Universal Service Fund, but between severe resource constraints, delays in decision making, and in some cases a lack of leadership, they remain crippled.
● The existence of the KP Information Technology Board and the Punjab Information Technology Board (and the absence of equivalent bodies in other federated units) is confusing as they seem to duplicate some work that also seems to be taking place at the federal.
● The role of the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority as a regulator is crucial, but it must have the capacity to operate independently with a clear vision on how to reform the sector.
Strong digital identity and infrastructure
Digital identity is a staple of any kind of digital transformation, which is why it’s disturbing that our mainstream discourse and understanding of the subject almost never evokes Nadra.
The success of reform in any sector depends a lot on your ability to leverage digital identity. This is true for land, education, health, taxes, etc. Are you giving benefits to the right people? Are you vaccinating the right people? Are you collecting taxes from the right people? The list is lengthened increasingly.
While it seems straightforward to talk about using Nadra, it’s important to understand exactly what digital infrastructure is. After evaluating case studies from around the world, we felt that in Pakistan we needed to invest in five interconnected areas that can lead to true digital transformation:
● Digital identity: A universal biometric digital identity, compliant with intergovernmental standards.
● Digital data: A digital repository of personal data and records for every citizen and business, including home, property, employment, education, health, taxes, etc.
● Digital signatures: Digital signatures, such as wet signatures, which enable digital approval of documents. The citizen or company controls who can access their personal data.
● Digital payments: A low-cost, real-time digital payment system that facilitates faster, cheaper and easier commerce between citizens, businesses and government.
● Digital services: Infrastructure that allows every citizen and business to approve the sharing of their data with government and private sector systems, to receive a variety of personalized and transparent services (e.g. grants, loans, insurance, taxes, voting, etc. )
In particular, the digital services sector offers unique and untapped potential that can help Pakistan accelerate and overtake other countries to become a global leader in digital government and digital citizenship. With this digital infrastructure in place, developers, start-ups, businesses and government departments can innovate on unique use cases to make life easier for citizens. The bottom line, then, is that unless we have an independent Nadra with a visionary leader who understands exactly how important digital identity is to unlocking cross-sectoral reform at the national level, we will continue to be progressive in our approach. .
The right people for the right role
We need the right people for the right job, not just at Nadra, but in any institution that is supposed to play a critical role in our digital journey. We need people who take action and want to get things done – people who don’t put politics into practice and don’t shy away from weight.
It is unfair and unrealistic to expect a government agency, new or old, to act without the right resources. We have seen time and again in various sectors of government that it is nearly impossible to hire or, at least to support, the right people: long, archaic processes and absurd pay caps ensure that these relationships never work.
It is essential to understand that having the wrong person at the head of an organization with the money at their disposal is more dangerous than not having a leader. We must defend both meritocracy and openness in our approach to human resources to make a real dent in any sector. Information technology is no exception. In fact, given that this is a particularly specialized field with constant innovation across the world, perhaps an excellent human resource is all the more important in this industry.
Set a clear vision, break it down into small goals, assign clear owners to those goals, give them the authority and space to execute those goals (without jumping to premature action based on unverified feedback) , then manage performance based on results. It’s not rocket science, but getting set up is essential if we are to see sustained performance and results.
The writer is a former special assistant to the Prime Minister on Digital Pakistan.
Posted in Dawn, le 12 June 2021