Digital Government: Turning the Rhetoric into Reality

Digital Government: Turning the Rhetoric into Reality

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Digital Government: Turning the Rhetoric into Reality

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  • Digital Services Today

    People are doing more online. Almost 80 percent of the respondents to our survey access the Internet more than once daily for personal use. More than 75 percent use three or more devices for online access.

    As we observed in our report on digital satisfaction in the U.S., people share a consistent set of priorities and expectations for online interactions. (See Delivering Digital Satisfaction: U.S. Consumers Raise the Ante, BCG Focus, May 2013.) These are the result of people’s real-world experiences, their personal understanding of what technology can do, and what online leaders such as Amazon, Apple, Google, and others have demonstrated can be delivered. For example, online processes are often quicker and more efficient than offline encounters involving long lines, extended call-wait times, and unsatisfactory service. Consumers appreciate the medium’s mobility, interactivity, and ability to make things fun. More and more these days, they also expect the digital experience to be local (recognizing where they are), personal (tailored to their individual needs and preferences), social (shared with their friends)—and always on.

    Plenty of Users and Wide-Ranging Demand

    People use the Internet to access a wide range of government services. Some access these services a lot. As noted, an average of 32 percent of respondents in the 12 countries surveyed use online government information and transaction services once a week or more. Already, at least half of users in most of the countries surveyed want digital channels to play a greater role in the delivery of key services.

    The average user accesses ten different kinds of service. Online channels are used most for transportation information, tax filings and payments, and health and employment services. They are used least for property, legal, customs, and emergency services. While usage patterns are broadly similar across the 12 countries surveyed, there are some significant variations. High percentages of users in Saudi Arabia and the UAE access services related to residency and employment. Both these countries have large populations of foreign workers. Accessing cultural institutions and public-broadcasting services is a popular activity everywhere. 

    There is high correlation between the number of services used online and the frequency with which they are accessed. Usage tends to be highest in developing countries, many of which do not have legacy IT systems and channels. (See Exhibit 2.) Users in these countries access 50 percent more government services on average than those in developed nations—12 types of services compared with 8. A higher proportion of developing-country respondents (40 percent versus 27 percent) use online government services at least once a week. Developing-country respondents find online delivery of government services more important, and they express greater interest in more digital delivery of these services.


    We found little correlation between income levels and service access, with usage fairly evenly spread across the income scale. City dwellers tend to be more active users. Retired and unemployed people are the least frequent users of online government services; students are the most.

    Usage is evolving. Millennials are much more likely than older people to access government services online. These people grew up in a digital world, and their ranks are set to swell. In the U.S., for example, adult Millennials will outnumber non-Millennials by 22 million in 2030. Just as many people already use smartphones as use desktop PCs to go online. Governments will increasingly be interacting with more digitally savvy citizens on an expanding variety of devices, especially tablets, smart TVs, and wearables. (See Exhibit 3.)

    Some Digital Services Are More Important Than Others

    Almost across the board, substantial majorities of users see online services as important, and as we shall see, they are looking for governments to improve the quality of their offerings. On average, 60 percent of users rank online government services as important.

    That said, all services are not regarded equally. Many more users view services such as filing tax information, paying taxes, and applying for passports and driver’s licenses as more important than paying customs duties, applying for a building permit, or checking police records. (See Exhibits 4 and 5.) Online housing services and school enrollment are especially important to Indonesian users. Social services are very important in the Netherlands. Users across Europe want the ability to file tax assessments, while this is not relevant in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, where individuals do not pay income tax.


    Overall, people in developing countries are heavy users of services that have a significant impact on life and livelihood, such as those related to health care and education. They are embracing the Web for much more than reasons of convenience; they are using it to improve their well-being and earning ability.

    Governments in developed countries have done a more complete job of bringing full-service capabilities online, especially in areas related to taxation, transportation (vehicle registration, driver’s licenses), personal and business registration, and cultural and leisure activities. However, the Internet can still play a much bigger role in these countries. A great deal of information is available online, and some countries are moving aggressively to implement transactional capabilities, but in many nations, full digital interaction has yet to be developed.

    The State of User Satisfaction

    Satisfaction rates are generally high—but they could be much higher. The percentageof users who are satisfied with online government services ranges from 41 percent in Russia and Malaysia to 61 percent in the U.S. Generally, more users in developed countries are satisfied (42 to 61 percent) than in developing nations (41 to 52 percent).

    Users recognize that governments are making an effort. Nearly four in five users believe that online government services have improved over time. Developing-country governments get particularly high marks—almost 85 percent of users say service delivery is improving, compared with 72 percent who see improvement in developed nations, although developing countries are probably starting from a lower base.

    Governments compare well—in some cases, better than might be expected—with the private sector. Overall, the quality of online public- and private-sector services is roughly equal, although there are wide variations across countries. While the role of the public and private sector is different in each country, we take the results to indicate a strong vote of confidence in governments’ efforts so far. (See Exhibit 6.)


    In just about every country, there are a few key services whose importance is regarded as high but satisfaction with their delivery is low. Governments can make a quick impact by concentrating their efforts on improving and expanding delivery in these areas, which often include services such as employment, health care, and social welfare that are especially important to users’ lives and livelihoods. (See Exhibit 7.)


    The UAE, for example, has introduced an online transactional platform that allows both nationals and residents to more efficiently manage the administration of their health care. Online capabilities include issuing and renewing health cards, identifying health care providers, and scheduling appointments.

    The online platform also provides services to health care providers, among them a database of citizens’ immunization records, an infectious-disease reporting system, and a service to facilitate the approval of medical advertisements.

    Saudi Arabia achieves above-average satisfaction ratings for immigration-related services, many of which include end-to-end capabilities. Almost two-thirds of users are satisfied with the process for applying for or renewing visas and residency and work permits. Similarly, 60 percent are satisfied with their access to passport control and immigration services.

    Indonesia has introduced an enrollment portal for primary and secondary schools that provides fairer, more equal, and more transparent access to the country’s schools, easing the application process and reducing the potential for impropriety or corruption. Students can complete the registration process online and track the selection process through final approval.

    The portal has been made the default process so that in most cases, students who choose to apply manually still have their data loaded onto the website for processing.

    The Bar Will Be Raised

    Governments will face challenges similar to those of businesses that need to serve customers seamlessly through multiple online (and offline) channels, platforms, and devices. They will need to “set out their store” across the full range of online connectivity.

    The most immediate, and perhaps the most important, challenge is coming to terms with the transformative effects of mobile technology (see “The Growing Impact of Mobile”), but the impact of technological advancement extends well beyond individual interactions.

    The Internet, social media, and mobile devices greatly amplify users’ opinions and their effect. Governments can expect that as more younger users access services, positive experiences will prompt them to let their universe of friends—real and virtual—know that there is a better way of engaging with the public sector. A bad—or even just a disappointing—experience, on the other hand, can turn any user into a vocal critic, who can spread the negative word through social media, reviews, and blogs. And that criticism can go viral.

    Governments have their work cut out for them. Facilitating license or permit renewals and providing public-transport information are important services, but they are relatively easy to provide. Helping people access health care, providing education and training, and assisting in a job search are much more complicated tasks. Everyone’s need is different.