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“What you should see is an exponential improvement in the quality of service. You will have proactive service delivery. You will have the best quality output that will make you feel like the government understands you, that it feels you, that it serves tailor-made services for you specifically as an individual. That is the impact of AI in your life.” – The UAE Minister for Artificial Intelligence Omar Al Olama, via Euronews.com
The COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized the discourse about the importance of digital transformation to the survival of an organization, especially in the public and government sector. At the World Government Summit 2022, it was evident that digital government has become a top priority as governments worldwide try to keep up with technological advancements and rapid change.
Digitalization provides more efficient and high-quality services and boosts communication between governments and citizens. The three most captivating qualities of a digital government are its capacity for effective service delivery, affordable scaling, and quick adaptation. Many large-scale digital innovations from telemedicine to telework, as well as from virtual courts to virtual education were implemented to aid the needs of the citizens and maintain government services. These initiatives show how relevant digitalization is now more than ever.
Despite the progress made by many governments, reaching a mature level of digitalization is not an easy endeavor. The development efforts of countries under unusual circumstances are still being hampered by persistent problems, especially in the least developed countries. For instance, in Africa, the price of mobile broadband connections remains extremely high relative to per capita gross national income making e-government developmental initiatives compromised.
From analog government to digital government
The digitization of government operations and public services—the switch from analog to electronic governance—has advanced dramatically during the past few decades. Governments have attempted to modernize their working practices through extensive public sector reforms to accommodate new technologies and citizen needs.
In the public sector, digital transformation plays a significant role in enhancing the potential of community participation, as well as process efficiency improvements in government organizations. Giving citizens a voice and the opportunity to participate in and work on governance increases public trust, and meeting evolving customer service needs remains a top priority.
Denmark recently introduced an e-participation initiative where individuals can suggest new legislation through the use of electronic petitions. The Danish parliament oversees the Borgerforslag (https://www.borgerforslag.dk/) initiative, which translates exactly to “citizen proposal.” As of now, this project already received a total of over 1400 proposals. The program is open to everybody who is eligible to vote in general elections in Denmark. They can propose, evaluate, and vote on proposals in the portal for the changes they believe the government or society should address. The proposal may be submitted as a motion for resolution if it is supported by 50,000 eligible voters in the general election.
In discussing digitalization in the government, e-government and digital government are two concepts that should be defined. Although these two ideas are commonly combined, they nevertheless refer to separate notions. E-government is described as the government’s use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) to improve public services in the “E-Government Services Adoption: An Extension of the Unified Model of Electronic Government Adoption,” a study led by Isaac Kofi Mensah in 2020. Moreover, e-government deepens citizens’ connections to their government and promotes greater citizen involvement in the decision-making process. E-government aims to advance the effectiveness and transparency of the government by delivering services faster and cost-effectively and empowering citizens through participatory governance.
The idea of digital governance signifies a fundamental change in how governments globally are approaching their role. Governments are transforming how they use the power of information technologies: from establishing quantifiable administrative objectives to enhancing the provision of public services, from data-driven decision-making to implementing evidence-based regulations, and from providing more accountability and transparency within the government to boost public trust.
Furthermore, digital government services save employees’ time for bigger projects and reduce the production time and materials for the public services. According to GovOS, an organization that provides “innovative solutions and industry-leading services” to governments, digital government services, such as business license renewals, fishing license applications, and filing tax returns, do not require manual manpower to process an application. This allows the employee to focus on the more important projects.
Similarly, Secretary-General of the Asian Productivity Organization (APO) Dr. AKP Mochtan mentioned in the Digitalization of Public Service Delivery in Asia report that the delivery of public services can change from “being reactive to citizens’ needs to becoming proactive to anticipate future needs” as a result of the use of digital technologies.
Realizing the opportunities demands a paradigm shift in the use of digital technologies and data within governments, from e-government to digital government. In an effort to increase efficiency, an e-government approach sees technology as the answer for digitizing the delivery of an existing analog process. It puts emphasis on its implementation. In contrast, digital government practices place less emphasis on technology and more on re-engineering and revamping services and procedures to satisfy user needs. The establishment of digital-by-design cultures, which alter organizational behavior, goes hand in hand with this digitalization.
Benefits of digital public services
When properly implemented, e-government makes it possible for individuals, businesses, and organizations to connect with the government more conveniently, promptly, and affordably. The potential savings in expenses are also enormous. According to the European Commission, electronic billing in Denmark saves businesses and taxpayers a combined €200 million annually. Savings might reach $50 billion annually if implemented all over Europe. Meanwhile, e-procurement systems in Italy reduced expenses by nearly €3 billion.
E-Government results in increased internal productivity and efficiency of government workers, having more time for critical duties rather than more time-consuming tasks like filing reports or paperwork manually. It also boosts better cross-departmental collaboration since key documents are shared and can be easily found in a digital repository. Digital government services can lessen paper-based workflows that save governments money and benefit the environment. This will also result in decreased labor expenses.
Governments may accomplish more with fewer resources and provide greater services to their citizens using digital government services instead of sticking with conventional ones. These digital services for the government can also promote transparency and strengthen ties between the public and its governing body when any suspicion appears.
The conventional approach to service delivery entails several paper-based procedures, a minimal to no understanding of the business processes, a significant time and labor commitment, and no public access to the data collected. The advantages of digital government services not only assist in solving all of these challenges. But they also strengthen the bond between governments and their constituents.
Drivers and challenges
In times of social distance, the digital government has also played a crucial role in enabling public institutions to continue to be available and functional so they can meet citizens’ requirements. Only the governments in the region with the appropriate digital infrastructure have been able to provide services like transferring resources to people in need, distance learning for students, telemedicine, and the distribution of basic information on plans, strategies, and policies during the pandemic.
Governments increased their digital journey to meet their constituents’ needs by expanding digital infrastructure through automation and artificial intelligence, utilizing cloud-based services, and building a digital architecture for the entire government. Moreover, the government makes the public sector workforce more digital and invests in the interconnectedness of citizens to accelerate digitization during the pandemic.
In the coming years, a number of countries plan to considerably boost the amount they spend on digital infrastructure. The “digital divide” between the most and least connected communities will be addressed by investments in updating technology infrastructure and establishing fiber networks to boost internet access. As part of the Digital Spain 2025 initiative, the Spanish government plans to invest €20 billion in digital infrastructure in the next three years, with an additional €50 billion coming from private sources. The French government plans to invest €7 billion in digital projects, including modernizing public information systems and stepping up initiatives to include older individuals online.
In Thailand, 5G networks have facilitated cooperation between the public and private sectors and are a key part of the government’s Thailand 4.0 digital recovery plan. In a similar manner, the Scottish Government committed £4 million in financing as part of the Scotland 5G Connect Program for the construction of a number of hubs that would roll out 5G services throughout the nation. In addition, the Australian government invested over $21.2 million in commercial 5G trials and testbeds across important industry sectors to speed up the implementation.
Meanwhile, the United States has a reputation for being a leader in digital government services. Based on The KPI Institute’s Government Services Index (GSI) 2022, the United States is the top performer in the Digitalization dimension. The GSI 2022 report compiles and ranks 66 countries around seven regions in the world based on their performance in different dimensions and indicators. It highlights the Digitalization dimension, which refers to the significance of technology and redefining ways in how residents and public services interact.
The United States started its e-government journey two decades ago when the country published The E-Government Act of 2002. Its goal was to foster the utilization of the internet and new technologies across government agencies, as well as the provision of citizen-centric government information and services. The United States Digital Service (USDS), whose goal is to provide a better government experience, was also established.
This article was first published in the 24th printed edition of PERFORMANCE Magazine. You can get a free digital copy from the TKI Marketplace here or purchase a print copy from Amazon for a nominal fee here.
Animation by Andreea Vintila
Robot restaurants in technologically advanced countries like Japan and USA are considered solutions to labor shortages and growing customer demand as on-premise dining starts to pick up. Yelp Economic Average reports that searches for reservations increased by 107% in the first quarter of 2022 compared to the same period in 2021.
Digitalization has become the key to service improvements in restaurants, and one of these advancements is robotics. Different processes can be automated by using robots. While such automation can impact the performance of a restaurant, applying robotics also comes with challenges.
Approximately 82% of restaurant jobs could be replaced by robots in the future, according to a report published by Aaron Allen & Associates. Robots are used to help humans in the kitchen perform repetitive tasks, such as slicing or mixing ingredients. Robots can also:
- welcome guests
- take and deliver orders
- manage payments
According to articles from ResearchGate, the Turkish Business Journal, and Elsevier, robotics decreases the efforts of individual waiters, reduces investments in human labor, simplifies food orders, supports restaurant services, decreases human-induced service failures, reduces work hours, and improves service quality.
Hospitality & Catering News states that an average human server can serve 200 meals daily, while a robot server can serve 300-400 meals. If waiters serve more tables in the same period, they can serve the dishes faster, contributing to an increase in the restaurant’s overall productivity.
Recent research on digital responses to COVID-19 highlights that if the waiting times per table increase, the time spent at a table increases. This means that the table will be occupied for a long time, negatively affecting customer satisfaction and total revenues for the restaurant since they have a limited number of tables. The waiting time per table can be decreased by implementing electronic menus so that the cooks do not have to read the order notes from waiters. This is a process that slows them down and increases the risk of mixing up orders.
An IEEE article explains how robots and electronic menus cut down on wait times per table. When a customer orders something using an electronic menu, the order and the table number appear on the cook’s screen. When the chef has finished cooking, the order is transferred to the robot, which will have the table number of that specific order so it can deliver it to the customer. Digital tools help visualize orders and provide systematic overviews.
As stated in a 2020 Atlantis Press article, digital tools simplify the process of choosing the desired dishes. These digital platforms also enable keeping statistics of ordered dishes so that the restaurant can determine what foods are most popular and when (during particular times of the day or seasons), as well as which foods to leave off their menu. Additionally, by offering discounts in their ordering application, restaurants will increase customer loyalty.
There are two types of challenges that emerge from using robots in restaurants. The first kind results from the complexity and technical limitations of the machine (see Figure 1):
Figure 1. Adapted from: A Car-bot Waiter for Providing Services of Restaurants to Limit Human in Pandemics like COVID-19 | Issues in Existing Robotic Service in Restaurants and Hotels | Wireless Waiter Robot | Service Robots in Catering Applications: A Review and Future Challenges
Consumer acceptance is another challenge for digitalizing restaurant services. Studies have revealed that some people feel uncomfortable interacting with a robot. Before bringing autonomous robots into restaurants, owners should assess socioeconomic implications, such as the balance between operational efficiency and customer expectations and robot costs.
Process automation will increase productivity in the restaurant industry, but this will also make it difficult for restaurant workers to find new employment.
Digitalization of the restaurant business is inevitable. Initially, the new system may cause chaos because every restaurant owner will be eager to implement such technologies. This enthusiasm can result in impulsive investments to keep up with the competition, leading to unnecessary risks and, ultimately, no added value for that business. But, if safely adopted, robotics may improve performance, increase productivity, and decrease overall costs. Even though the goal may be to digitalize the whole restaurant, these robots will only partially operate by themselves so soon.
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While the media played a crucial role in information dissemination during the COVID-19 pandemic, the industry wasn’t spared from the effects of the crisis. According to reports, live events were halted, advertisement spending was reduced, and the print media couldn’t distribute its physical materials due to the readers’ concerns about virus transmission.
But for the Emirati state-owned Abu Dhabi Media (ADM), the challenges still paved the way for breakthroughs and opportunities. The ADM rolled out a renovation plan that focuses on digitization. It allowed the media institution to minimize the damages of the crisis and take advantage of emerging opportunities.
Three ADM outlets (Al-Ittihad newspaper, Abu Dhabi TV channel and Abu Dhabi radio station) were established back in 1969, and they were joined by more media platforms and attached to different entities until the ADM–as it exists today–was established in 2007.
Under Law 13 for that year, the company was established as a joint-stock company with 100m AED in capital worth, initially including nine various platforms. Today, the company has at least 22 traditional and online brands to its name.
In February 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic started to weigh on the country, ADM announced its transition to digital content. While this may seem like a result of the pandemic, the renovation plan has its roots in the company’s 2007 establishing law, which recognizes digital content as an important domain for ADM to pursue. This reflects on digital-first content being one of the value pillars that the company is holding to. Furthermore, the plan was driven by one the organization’s first strategic priority: to maintain financial stability through “efficient finance and resource management and diversified revenue streams.”
Digital transformation has been inevitable for ADM, and the pandemic accelerated it. This is generally true due to the advancement of media technologies and also true in a country that has the highest internet penetration percentage globally. Ninety nine percent of UAE’s population use the internet while only 22% read offline newspapers, according to Northwestern University in Qatar’s Media Use in the Middle East 2019 survey.
The main strategies in ADM’s digitalization plan are:
- Rebranding to digital: ADM introduced rebranding methods to all of its affiliated channels, stations, newspaper and magazines, to recalibrate their orientation towards the digital horizon.
- Enhancing digital presence: A part of the rebranding was to remodel all of the affiliated outlet websites to be more dynamic, mainly through taking care of user experience (UX) and user interface (UI).
- Boosting digital content: This enhancement allowed expansion in digital-first content. The veteran Al-Ittihad newspaper started offering audio-visual content, including live streams on social media. The women’s Zahrat Al-Khaleeg magazine started introducing interactive content with extra men-engaging conversations. Meanwhile, Maged’s children magazine had its whole parallel virtual universe established. The digital-based platform Muhtawa also released more than 1,000 videos over the following months.
- Expanding Video on Demand (VoD): Video content was also available to be watched on demand over the internet. This was offered through the enhanced websites as well as through the bunch of mobile applications that ADM continued to develop. It made sure the applications are available on all mobile operating systems, mainly Android and iOS.
- Taking advantage of SVoD: ADM took advantage of audience readiness to pay subscriptions for content through some of its mobile applications (like UFC Arabia). It also widened its partnership with STARZPLAY, one of the most famous SVoD platforms in the GCC, to premiere its original productions.
- Extending through OTT technologies: ADM made sure that more of its content is compatible to consume through technologies like Press Reader and Amazon Alexa as well as fostering its presence on Apple TV and Android TV platforms.
- Growing library: To meet the accumulating demand due to the increasing audience consumption, ADM added 60 different titles across its platforms.
- Meeting the growing interest in news: A considerable portion of the new titles was news and information in nature to help the audience make sense of what is going on in the COVID-induced reality.
- Reducing the cost of print: The company turned its magazines Zahrat Al-Khaleeg and Maged to monthly periodicals. This led to reduced costs and more digital offerings and extensive content.
The real test for ADM’s plan came in Ramadan in April and May 2020. The Islamic holy month is when media outlets across the MENA region, especially TV channels, get surging consumption. This is a pattern that peaks during the curfewed Ramadan.
For that month, ADM reported a 20% increase in Abu Dhabi TV’s viewership rates across the UAE and 90% across the neighboring Saudi Arabia, compared to Ramadan 2019. The company described the figures as “exceptional” percentages. The recently enhanced OTT channels gathered 7.25m views, with 190,000 new downloads for the channel’s mobile application.
Other published results for the longer period following the plan’s launch included a 500% year on year hike in the number of views for Muhtawa digital platform during the first three quarters of the pandemic year and 1,500% increase in the number of its followers.
Key business lessons
Here are the principles that made ADM’s digital transformation journey possible and could be adopted by businesses in any industry.
- An open-look strategy: ADM could have struggled more if it didn’t consider digital transformation in its strategic priorities. Anticipating what the future may hold when formulating a business strategy better prepares companies for any event.
- Flexibility: Recalibrating one’s systems towards the digital world required a considerable level of flexibility from ADM. This helps businesses build resilience and capability of working around challenges and taking advantage of opportunities.
- Agility: ADM took the courageous leap in the early stage of the pandemic when the whole world was still trying to make sense of the disaster. This quick decision making and implementation saves the business a chain of losses and opens breakthroughs for possible gains.
- Courage for pioneership: Both flexibility and agility require courage, but ADM also proved a courage for pioneership as they jumped into unfamiliar territories. They created a parallel virtual universe for a magazine that has lived on paper for decades and betted on SVoD services, which remain rare in the MENA region. This kind of courage is about accepting that hard questions cannot be met with easy answers.
For more lessons on developing new strategies for your business, check out the Strategy and Business Planning Professional Certification course offered by The KPI Institute.