The governments that lead in digital transformation excel at breaking down silos.

This can mean forming inter-agency teams to innovate and test ideas in an effort to improve citizen services, as Lee May Gee, Director of Public Sector Transformation at the Public Sector Division of Singapore told GovInsider in 2021. One such team led to Singapore’s LifeSG app, which now supports citizens at each stage of their life, drawing data from multiple sources.

And data silos don’t just exist between government agencies: they also exist between the public and the private sector. This is why the backbone of Estonian digital government, which was ranked the top digital government by the biennial UN e-government survey of 2022, links up both private and public sector information systems.

As governments seek to improve the delivery of digital services, it is critical that they implement the infrastructure needed for data to flow between agencies as well as between the public and private sector, allowing citizens to benefit from harmonised systems and access a range of services smoothly.

The potential of data sharing

Breaking down silos between ministries, as well as between the private and public sector, can help the government accelerate development of digital services, says Derk van Ogtrop, Senior Director – Partner Success APJ, Confluent.

The private sector tends to be faster in the development of services, and leveraging on private sector innovation can help governments accelerate the rollout of digital services, he says. This can also be cost effective as agencies would not need to build their own versions of such services, provided that data regulations are in place to manage the flow of data.

This was evident during Covid-19, when public health agencies around the world needed to be able to rapidly share and receive data from third-parties, such as private hospitals, he points out. A report by the UK’s House of Commons Science and Technology Committee highlighted that poor data flows and a lack of data sharing agreements between hospitals and the NHS hindered the government’s ability to make timely decisions early in the pandemic.

He added that governments within APAC use Confluent services for customer 360 projects to consolidate information on citizens about their current risk profile to enable more accurate credit scoring. Banks may then access this information to provide a real time response to loan applications and capture information from multiple different banks.

Estonia’s public services app, Bürokratt, provides citizens with the options to share data from the country’s tax board with digital lenders. This helps speed along the loan application process for citizens, said Ott Velsberg, Chief Data Officer of Estonia, to GovInsider previously.

Data flows can also pave the way for enabling and using real-time feedback from citizens.

In the past, governments would run surveys to understand how effective a service might be. But with data-in-motion, agencies can build feedback portals into applications and digital services, so that citizens can immediately provide feedback. In turn, agencies can leverage that data to rapidly improve the services, he says.

Creating a central nervous system

For governments to improve services for citizens, they will need to enable seamless, real-time data flows across various players.

Many agencies are saddled with cumbersome legacy infrastructure, and there are often differences between the tech infrastructure of each ministry, notes van Ogtrop. Over the decades, each ministry may have invested in particular systems that have continued to diverge over time.

This makes it difficult to pool together data and offer improved digital services. Such legacy infrastructure may not be conducive towards feeding real-time data to digital applications run either by their own organisations or third party service providers.

Decoupling data from these pre-existing systems can be a first step in encouraging data flows between agencies, he explains. This removes the need to replace legacy systems wholesale.

An abstraction layer such as Apache Kafka can help decouple data from legacy systems. It serves as the “central nervous system” within an organisation, pulling data from legacy data storage systems, AI and ML models, and other databases, and feeding the data into digital services and applications to enable real-time delivery of such services.

This allows agencies to streamline and increase velocity in developing new applications and services as demands of citizens change or providing new data pipelines to 3rd parties to drive innovation., he says.

Real time data flows between agencies and applications have shown to be critical towards powering smart cities, improving security, and detecting fraud quickly.

“That’s the real power of this digital decoupling notion…teams can effectively develop [applications] at their own pace. They’re not burdened by systems that may be slower,” he says.

Even though Apache Kafka is open source, managing it on your own can take time and energy away from the critical task of delivering public services. Confluent takes charge of managing this data infrastructure and builds on Apache Kafka by offering a cloud-native experience.

Confluent supports this abstraction layer by managing data governance and security measures as well as by ensuring that the data is available everywhere, he says. For example, Confluent can enable role-based access control, ensuring only the right people have the right access to the right data. As government agencies have a lower appetite for risk than the private sector and manage sensitive data, granular levels of data governance is critical.

Bringing multicloud and hybrid cloud strategies to life

Government agencies around the world have increasingly adopted cloud strategies in order to become more flexible and deploy better services to citizens. This central nervous system can help agencies bring their hybrid and multi-cloud strategies to life by creating a persistent data bridge that keeps data across all environments in sync. This enables different agencies to migrate to the cloud at their own pace, while they continue collaborating with each other.

Confluent Cluster Linking can enable agencies in moving data between multi-cloud environments as well as between on-premise data centers and the public cloud. This makes it easier for agencies to manage different lines of work across multiple infrastructure types, he says. Confluent’s in-built data governance infrastructure ensures that government agencies can feel comfortable moving data back and forth between environments with ease.

As a result, Confluent’s connectors allow agencies to access software-as-a-service and platform-as-a-service applications hosted on the cloud. This means agencies can adopt cloud services developed by third party providers, such as Salesforce and Oracle, as well as cloud storage services, he explains.

Salesforce offers pre-built and customisable public sector services available on the cloud, as GovInsider previously reported, and Oracle offers dedicated cloud infrastructure services, which can support hybrid cloud initiatives.

Confluent’s services also provide the ability to process data as it is in motion, rather than just when it’s at rest. Within a bank, that could mean data is processed while it moves from the back end to the payment gateway, rather than only upon arrival. This maximises the efficiency of the services and improves the agency’s capacity to analyse data in real time.

As agencies continue to roll out digital services, it is wise to remember that they do not have to go it alone. Instead, partnering with other agencies, third-party players, and citizens can accelerate the development of digital government. All it takes is the right platform to facilitate secure, real-time data flows.