Exclusive: How Georgia shows the way forwards for integrated services

GovInsider's Eurasia Editor shows how this former Soviet state is leading the way on citizen-centric services.

So there I was, sipping on my cappuccino, and the customer next to me ordered his coffee and a newly minted passport to go. Georgia has integrated government services into cathedrals of convenience, where it’s possible to get access to over 300 public services in just one place. Like a cathedral, the architecture is just as grandiose. The Public Service Hall in the capital, Tbilisi, is designed by Massimiliano Fuksas as a symbol of transparency, with huge glass walls holding up giant roof petals and the words “dignity”, “justice” and “transparency”. Georgia is a young pocket-sized country that was reborn after the collapse of the USSR. It invested heavily in its administrative services, reforming the back-end of its systems to share data through dedicated exchange agencies and registries. This story is similar to another post-Soviet pioneer, Estonia. That nation made all of its citizens’ data interoperable, and allowed people to see who had been accessing their data. If public official starts looking up their personal data with no legitimate reason, for example, they can stop him and launch a complaint. Both Georgia and Estonia have pursued a simple concept: that of the One Stop Shop (albeit in digital form for Estonia). As PriceWaterhouseCoopers said in their latest report, this idea of merging services brings “increased speed, engagement, responsiveness, value and integration across government.” finalPublicservicehall This model holds huge potential for governments in Asia, which are also experimenting with this approach. Countries with vast territories like India or Bangladesh, use One Stop Shops to bring government closer to people and move services into rural areas. It would be impossible for each agency to fund their own regional branches, but they can pool resources to provide a single office that has everything that citizens require. Integrating data has proved harder, however - especially without a single ID scheme. Countries in Southeast Asia, such as Malaysia and Vietnam, tend to prefer co-location without back end integration. Often these offices are hosted in shopping malls or local attractions. More and more governments, taking inspiration from the corporates, pay attention to user centric design. Yet user centricity is only part of the solution, but not the whole thing. The harsh reality is that successful One Stop Shops require a massive digital transformation at all levels of government. Agencies must eliminate or automate processes, and make systems “talk to each other” across agencies despite deeply embedded organisational divides. When this happens, government can be as simple as ordering an espresso. But without a lot of heavy lifting, you cannot deliver seamlessly as one government. The bottomline is that physical space can take you far, but not as far as digital transformation underpinning all government structures and totally changing user experience. Former German Chancellor Gerhard Shroeder said “let paper run, not people”. When done correctly, it is a visible symbol of public service improvement. Aziza is CEO of Smart Gov consulting bureau, specialising in transferring strategies and tools in public administration reform for the countries of the former USSR, Mongolia and Afghanistan.