Future-proofing governments: Structural transformation to accelerate change

By Augustine Chiew

To build a better world in the new norm, governments need to create new operating models, writes Augustine Chiew, APAC & Russia Lead for Government Business, Huawei Technologies.

Governments need to rethink their strategy and create new operating models to build back better in a world catalysed by rapid change.

They could start by re-examining the relevancy of existing siloed organisation structures and introduce new ones that are agile, optimised and better suited for the future.

The new world order

Today, governments grapple with existing and new threats and challenges. We continue to see massive demographic, economic, political and social shifts, with perennial problems becoming increasingly more complex.

Such challenges include an aging global population struggling to replace itself, unpredictable climate changes, rise in xenophobic and nationalistic sentiments, seemingly insurmountable national debts, the growing economic divide and the unstoppable digital revolution.

While the quality of life has indeed improved with easy and quick access to innovative services, there is a massive disruption to governments. For example, social media has been used to spread disinformation in a strategic, coordinated fashion, using fake news to fuel anti-government or anti-corporation sentiments, resulting in violent or even fatal demonstrations in major cities around the world.

Additionally, the emergence of black swan events such as the Covid-19 pandemic complicates the equation further. The health threat quickly become a global pandemic, intertwining multiple issues across security, economy and social equality, creating ripple effects one after another.

Beyond the provision of medical care, people movement had to be restricted, enforced contact tracing were conducted for potential cases, new supply chains were identified and temporary emergency hospitals were constructed.

Traditional services that were usually delivered in-person such as attending lessons, visiting a doctor, etc. were now conducted online. All of these changes require capabilities that do not fall neatly under one government department or sector. It is simply impossible to rely on one sector to address societal changes brought about by the pandemic.

Systems thinking mentality

Unfortunately, governments, being risk-averse by nature, have not reacted to change and capitalise on opportunities as quickly.

Many understood the need for transformation, saw technology as an enabler but took slow and steady steps towards digitalization, making incremental adjustments to business and service models, when compared with their private sector counterparts.

With a traditional siloed mindset and organizational framework, governments habitually segregate responsibilities into distinct ministries or departments, adopting a straightforward problem-solving approach with the belief that issues can be broken down into structured modular components to be tackled singularly and separately.

To tackle threats that are non-linear and straddle between different sectors, a comprehensive Systems Thinking mentality may be needed. This concept, which has been around for a long time, is based on the principle that issues and problems are likely to be interlinked and should be viewed as a system from a broad perspective encompassing structures, patterns and cycles rather than just specific events.

We can then anticipate how different solutions affect each other, even possibly negating potential benefits. By focusing on the entire system, we can better develop solutions that address as many problems as possible at the same time.

Some countries, like Singapore, were quick to recognize the usefulness of such an approach, where multiple ministries may operate as a single entity. Learning from the SARS experience, the government put in place an inter-ministry crisis management structure containing functional crisis management groups that could be activated at short notice.

When Covid-19 hit, the government swiftly activated the inter-ministry crisis management structure to manage and coordinate resources drawn from the armed forces, police, medical services and volunteers etc. With many departments represented on the committee, issues were looked at holistically, taking into consideration direct and indirect consequences, including upstream and downstream impacts.

As a result, the action plans and initiatives developed were in alignment, easily implemented and in support of each other with minimal clashes. The positive results have since translated into accolades from the global community on the Singapore government’s efforts in managing COVID-19.

A cluster approach to governance

A new structure based on functional clusters could usher in a new era of governance where agility and optimisation is taken to the next level. Potential clusters to start off could include the Education & Labor nexus as well as Community Development, Health & Social welfare.

Education and employment are often seen as two distinct stages in a person’s life. Hence, many governments have separate ministries or departments responsible for its policy enactment, regulation enforcement and service delivery.

It made sense as people usually worked in a particular field for extended periods without the need for further qualifications and when they switch jobs, they often remain in their respective fields. However, the speed of advancements in technology is challenging this understanding. We see jobs and roles disappearing quickly within a few years. Many jobs that are in demand today did not exist five years ago.

It may no longer be realistic to think that the same jobs would still exist in decades to come. This means that continuous education should be taken into consideration to address changes in a society that ensures the ability to acquire new skills and knowledge to match new roles throughout their entire life.

The nexus between education and labor policies, how it should be developed to support each other, will require significant re-thinking. It should be based on an agile and flexible lifelong learning path framework with the focus on skills building for the rapidly evolving modern workplace, linking people to jobs based on their skill competencies.
This would be only possible if the education and labor ministries or departments integrate to operate closely together as a single entity within a new cluster under common leadership to reap benefits and efficiencies from greater collective thinking, talent harnessing and integrated business operations.

However, this does not necessarily imply that all ministries or departments must be clustered. In areas where there is a need for high information security, fairness and independent thinking such as defence, security and justice, organisations should remain as distinct entities until such a time when the strength and benefits of interdependencies become too crucial to be ignored.

The moment is now

Despite its potential, we have yet to see more governments take proactive steps to implement such a framework as a permanent structure. Given substantial financial investments in ICT and necessary infrastructure, as well as physically uprooting staff to new offices, governments generally needed much time to make such change.

However, since Covid-19 has already been forcing governments to invest heavily in connectivity, collaborative technologies, cloud solutions as well as the adoption of new operating models, now could be the best time to adopt change. People movement is likely to be limited as remote working practices which were frowned upon previously, is now the accepted norm.

More importantly, technologies available today can support such structure transformation easily and rapidly. Technology companies with integrated strength in Connectivity, AI, Computing and Cloud technologies, like Huawei, can be a good partner for such change. Enterprise Networking Solutions (IP Networks, WLAN, Switches, Routers), Intelligent Collaboration Solutions (Huawei IdeaHub, video conferencing platforms and endpoints) as well as Campus Solutions (AirEngine Wi-Fi 6) can be quickly deployed to support various scenarios, enabling strong connectivity across multiple sites to support remote working, workforce collaboration, data access and sharing as well as innovative service delivery.

In addition to working with one “end-to-end” technology vendor, ecosystem partners can also chime in to help governments develop appropriate, efficient, and full-lifecycle cloud transformation solutions harnessing innovative new technologies, including cloud computing, big data analytics, and Software-Defined Networking (SDN).

Taking bold steps in structure transformation leveraging technology as an enabler, governments of the future will be in an excellent position to tackle complex threats and challenges effectively, improving the quality of governance and life even more.

For more information on how Huawei is helping governments transform digitally, please click here.