Indonesia to explore its own ‘GovTech’ by scaling up the Ministry of Health’s Digital Transformation Office

By Mochamad Azhar

The Indonesian Government is exploring a new strategy to accelerate public sector digital transformation by expanding the Ministry of Health’s Digital Transformation Office (DTO) from a national to a local level.

The scaling of the digital transformation office (DTO) will be one of the Government's strategies to realise the Indonesia Digital 2045 Vision. Photo: Adhouse Clarion Event

"We need an independent state agency that really focuses on solving various problems with digital tools," said Arifin Saleh Lubis, Head of the Planning Bureau of the Ministry of Communications and Information, during his opening remarks at a panel held during the Digital Transformation Indonesia Conference and Expo (DTI-CX) recently.


Speaking at the event, which was held on 26 and 27 July in Jakarta, Arifin said that a team comprising ministry representatives, academics and practitioners is currently exploring the establishment of an independent body that will become the main driver of digital transformation in Indonesia. 


This independent body will adopt the system and frameworks implemented by the Ministry of Health's DTO, learning from its successes in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.


This agency can exist at the national level, similar to Singapore’s GovTech, which resides within the Prime Minister’s Office, DTOs at the ministry and agency levels, and even down to the local government level, with their respective organisational structures in mind.


"The name of the DTO body at each level of government can differ, but the important thing is that it can encourage digitalisation in various sectors, not only in the health sector. The Government wants everything to be digital," Arifin added.


He hopes that the scaling of the DTO can begin in 2024. This will be part of a strategy to accelerate the realisation of the 2045 Digital Indonesia Vision, which includes the development of the digital economy, digital government, digital society, and digital infrastructure.

Cutting through bureaucracy


According to Arifin, the Government has a number of reasons for scaling DTO. First, DTO has been proven to cut down complicated bureaucratic processes so that the digital transformation can be done more quickly.


The DTO has its own organisational structure, its own work system, and operates separately from the bureaucracy. "DTOs only need to report to the minister or the head of the institution. Once a decision is taken, the programme can run immediately," said Arifin.


Second, Indonesia is constrained by a lack of digital leaders and transformative thinkers who are able to solve problems through digital means in the public sector. Therefore, Arifin is inviting professionals who understand the problem, such as private practitioners, technopreneurs and startup founders, to join the Government in developing the DTO.


"Come on, let's build this country together. The DTO should not be filled by civil servants. It's not because they're not competent, but there's already too much work for civil servants.”


Even though the DTO will be given independence in kickstarting digital transformation programs in various sectors, the main responsibility for providing services, equalising public access, and building basic infrastructure will remain in the hands of the bureaucracy.

DTO to need a legal umbrella, budget

According to Arifin, there are at least two things that need to be considered before this idea is realised. The first will be comprehensive regulations regarding the formation of DTOs. Right now, government leaders are discussing what sort of rules will help these organisations work. 


There are those who want these regulations to be made at the ministry or agency level, or regional regulations at the provincial level. "Others want the regulations to be made through a head of state to ensure that operations are standardised," said Arifin.


The second is a matter of budget. The formation of a new body requires an additional allocation of funds which must be agreed in advance through the political processes. In addition, each ministry, agency and regional government, will need to prepare a work plan so that this office can work effectively and sustainably.


In current discussions, it has emerged that not all ministries and agencies will need to form a new office. An institution may optimise a current office by utilising the structure of a team of ministerial experts, special staff or deputies to develop a digital transformation program in their respective institutions.


"Making a DTO will not be imposed, but the transformation must be. If there are problems with costs or other issues, we can optimise the existing structure," Arifin concluded. 

The Ministry of Health is ready to assist


At a different panel, Deputy Chief of DTO of the Ministry of Health, Agus Rachmanto, said that he appreciated the Government's plan to create an institution which relies on the Ministry of Health’s success stories.


"We welcome the steps of the central Government in tapping on the existing initiatives at the Ministry of Health with the hope that other ministries can better emulate them. We are ready to work together to make it happen.”


According to Agus, there are several advantages that will come with the scaling of DTO. First, digital teams in ministries can combine databases for each sector to improve workflow efficiency. Most recently, the country has announced plans to resolve such inefficiencies through national data centres.

Deputy Chief of DTO, Ministry of Health, Agus Rachmanto, explained how his organization encourages digitalization of the health sector in a DTI-CX 2023 panel discussion session. Photo: Adhouse Clarion Events

Second, digitalisation programs can be more focused by aligning the needs and solutions in each ministry. "This will also help us collaborate between DTOs better, as the goals for the public will be the same," Agus added.


Regarding membership, Agus underlined that the Ministry of Health's DTO’s discretion to recruit professionals is one key benefit. Many professionals have joined other ministries' digital teams, including unicorn founders from Indonesia.


"Actually, there are many successful young people in the private sector who are interested in contributing to the government, but they are confused about where to start. As soon as the government opens up opportunities, they will be happy to join in," Agus concluded.


This article was originally published in Bahasa here.