Digital Transformation Agenda: UNU-EGOV policy work and capacity development in Armenia

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  • 2017•12•12     Yerevan

    The automation and re-engineering of business processes, together with the extensive use of data transformation, has the potential of transforming both public and private organisations, making them more efficient, effective, and smarter. With a focus on the digital transformation of the Republic of Armenia, the United Nations University Operating Unit on Policy-Driven Electronic Governance is providing policy advice and capacity development in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia.

    Republic Square, Yerevan, Armenia. Photo by Morten Meyerhoff Nielsen, UNU-EGOV.

    Why a digital transformation?

    New technologies, forms of organization, and business models are transforming societies and economies across the globe. This challenges the effectiveness of previously developed policies in a broad range of areas. The automation and re engineering of business processes, together with the extensive use of data transformation, has the potential of transforming both public and private organisations.

    Technology not only allows authorities to make internal operations of the government entities and their interaction more effective, efficient, and transparent, it also gives opportunity to improve the quality and accessibility of services for the well-being of its citizens and businesses. The digital environment also enables different stakeholders at all levels to provide more coherent and integrated solutions to complex challenges based on enhanced data analytics, communication, and engagement.

    The question is: what exactly constitutes a digital transformation of the economy and society? In this context, digital refers to any form of technology and data use in any sector, be it public or private. The economy at large is defined as the state of a country or region in terms of the production and consumption of goods and services and the supply of money.[1] Transformation, in turn, refers to a complete change in the appearance or character of something, especially so that the thing is improved.[2] Therefore, the digital transformation of a country refers to IT- and technology-enabled innovation in a particular domain, rather than simply an enhancement and support of traditional ways of doing things. This means that the successful implementation of a digital government must be conditioned by the increased capability to not only co-design and co-produce digital public services, but also to transform the public administration itself. In this regard, the main components are resilient and robust infrastructures coupled with a viable system of digital identification, digitalization of information, and the processes needed to make public services personalized and closer to the citizens’ needs and interests.

    Other elements of the digital government are formalized and seamless exchange of data between public institutions and with non-state stakeholders, as well as data analytics and application of innovative concepts: SMART urban and rural areas, SMART grids, Internet of Things (IoT) and other new technologies, such as Blockchain and Artificial Intelligence (AI) solutions to ensure efficient and effective planning, service delivery, and decision making.

    On-going national consultation

    Kicking off a national consultation and strategy development process on 9-10 September 2017, UNU-EGOV researcher Morten Meyerhoff Nielsen, together with local and international experts from Austria, Estonia, and Slovenia, presented the global trends of a IT- and technology-facilitated socio-economic transformation at the Armenia Digitization Agenda Workshop. Led by the Armenian Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan and Vice Prime Minister Vache Gabrielyan, Morten participated in a number of panels and presented a keynote to an audience of 40 plus decision makers from the public and private sectors, as well as civil society.

    The training and policy recommendations currently being developed are based on in-depth analysis of the respective strengths and weakness of existing technology used in Armenia, and the potential opportunities to be pursued. At the same time, an active risk mitigation is also being looked at.

    When the agenda is approved by the Cabinet (expected December 2017), it will be published as part of the national consultation process. National partners, stakeholders, and experts will be specifically invited to engage in the process. Once the consultation process is completed, the agenda will be updated and complimented with a national action plan of strategic initiatives to ensure the actual implementation of the national vision outlined in the Digital Transformation Agenda of Armenia. This should come in effect in early 2018.

    Morten Meyerhoff Nielsen during the workshop (left) and view of the room (right). Photos by the Press Office of the Government of Armenia (

    Six strategic pillars

    The Digital Transformation Agenda focuses on infrastructure development, including broadband coverage, smart use of technology to ensure sustainable utility provision, and the update and uptake of key enablers, such as electronic identities and digital signatures in partnership with the private sector. Within government, the focus is on key back- and front-office use of technology to break down government silos in favour of a whole-of-government approach to public service delivery online. In addition, quality assurance and the reuse of government data based on interoperability and “once-only-principles” are complimented with pilot programmes for smart tech and welfare technologies to lead and inspire the digital transformation of local, regional, and national authorities.

    Skills development focuses not only on digital literacy and use of e-Learning tools in schools and at universities, but on STEM, creativity, and entrepreneurship, thus equipping future generations for an increasingly digital society and economy. In the transition period and for specific focal sectors, vocational and life-long learning will, in partnership with the employers and industry representatives, be particularly relevant to ensure better jobs for all Armenians. In fact, the focus is on ensuring the successful transformation of key competitive national industries, such as agriculture, banking and finance, and IT sector. This will allow them to remain at the forefront of global trends and utilise competitive advantages in the regional and global markets.

    Last, but not least, the strategy is underpinned by a strengthening of the institutional framework. Linking the national vision with the digital transformation agenda is a specific initiative of the newly formed Digital Armenia Foundation (DAF), which is responsible for coordinating, monitoring, reporting, and proposing adjustments and re-prioritisation of strategic goals and resources. The DAF is supported by a strong mandate and is to ensure the effective and efficient cooperation between government entities at all levels, while not forgetting industry and civil society. The aim is to optimise the use of resources and benefit realisation through collaboration and partnerships – at home and abroad – minimise risk of failure, and facilitate the development of a new, smarter, work and organisational culture within the public sector.

    “Pillars of Innovation”, Temple of Garni, Armenia. Photo by Morten Meyerhoff Nielsen, UNU-EGOV.

    UN Sustainable Development Goals and UNU-EGOV Work

    The successful digital transformation of a country can, if designed accordingly, support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). For instance, universal accessibility based on coverage and principles of equal access to safe, affordable, high quality public services, water, electricity, and sanitation are closely associated with goals 2, 6, 7, 9, 11, and 16. Smart and resilient infrastructures underpin efficient, effective, transparent, and inclusive government service provision and growth based on a diversified mix of renewable and cyclical utility generation and trans-border connectivity, thereby helping to achieve goals 6, 7, 89, 11, and 16. This, in turn, will help reduce poverty and increase inclusion and equality, which aims at achieving goals 1, 5, and 10. The key challenge is to align different strategic objectives across government initiatives and effectively execute them in line with measurable key performance indictors and national success criteria.

    For more information on the policy and capacity development work in Armenia and in general, digital transformation and emerging technologies, public service delivery, administrative burden reduction, emerging SMART concepts, and governments as a facilitator of innovation in the private sector, please contact us.

    [1] Oxford Dictionary
    [2] Cambridge Dictionary