Can ICT lead to both cost savings and administrative burden reduction?
Participants and panellists at the UNU-EGOV-organised WSIS Forum 2016 workshop discussed whether ICT can both reduce costs in public service delivery and cut the amount of red-tape citizens and business face when dealing with governments. The workshop was organised as part of the ongoing research of UNU-EGOV on Electronic Governance for Administrative Burden Reduction and Electronic Governance for Context-Specific Public Service Delivery.
Public Service Delivery and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development
Demographic changes, economic uncertainty, environmental risks, etc. challenges public service delivery, stretch public resources and undermine the implementation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.
ICT-enabled cost and burden reduction in public service delivery can support the Agenda in a number of ways: first, cost savings and productivity growth within the public sector may release resources to promote other development goals (SDG 8); second, efficient and effective use of ICT in the back-office combined with administrative burden reduction help promote just, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all (SDG 8 and SDG 16); third, ICT-enabled public sector is an essential part of a resilient infrastructure, which can promote sustainable industrialization and foster innovation in the private sector and civil society (SDG 9).
ICT-enabled cost saving and burden reduction in public sector service delivery is also linked to a number of WSIS Action Lines. The 40 years of ICT use within public administration has not necessarily led to the realization of the efficiency and effectiveness gains that were originally envisaged. The role of public authorities and stakeholders in the promotion of ICT for development (Action Line C1) must therefore be examined. The aim is to ensure that ICT infrastructure (Action Line C2) and ICT applications that support public service delivery (Action Line C7) lead to real, measurable and realized cost and burden reductions for authorities, businesses and citizens, delivered in a transparent, equitable and ethical manner (Action Line C10).
Four key questions addressed
The workshop revolved around four key questions. First, does the use of ICT in public service delivery save costs? Second, can cost reduction for public administration translate into cost or burden increase for citizens and businesses? Third, can cost and burden reduction take place simultaneously for public administrations and the end-users? Lastly, what are the catalysts and barriers for simultaneous cost and burden reduction for public administrations, citizens and businesses?
The workshop started with an introduction by Tomasz Janowski (Head, UNU-EGOV) and was followed by presentations of actual examples and national experiences from around the world, including:
Yes, ICT can lead to both cost savings and administrative burden reduction but…
Experiences highlighted by the panellist and participants from countries as diverse as Bangladesh, Russia, and Uruguay confirmed that ICT can help reduce both the cost and administrative burden of public service delivery. Similarly, ICT-enabled modernization and reform can increase the quality of service delivery, transparency and access to services across geographical and socio-economic divides, if designed for specific contexts and with the end-user in mind:
“We see that ICT-enabled cost savings and administrative burden reduction requires that the individual solutions are tailored to specific contexts and target groups” – Tomasz Janowski
The discussion unearthed experiences and highlighted examples of the increasing evidence of ICT-enabled public sector reform releasing scarce resources for other public services such as education and health care, and to support private sector growth and job creation. The discussion also emphasized the need to take a whole-of-government and user-centric approach to service delivery, cross-governmental cooperation, share and reuse of data between authorities, and setting minimum requirements for usability:
“In my experience, LEAN processes is an important tool to optimize public service delivery. This applies to IT systems development in both the public and the private sector” – Maria Inés Baqué
Both panelists and participants emphasized the need for a clear vision, and active planning, monitoring and follow-up to ensure benefit realization in support of such a vision, especially post-implementation:
“It’s essential to continuously monitor and measure performance. If you don’t, you do not know if you are achieving your strategic objectives or actually realize the envisaged cost savings, productivity gains or quality improvements envisaged” – Morten Meyerhoff Nielsen