Artificial Intelligence

How making the most out of GovTech's boom will strengthen public services

White robot near brown wall: GovTech utilises underlying technologies such as machine learning and artificial intelligence.

GovTech utilises underlying technologies such as machine learning and artificial intelligence. Image: Unsplash/Alex Knight

Manuel Kilian
Founder and CEO, GovMind
Puja Raghavan
Associate, GovMind
Anna Alles
Head of Product, GovMind
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  • GovTech refers to the public sector’s use of emerging technologies and digital products, often provided by start-ups and SMEs.
  • GovTech solutions address problems across the entire spectrum of public tasks with the potential to digitally transform the public sector at large.
  • Strengthening GovTech requires a better understanding of innovative solutions in the public sector and a stronger focus of public procurement on those solutions

The COVID-19 outbreak accelerated a lot of innovation that had been bubbling in the background; it certainly illuminated the need for transparent, digitally-capable governments and public administrations to effectively manage such a complexly evolving and widespread pandemic. However, this need has been clear for some time.

The urgency for the public sector’s digital transformation to address current and future challenges can be advanced by using technology and services tailored to its needs. The collective term for these tools is “government technology,” or GovTech, and its use is gaining ground.

GovTech is now recognised and prioritised by governments as critical to making public services more efficient, effective and accessible. The climate emergency, the pandemic’s fallout and the emerging technology space have compounded this demand for ambitious ideas, future-facing strategies and innovative solutions to tackle such challenges.

However, connecting digital innovation with public institutions requires an open conversation between policymakers, entrepreneurs, public sector administrators and investors.

Making the most of the GovTech innovations

Here are seven key issues stakeholders should reflect on to get the best out of the GovTech innovation boom.

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1. GovTech and procurement

The public procurement of GovTech – which accounts for 14% of GDP in the European Union isn’t straightforward, particularly considering the many start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that are key GovTech providers, a large, diverse and fast-evolving landscape of almost 2,000 entities in Europe with which to become familiar.

Then, facing the extensive procedures and complex requirements of public procurement can discourage these smaller operations from engaging with the public sector. Ultimately, GovTech can only be properly understood and fostered by first grasping the procurement framework responsible for deploying it.

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2. Digital sovereignty

Achieving digital sovereignty – protection of digital assets like data – of states can be considered through four perspectives:

  • Technological – independence in developing and using (future) key technologies.
  • Procurement – there may be a dominant technology of such central importance that the negotiating position of public buyers becomes weak.
  • Cyber security – sufficient protection is needed against attacks to maintain broader state sovereignty.
  • Equipping public security authorities – the relevant bodies need digital tools to maintain public order effectively and ethically.

GovTech can address all four of these perspectives. For example, GovTech can achieve greater digital sovereignty due to strengthened cyber security with products developed to high standards (that’s not to say new digital products can’t lead to higher exposure to cyber threats).

Furthermore, approximately 250 European GovTech providers offer products to help ensure state sovereignty but there is still the question of how decisive the impact of such technologies will be.

3. GovTech’s underlying technologies

Virtually all major new technologies are being implemented within GovTech products. Artificial intelligence that automates complex decision-making and mimics human thought processes is present across the entire spectrum of offerings. Its use cases range from intelligent chatbots for public interaction to computer-vision applications for traffic observation. AI has links to the broader tech trend of data analytics, or the reviewing, cleaning, transforming and modelling of data to extract information and then drawing conclusions that support decision-making.

The Internet of Things – which involves equipping smart objects with processors and sensors to network among each other and externally – is also prevalent among GovTech. Other technologies in the GovTech universe are drones, satellites and blockchain to provide a distributed, immutable digital ledger for transactions across several systems. In addition, augmented and virtual reality is being further developed in ways that could provide important information and services An outside-in analysis of 1,836 European GovTech providers showed that almost a quarter of them rely on data analytics in some form to deliver products to public clients.

The need for stronger digital-education delivery became more apparent during the pandemic but equitable coverage depends on governments delivering the basic infrastructure necessary for participation in remote and underserved areas.

Manuel Kilian, Founder and CEO, GovMind | Puja Raghavan, Associate, GovMind | Anna Alles, Head of Product, GovMind

4. GovTech for public order and safety

Public officials are confronted with increasingly varied challenges and tasks to guarantee public order in the digital world where risks can emerge fast with grave consequences. A November 2021 international report from cybersecurity research and marketing consultancy CyberEdge found that 68% of surveyed government organizations were compromised by at least one cyberattack within the previous 12 months.

According to GovMind research, out of 1,836 identified European GovTech providers, 193 have a dedicated product focus on public order and safety, a low figure compared to other use cases for the tech e.g. education or health, of which 379 and 424 GovTech products respectively have that focus area. The comparatively small focus may be down to higher barriers to entering this market, with the buyers in this area relatively concentrated and particularly risk-averse.

However, GovTech can support police and first responders with internal organization and operations and enforcement around traffic, improving traffic safety and augmenting security in public spaces. For example, it can simulate flows of people to avoid overcrowded prisons and jails or by helping identify higher-risk parts of a city using citizen input. GovTech products can also make official controls and inspections, such as monitoring of pollution levels, more efficient and effective.

5. GovTech for education and culture

Innovative technology in education can increase employment rates and labour market participation. GovTech can transform public education and cultural offerings, such as museums, by making them more accessible, efficient and adaptable.

The need for stronger digital-education delivery became more apparent during the pandemic but equitable coverage depends on governments delivering the basic infrastructure necessary for participation in remote and underserved areas. That would also involve bridging gaps in digital infrastructure – connectivity, devices and software – with human infrastructure – teacher capacity, student skills and parental support – and necessary logistical and administrative systems.

6. GovTech for health and social care

The COVID-19 pandemic hastened the digitalization of the global health sector, making teleconsultations and telehealth the norm. In addition, remote patient monitoring has allowed more people to stay home rather than check into a hospital for observation. Personal health data is also increasingly abundant in the form of wearables and fitness trackers.

Together their impact, amplified by technologies such as artificial intelligence, to enable automation and optimization in healthcare and cloud-based infrastructures, make digital innovation more readily available regardless of place or time zone. Overall, such trends with innovative GovTech solutions can increase access to healthcare worldwide when all socioeconomic groups have sufficient digital access points. The same sentiments can ring true for social benefits and unemployment support, where digital innovation opens up new opportunities to provide more and better assistance at a lower cost.

One particular set of GovTech products focuses on digital support for patients, which can help increase their flexibility and independence while ensuring they receive the medical care they need. Another group of products is thematically centred on public support for small children and young people, refugees and asylum seekers, or the unemployed.

7. Making public spaces smarter

Smart cities use their populations’ data with technology to help adapt the city’s service to changing circumstances. They utilize data analytics and artificial intelligence to analyze geographical and climate data.

Facilitating interaction between administrators and residents can be done through chatbots; in addition, there are various applications to help organise civic participation. GovTech products for public services are present in every major sector, including gas, water, electricity supply and waste management.

These seven key areas will put GovTech on an even faster track to advance.

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