Challenges and Opportunities for Vietnam Digital Government Transformation

9:03:21 AM | 3/25/2022

“Vietnam needs to continue to better combine institutional process reform with technological opportunities for effective national governance in the digital age. The proposed digital government transformation program for 2021-2025 needs to go beyond aspirational statements or procedural measures to outline a clearly prioritized and sequenced action plan."

These are the main messages stated in the World Bank's policy report regarding Vietnam’s digital government transformation.

Digital database systems and service platforms

All governments around the globe don’t want to be left behind in digital transformation. Therefore, they are seizing opportunities and handling the challenges posed by the disruptive technology trend. However, among many competing pressures, many government apparatuses are focusing on technology, ignoring the need for extensive transformation for that technology to become effective in order to improve the way the government provides services to the people.

For an emerging economy like Vietnam, digital government transformation not only implies adequate budgetary investment in information and communication technology (ICT) annually and in the medium term. The focus of digital government transformation is to modernize the ways the Government operates, with the support of technology-based applications. Because digital government transformation occurs at the intersection of technological and institutional transformation, it is very different from many other conventional infrastructure investment programs. Digital Government outcomes require a combined investment for institutional and organizational transformation, human capital improvements, and how and to what extent investment capital is mobilized. Adopting an extensive approach is a necessary condition for realizing tangible improvements, as opposed to simply being confused in the implementation or still performing the usual business operations as before.

Successful transformation involves not only digitizing public sector processes and data to transform the daily lives of citizens, businesses and officials, but also forming the foundations and features. According to the World Bank, the fundamental elements for digital government include basic and universal digital connectivity, digital identifiers and payment mechanisms for people to exploit digital services, as well as security and data integration platforms. Feature elements are the ways in which those platforms are brought together to deliver real front-line service results. In areas such as digital connectivity, Vietnam has started with the right position, although it is expected that the next-generation 5G network will continue to be a new threshold to strive for in this area, including for investment by private investors. However, in areas such as digital identity, the ability to protect and operate digital data assets in the public sector, and digital payments, Vietnam is not only behind many correlated countries, but also lags behind in terms of potential to become a breakthrough country in digital government. According to the World Bank, while the pioneering countries in digital government in the world today have formed and maintained a trajectory towards results, Vietnam needs to learn about experiences and shortcomings in digital government initiatives at home and abroad.

The condition for a successful transition is to mobilize adequate resources for the Digital Government. However, international experience in digital government transformation shows that the problem is not just how many resources, but how to allocate resources and invest in digital government functions and levels of government. Today's data wallet is a new asset like oil was in the past; the Government needs to improve the way in which the public sector digital assets are formed, exploited and protected.

The main challenge – but also an opportunity – for the overall digital transformation in Vietnam remains the country-specific decentralized model. Although Vietnam is a unitary country, the country's 63 provinces are still responsible for most of the decision-making and implementation of public services at the grassroots level. Delivering critical Digital Government services requires securing digital database systems and service platforms to efficiently and securely exploit those resources.

Roadmap for successful digital government transformation

According to the report of the World Bank, whether it is the goal about the competitiveness of the digital economy, Industry 4.0, solutions for smart cities, or simply the government's ability to implement, Vietnam needs to take practical steps to transform digital government at both central and local levels to determine the impact of using financial resources for this important area in the next phase of development in Vietnam.

Through the lens of institutional reform and technological modernization to prioritize and sequence the results of Digital Government, the World Bank report recommends three main pillars to address challenges in digital government transformation.

Firstly, it is necessary to concretize a digital government transformation program. This program must represent the communication vision of “Digital by Design” for investment in the foundation elements and features of Digital Government in the period 2021-2025 and beyond. The Digital Government Transformation Program also needs to outline a solid outcome framework for digital transformation in the medium term combined with overall cost-benefit analysis (CBA) approaches to investment for the fundamentals and features both at central and provincial level in the direction of selection. This program must change the mindset to move beyond a narrow focus on ICT projects to a mindset about digital assets that need to be owned and protected. This mindset can be extended through the lens of public asset governance (PAG) to review and share key digital data, with a view to improving digital government outcomes, including through strengthening options for gathering public feedback

In addition, it is necessary to empower and create incentives for local governments to continue to innovate in digital government: The national government needs to outline a facilitation mechanism to promote digital transformation and innovation, while ensuring the delivery of important foundational elements such as digital identity, data exchange standards, and payments.

In particular, it is necessary to retain and invest in skills for digital transformation, maintaining some skills internally, combined with modernization in the entire public sector. At the heart of this program is the need to focus on investing in people and managing changes.

By Quynh Anh , Vietnam Business Forum