Evolving A Digitally Enabled Nigerian Public Service

Adapting principles from the old regime, that I consider the analog era, over time will remain non-essential to corporate and institutional success whether in the public or private sector.

According to a recent McKinsey report, the average lifespan of a company has been falling for more than half a century. Also, Standard and Poor’s (S&P) data shows that companies’ lifespans contracted in the last century. From 1958 when it was an average of 61 years, to 25 years in 1980 and just about 18 years in 2011 as a result of the digital transformation.

Digitalization is placing unprecedented pressure on organizations and government institutions to evolve. At the present rate, more than 50% of the S&P 500 incumbents would be gone by 2027. That means managing our collective transition to a digitally-driven business model is vital and crucial to our quest for a prosperous nation as Nigeria. Also, since digital touches so many parts of our lives, society, and development, any significant reform program requires coordination of people, processes, and technologies. This transition requires new skills, a holistic vision on growth trends and challenges, and a seamless collaboration between technology and governance.

The process of digital transformation encompasses, by definition, two concepts: digitalization and transformation. While digitalisation is about making Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) integral to the Nigerian government’s function whether federal, state, or local government, business process transformation applies to addressing the weaknesses that continually challenge public service operations.

A digital transformation of the Nigerian public service would enable it to embrace the much-needed change; including digital technologies and other innovative approaches to improve service delivery and management as well as its working culture, and redefine the value systems in the public service for a worthwhile and rewarding outcome.

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The Nigerian public service has real strength and potential. It exists to implement the policies of the government of the day, regardless of that government’s politics. Its position and expected political impartiality enable exceptionally rapid transitions between governments. The majority of Nigeria's civil servants are dedicated, hard-working and have a deep-seated public service ethos but change has come to Nigeria as per recent developments.

The Nigerian public wants quality services to be delivered faster, better, cheaper, more integrated and more ecologically friendly. Nigeria’s dependence on ever-fluctuating oil prices, which are today near their lowest, means that these improvements must be delivered at a lower cost than ever before. This means that the drive for greater efficiency must be relentless, and productivity must continue to improve.

Public sector productivity in Nigeria has often been static (and sometimes regressive) while the private sector has grown year after year. The need for efficiency and economic sustainability implies that government work, wherever possible, must become digitally enabled and integrated within the numerous Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs).

Nowadays, the best service institutions deliver anything that can be offered online, on the Internet. The concept of “digital first” in the private sector cuts operational costs dramatically and allows access to information, knowledge, and services at times and in ways that are people-centred. This is at variance with the provider-centred model, the antithesis to previously dominant models of public service delivery as inherited from the colonial masters.

The Nigerian government’s ICT capacity has lagged far behind that of the private sector for too long. Although fledgling and successful stand-alone heterogeneous technology efforts can be found in many government MDAs, they are insufficient and piecemeal. Therefore, the pace of change needed to catch up with contemporary international standards places significant demands on the civil service, its administration, and its staff. Public servants will require better skills, better tools and a mindset that is firmly citizen-focused to engage the changing global economic climate successfully.

For Nigeria to embrace its Sustainable Development Goals, the hopes and aspirations of its young population and the public servants, the government will need to embark on a general public sector digital transformation program on a scale unprecedented on the Afrikan continent. This work outlines the proposed goals and objectives of this process; it also sets forth the following public service transformational vision:

A fully functional and agile public service administration resolutely oriented towards the Nigerian citizen, with adequately resourced core services providing a nurturing and rewarding working environment for public servants and high-quality services to citizens.

The following approaches, taken together, could constitute the core agenda for the anticipated change in an era of continued public service decline:

1. Optimise the overall federal, state and local governments’ structure, scale and operating business model for digital enablement;

2. Radically redesign public services to improve quality of service and cost efficiency;

3. Restructure the government’s approach to public service delivery incorporating a common shared service model and framework;

4. Strengthen functional/technical leadership and capabilities across government services to support efficient delivery; and

5. Develop the vision, accountability, and capacity needed to drive a public sector digital transformation effort.

Around the world, governments are embracing digital transformation through digital service enablement. Government digital service is becoming the norm and is central to technology adoption in the public service globally. It is also true that wealthy nations are exploring the possibility of using blockchain technology, an idea that underpins the bitcoin crypto-currency to increase efficiency in the delivery of high quality and trust-based services.

A blockchain works as a decentralized ledger that is verified and shared by a network of computers and can be used to record data as well as to secure and validate transactions. Banks and other financial institutions are increasingly investing in blockchain technology, knowing it would cut their costs and make their operations faster and more transparent.

The government of Nigeria is not the first to face the need for fiscal consolidation or improvement in public service delivery. Sweden, Denmark, Australia, and Israel all recovered from significant challenges and budget deficits in the 1990s and 2000s. Similarly, the United States of America, Germany, and Kenya have taken important steps to improve service delivery and management on tight budgets.

According to the Greeks, “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit under,” Nigerian government leaders are therefore invited to consider seriously digitizing their public services.

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