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eGovernment: Safer, smarter, and better connected

To make smart cities a reality and to power industry transformation, eGovernment's first stop is public safety.

By Edwin Diender, VP of Government & Public Utility Sector, Huawei

We can’t solve tomorrow’s problems with today’s economic models. Every country has created some sort of digital agenda and most have a roadmap in place. Digital agendas evolve into digital transformation programs that will give structure and direction to smart services and power both governments and industries into the Ind ustry 4.0 era.

Four stages to smart governance

The evolution into eGovernment that drives digital transformation and creates smart cities occurs in four basic stages: 

Regardless of economic development, people’s basic needs and wants are fairly universal: equal access to education, job creation, healthcare, transportation, and sufficient food and water in a safe environment. Then, a robust digital infrastructure is the key to unlocking the potential of people and societies. 

The main differences between nations are the legacy systems and information silos that are already in place. Choices from the past are now blocking forward progress, meaning that nations must take different approaches to digital transformation. However, our case studies show that when a city or area is safe, its citizens feel more secure and open to building expectations for value-added digital services and smart solutions.  

Staying safe

Thus, the first program in smart city initiatives is safety. After all, how economically viable is a digital agenda if a city or region isn’t safe and secure? People don’t want to live or work in an unsafe environment, and they definitely don’t want to put their families at risk. Areas with high crime are characterized by a lack of unity, poor citizenship, and low quality of life. In the index, the highest-scoring countries for living standards also tend to be some of the safest. Crime also doesn’t pay ─ it’s estimated that violent crime, for example, costs the UK economy £124 billion per year. As such, does it make sense to follow a digital agenda and invest in smart city initiatives and smart services without resolving the safety issue first?

Safe cities in action 

Connected devices and IoT benefit public safety and policing. Authorities can combine their own video surveillance networks with other public and private security systems alongside vehicle-mounted and portable solutions. With zero blind spots, these systems can monitor incidents like theft, civic unrest, and unauthorized access much more easily.

With smart devices running on private broadband networks, officers can pick up a live feed of, for example, shoplifting from CCTV before arriving at the scene, or they can receive feeds of criminals escaping a crime scene from cameras fixed to patrol cars or drones in the vicinity. Responses can be coordinated between central command and local patrols, while incident reports can be filed on the spot via mobile apps – all on a single device. 

Police can store and organize surveillance data in a video cloud solution, and access, share and query vast video datasets with greater ease and accuracy. Sophisticated analytics tools improve the ability to identify, classify, and match stored video. These safe city solutions are secure against cyber attacks and cost effective as new infrastructure, especially when rolled out as part of broader smart city initiatives.

Snapshot: Kenya 

Tourism contributes around 14 per cent of Kenya’s GDP and 12 percent of total employment, making it second only to agriculture in terms of importance. But recent attacks on its cities and coastal towns as well as ongoing conflicts in Somalia and Sudan have resulted in warnings to avoid the nation. 

Its National Police Service Commission now has a high-speed private broadband network based in part on Huawei’s wireless eLTE solution. The new infrastructure links its command centers with surveillance cameras in downtown Nairobi, and cameras at city checkpoints, and any mobile or wireless device in the hands of officers in the field. Huawei’s communications network links multiple surveillance cameras with 195 police bureaus and more than 7,600 police officers. 

Authorities now have panoramic video surveillance of Nairobi’s urban centre, and a highly agile converged command control and dispatch setup, running on satellite-based GPS and software-based GIS, the geographic information system designed to store and manipulate GPS data. 

An intelligent video analysis platform has been established to manage video resources and meet a variety of service needs, including real-time surveillance, video browsing, data sharing and evidence collection. The new system has enhanced police collaboration and field coordination and significantly shortened decision-making and response times. 

There is a gathering momentum for sophisticated public safety and security systems. In Shanghai, similar solutions have seen crime rates drop by 30 percent, and with emergency responders arriving at crime scenes in an average of just three minutes.

Transformation with government cloud

Governments have started transitioning from manual and paper processes to digital processes for all public services like tax, visas, housing, and citizen registration. 

Paperless offices, high-performance workplaces, and self-service portals provide each government department with a unique system to digitally support its work. But, all these systems are verticalized. They’re information silos, they’re proprietary, they block progress, and they cannot seamlessly integrate with other systems.  

Overlaying cloud architecture can remove the barriers between government functions and departmental silos without necessarily upgrading or having to replace existing infrastructure. Individual departments can access integrated, cross-functional application systems and staff can transfer access permissions to other departments.

Removing silos can make a once-only model possible for individuals and businesses to access government services. Instead of having to register multiple times across government departments for different services, doing so once covers all services. Re-using information can also guarantee a much more personal experience. The same principle applies to contacting multiple departments for a single issue like registering a business, applying for citizenship or registering a birth. 

eGovernment bridges information silos and makes them work as a single unit without replacing them or executing a forklift upgrade. Digital transformation is built on open standards and carried by Business-driven ICT infrastructure (BDII). With a focus on customer-centric innovation, BDII is leading the way into the next industrial revolution by deeply integrating ICT infrastructure and software applications, developing innovative infrastructures, and enabling joint innovation with partners.

As the engine of digital transformation, government cloud has a series of benefits:

  • Shares data across departments and enables service collaboration and diversification.
  • Reduces costly and complex networking and computing resource duplication that occurs when each government agency maintains its own IT resources.
  • Protects government information from a growing number of internal and external security threats.
  • Serves as a scalable solution that adapts to expanded or downsized government functions.

Big data analytics and IoT

Enabled by cloud, data mining and analyzing huge datasets can reveal insights that can help governments with extremely complex decision-making, especially when AI solutions add precision and insight to analytics. Data mining tools can process structured numeric data in traditional databases or extract relevance from semi-structured and unstructured data, such as text, graphics, images, and web data. 

IoT and smart sensors have huge potential for making connections everywhere in eGovernment and serving as the source of an incredible amount of data. While the most publicized applications of IoT tend to be in the areas of transportation and health, less obvious applications include wildlife protection, monitoring rivers to predict floods, and protecting against earthquakes.

In touch with the people 

A strong digital infrastructure can also realize huge cost savings for governments and strengthen relationships with citizens. The European Commission estimates that online communication could cut costs by between 15 and 20 percent, while e-Procurement could save a staggering €100 billion per year. 

Realizing cost savings through ICT is particularly important in the light of the austerity facing so many governments. According to the Institute of Fiscal Studies, Britain’s time of austerity will extend through to the 2020s, while current plans in the US will see cuts of US$10.5 trillion over 10 years. In July 2017, the BBC reported that the new government in France will “cut €4.5bn (£4bn; $5.1bn), primarily from defense, interior, foreign affairs, and transport.”

But, extending the “digital by default” strategy can make services cheaper and easier to provide and crucially, accessible to more people, as the costs associated with traditional phone, paper, and face-to-face contact are removed. 

Industry accelerators

Once safe cities, digital infrastructure, and eGovernment solutions are in place, digital transformation can be more easily replicated in other scenarios such as transportation, agriculture, healthcare, and education. Digital transformation also encourages government-enterprise partnerships.

Snapshot: India

Teacher-training programs run by the UK-based NGO Pratham are getting ICT into schools with initiatives like Read India and Vocational Skilling, while the mobile app My Education links learners to India’s largest eBook store.  

Tata Consultancy Services has developed mKRISHI, a mobile solution that connects rural farmers with stakeholders and market prices and provides advice on maximizing yield, pesticides, fertilizers, water, and soil. The startup Cropin Technology has created an app for farmers that relays data about a given farm to a cloud-based server, applies analytics to boost productivity, and connects farmers to financial services. Further down the industry chain, the tech firm Netcore provides SaaS solutions embedded with sensors to monitor factors like temperature in warehouses in remote locations to minimize waste from perishable goods.
Underpinned by nationwide mobile broadband and cloud, and starting from a safe city environment, a forward-looking government is aware that digitally empowered people can greatly enhance the nation’s economy, not just by improving efficiency and lowering the cost of traditional industries, but also by giving them the tools to become innovators and industry accelerators who can help boost every industry domain.

Looking ahead to 2025

We’re likely to see a whole range of changes over the next decade. The advent of driverless cars, for example, may consign driving licenses to history and lead to the reallocation of land previously used for things like parking lots. Basic services like garbage disposal will become smart and on-demand, rather than waiting for city services to handle them at certain times of the week. Smart lighting will save money for electricity companies and enhance public safety with sensors that know when you’re near, and light your way as required. Smart meters in homes will cut bills for consumers by enabling tailored adjustments to energy use.

Augmented reality is likely to have a widespread impact on public services. For example, a water leak today leads to roads being blocked off and dug up to locate the fault. In the near future, water pipe valves will provide real-time information to an intelligent operations center. Paper blueprints spread out on an engineer’s dashboard will be replaced by a smart device that displays the complete water network via an overlay of AR, thus visualizing the specific section of the water network and its faults.

Equally, police officers will have real-time information available in their helmet’s visor or in-vehicle display, allowing for a far quicker response, which is further accelerated by less congested roads. Civil engineers or services departments can use AR for maintenance and repairs rather than going through paper manuals.

The future is destined to be safer and smarter, with eGovernment enabling seamless interaction between citizens and the government and the efficient delivery of public services. A better connected city, region or nation makes public services economically more viable and sustainable. The result is a better quality of life for all.