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[CONTRIBUTION] Key to successful digital platform government through lens of big data

Lee Young-sang, president and CEO of DataStreams, a data management company in Seoul
Lee Young-sang, president and CEO of DataStreams, a data management company in Seoul
Each time a new presidential administration took office, promises surrounding information technology were repeatedly made in a bid to appeal to the public.

The military regime and the Kim Young-sam administration’s pledges to foster an information and communications network were followed by the Kim Dae-jung administration’s policies to promote venture businesses. President Roh Moo-hyun envisioned the transition to an e-government, Lee Myung-bak outlined an IT convergence plan, Park Geun-hye upheld initiatives to promote transparency of government data and Moon Jae-in worked toward freer access to the internet. The key aspects of the “fourth industrial revolution” -- software, IT, network, cloud, artificial intelligence and the internet of things -- all share a commonality: the use of computers.

Yoon’s digital platform government

President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol looks committed to realizing a digital platform government. His vision remains in line with the preceding administrations’ pursuits toward digital transformation. Then what would distinguish Yoon from his predecessors in terms of his specific goals and action plans? What legacy would he leave behind as compared to former presidents?

Let’s take a look at the usage of the word “platform.” The term, in general, refers to a railway platform. But in business, a platform is a computer architecture where activities involved in production, consumption and distribution consistently take place. That is, a system that creates value by linking consumers and producers and facilitating their exchanges.

Nowadays the term is not just limited to the online sphere, but is being extended to encompass a broader social ecosystem underlying various sectors. Particularly in the public sector, the e-government centered around the Ministry of the Interior and Safety and the Ministry of Science and ICT would be the closest we have to an IT platform. It is a platform since it was launched to serve as a system and is still being run that way. Building on South Korea’s legacy in having the world’s fastest internet connection and the No. 1 e-government for three years since 2010, we will need to remedy our shortcomings and fortify our strengths to develop the platform into an even more advanced one.

In lockstep with the global trend towards a digital transformation, we need to lay the groundwork for cloud computing, tap into the metaverse to overcome physical and temporal limitations, and transform the work environment amid the pandemic. We can also make use of big data and AI to improve the government system into a more efficient, safe, and transparent one. Technologies driving the smart industry should be expanded and integrated into the renewed platform.

Importance of platform, data

There is nothing so special about the above proposals.

Then what further steps should be taken to animate digital platforms so that they generate more future-oriented, innovative outcomes? In a nutshell, it is data that distinguishes today’s digital platforms from the preceding version of an e-government. To do so, it is of utmost necessity to establish a data governance policy that coordinates the aspects responsible for the production, collection, storage and management of data.

In other words, policies need to address what data is being produced in each government department and municipality. They need to address who owns the data, how to standardize the data, and to what extent the data should be shared and disclosed. When such policies take root, we will be set to integrate data sources. A standardized and integrated data set can serve as a principal intermediary within and between government agencies and the people. It also allows for transparency in the work process, which helps foster mutual trust and efficient, timely decision-making. A unified data set can even promote new businesses, feeding into a national ecosystem favorable to industrial development.

Another component of a successful digital platform policy is the integration of ordinary people into the platform. Digital technology does not have to exclusively favor conglomerates and tech companies. It can also benefit those dwarfed by these giants: individual merchants, small and medium-sized companies, and just ordinary people. Encouraging those on the sidelines of power to capitalize on digital technologies can help bridge the digital divide. For instance, connecting the government-led digital platform to private-sector platforms can foster entrepreneurship, inviting start-ups and small-sized businesses to take advantage of the integration into a government-centered digital platform.

It is also important to nurture IT experts. Fostering talent is essential to realizing diverse digital needs and to vitalizing the digital ecosystem. Such a policy offers employment opportunities for the youth. However, current policies to cultivate tech talent are not setting the priorities straight. Stuck in the past, they are not fully embracing what the most cutting-edge sectors are calling for. The new administration must work out these unresolved challenges the preceding administrations left behind.

Developing GaaS

To illustrate some exemplary uses of the platform, a data governance system that coordinates data across government departments and municipalities can contribute to creating a public data catalog service, like an AI secretary. This virtual assistant helps with administrative services, legal affairs, taxation and civil complaints. Specifically, it can serve as a digital AI guide that answers questions, breaks down complex terms for laypeople, and provides consultations on filing complaints.

Moreover, the government can launch a personalized data service, called MyData, that provides information on employment opportunities, welfare benefits, tax affairs, lifelong learning, career training programs, and crime prevention services. In order to advance such an application from one that simply explains technical terms to a more full-fledged one that provides actual services, we need to overhaul the traditional e-government system where data was partitioned across disparate departments and municipalities, and develop an easily accessible, one-stop structure called Government as a Service, or GaaS, based on standardized, integrated data governance. Such a transition requires the development of relevant administrative policies and political agreements between data owners and data managers.

A CIO under PM

The last piece of the puzzle to successfully establish and operate a digital platform is an organization that plans, coordinates and integrates the platform.

The currently available options -- the Ministry of the Interior and Safety and the Ministry of Science and ICT -- lack the necessary authority and capability to conduct the role. Moreover, political sensibilities, which bureaucracies fail to provide, are needed to coordinate the responsibilities of departments and to mitigate conflicting interests of municipalities. This is the reason why we need to put in place IT leadership positions -- chief information officer and chief digital officer -- directly under the president’s or the prime minister’s office. Through consensus and integration, we can establish a shared, coordinated system of data governance based on data created and collected by the digital platform.

Such efforts require a supportive government environment favorable to utilizing collected and aggregated data. By generating diverse and useful data through interfacing with the private sector, we can enhance the value of digital platform services. We can also animate data transaction systems and data-based businesses.

One thing to keep in mind when nourishing a platform is that they tend to become dominated by more powerful entities. To prevent this from happening, it is essential to run platforms in an open manner and to consistently monitor activities in order to prevent conflict of interest among those who manage the platform.

By Lee Young-sang

Lee Young-sang is president and CEO of DataStreams, a data management company in Seoul. His views expressed in this article are his own. -- Ed.

By Korea Herald (khnews@heraldcorp.com)
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