The Pandemic, Governance & Technology: Connected & Intelligent

ByHong-Eng Koh

August 25, 2020

Hong-Eng Koh

In this blog series of three posts, I look at how governments no longer have a choice about digital transformation due to COVID-19.

  • Part 1 gives an overview of emerging micro and macro socioeconomic trends and the rise of “bubbles”.
  • Part 2 examines the critical steps governments need to take for successful digital transformation.

In part 3, I expand on the technology and people strategies that can underpin the transformation journey.

City/Country-Wide Data Strategy

Digital transformation is totally dependent on data. To meet their own transformation needs and the evolving needs of the people, society, enterprises and even other governments under the new norm, governments must have a city/country-wide data strategy. This strategy also needs to involve the private sector and it needs to answer many questions: These include:

  • What data is needed?
  • Do we need data standards?
  • Where can the data be found, created or acquired?
  • Is there a legal authority to access, share and fuse the data?
  • How can the data be accessed in a timely fashion?
  • Who pays for the data access, especially from the private sector?
  • Is the data accurate?
  • Do we need data transformation and cleansing?
  • Will the data be stored centrally or in a federated model?
  • How will the data, at rest and in transit, be protected?
  • Who can access the data?
  • What are the considerations for privacy and data protection?

City/Country-Wide ICT Strategy

1. National or City ICT Infrastructure: Digital transformation cannot start if a country or city does not have a robust and broadband national or city ICT infrastructure. Indeed, one cannot even work or study from home with poor connectivity.

With the need for trusted bubbles – and to live, play, learn and work from anywhere – mobile broadband is a critical part of such ICT infrastructure. COVID-19 may accelerate the implementation of 5G globally. Governments need to weigh the balance between budget, spectrum availability, and values of 5G features such as Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB), Massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC), Ultra Reliable Low Latency Communications (uRLLC), Network Slicing, and Direct Internet Access (DIA).

2. Available and Affordable Internet Access: Many organisations have called Internet access a human right. Whatever the outcome of this debate, it is the responsibility of governments to narrow the digital divide, especially under this new norm and government digital transformation. Smart devices and Internet access must be made affordable. All citizens must be given the chance to learn how to safely use the Internet and essential technologies. Indeed, under the new norm, citizens will rely on such technologies even more to create new businesses to earn a living.

3. Government Market Place: Digital transformation is driven by users but powered by data and innovative technologies. Using traditional platforms to facilitate information-sharing across government departments is not enough. We need a secured market place with access to multiple data sources in accordance with the data strategy described earlier, and which offers shared resources (e.g., mobile device management and natural language processing) and services (e.g., digital identity and digital currency gateway) for agile development and deployment of applications, even allowing collaboration between applications.

Such a market place allows government departments or trusted partners to quickly roll-out services for people, enterprises, and public servants. Huawei’s ROMA (Relationship, Open, Multi-cloud, Any-connect) hybrid integration platform is well-suited to powering such a market place. It offers comprehensive integration for applications, businesses, clouds, and devices — connecting applications and data to eliminate data silos, allowing government departments and trusted partners to explore ecosystem value, and bridging the physical and digital worlds.

4. National Sovereign Cloud: Cloud computing is increasingly becoming an attractive option for governments to replace traditional computing infrastructure for reasons such as:

  • Inclination towards OPEX/XaaS as opposed to CAPEX systems
  • Surge in demand for computing power – scalability and elasticity (e.g., tax filing deadline and a clinical information system during an epidemic)
  • High availability
  • Lack of ICT talent to operate and maintain own data centres
  • Information sharing across silo systems through PaaS
  • Lock in by Systems Integrators and Vendors in traditional silo systems (the assumption here is cloud offers some form of open standards)

But governments are also worried about the risks associated with cloud computing:

  • Security (physical, staff, information, and cyber)
  • Privacy
  • Data sovereignty
  • Cloud providers selling SaaS directly to end users bypassing ICT department
  • Bandwidth of connection (still an issue in developing countries)
  • Lock in by proprietary cloud providers
  • Long term costs
  • BCM capability of a cloud provider (especially after COVID-19)

It is therefore crucial for governments to build or promote the building of National Sovereign Cloud, where the data centres and data reside within governmental jurisdictions. In addition, we need to address issues such as:

  • Assigning ownership and control of data
  • Building consumer trust and protecting data privacy
  • Monitoring cross-border data flows
  • Building skills and capabilities for digital data development

An independent, secure, trustworthy, and innovative National Sovereign Cloud is built to dominate the national data value chain and ensure national digital sovereignty in the digital economy, including strategic autonomy, political autonomy, operational autonomy, and industry autonomy.

Technologies Enabling Operational Capabilities

Now that we have addressed the Data Strategy and ICT Strategy, let’s take a look at some innovative technologies that are needed to enable the five operational capabilities:

1. Sensing

All Things Sensing: Technologies for sensing the physical world, things, and people, and then mapping data to digital signals. These include smart devices, wearables, mobile apps, voice recognition, kiosks, smart boards, sensors, IoT, body cams, cameras, thermal cameras, drones, and robots.

Under the new norm, we are likely to see even more automated and contactless collection of data. Enhanced end-to-end security, likely through the use of Blockchain, will ensure the integrity and privacy of data collected. More devices will be embedded with 5G connectivity and intelligence to produce data of higher accuracy and value.

Examples include Huawei’s AI-based HoloSens Software-defined Camera, 5G camera, and 4K HD body can that can connect to both public and private LTE networks. Other than connectivity, another frequently neglected requirement is power supply. Huawei’s PowerCube is a highly integrated power and service transmission solution, featuring high performance power modules, Huawei-developed lithium batteries, and an intelligent Operations Support System.

2 & 3. Communicating & Collaborating

All Things Connected: Technologies to allow data, voice and video to go online, such as fibre optics, microwave, 4G/5G, Wi-Fi 6, and even private LTE.

With the need to live, play, learn and work from anywhere, stable broadband, and mostly wireless, connectivity is critical for any digital transformation effort. Major pain points include operating and maintaining different connectivity technologies, and ensuring good uptime and bandwidth management.

Huawei’s Intent-Driven Network (IDN) is the ideal choice for addressing these problems because it can digitalise enterprise networks, enable service policies to drive network policies, streamline network and service collaboration, and ultimately enable operational success.

We also need technologies to connect people, organisations and things to support data sharing and collaboration, examples include the data exchange platform, and smart programmable devices. The ROMA hybrid integration platform mentioned earlier is a great example. During the fight against COVID-19, many governments and enterprises used Huawei’s IdeaHub for remote collaboration. It is more than a smart board; it integrates multiple functions using cloud technology, including multi-screen collaboration between mobiles and PCs, interactive whiteboard, remote collaboration, FHD video conferencing, and a built-in AppGallery for many third-party applications.

4 & 5. Sense-making & Decision-making

All Things Intelligent: The use of Big Data, machine learning, and AI. Whether its big data to trace individuals who are likely infected or AI to help analyse CT scans, the ability to make sense from multiple sources and different types of data is crucial. Such an ability is even mandatory to enable digital transformation, for example, increasing automation to replace manual and usually siloed processes.

Huawei’s FusionInsight offers an enterprise-class distributed Big Data solution, and the Ascend-based all-scenario AI infrastructure solution is designed and tuned for device-edge-cloud, fully meeting AI application scenario requirements in the intelligent era. Technologies supporting decision-making include the intelligent operations center, which delivers a common operating picture, real-time resource management, intelligence-led command and control, incident and case management, and even autonomous drones. With the need to operate from anywhere, 5G-enabled VR and AR are likely to support decision-making operational capabilities as well.

The People Behind Digital Transformation

Even with all the above critical success factors met, a digital transformation is likely to fail without the right people. We need people with the right mindset and skills to initiate, plan, execute, and enable the digital transformation. While we do not need engineers to drive and enable digital transformation, we do need tech-savvy users that appreciate the power of innovative technologies to do that. They need to be change agents willing to transform traditional organisations and processes, for the good of all stakeholders, including people, enterprises, and other public servants.

The transformation of organisations, processes, operations and services cannot be done blindly. The change agents need to work closely with current stakeholders that are intimately associated with such practices. All the people involved in digital transformation must be adequately trained and compensated for such efforts.

With digital transformation, some jobs are likely to evolve or even disappear, while new roles will be created. The affected people must be re-equipped for such new roles, or the morale of the organisation will otherwise be impacted and people will be more reluctant to support such transformation

Strong leadership and trust and a change-embracing culture are essential to lead digital transformation efforts.

The Way Forward

With this global pandemic, the digital transformation of governments is no longer a choice. We are already living under this new norm, and some governments have done well, transforming themselves to stay relevant for their people and businesses. The operations and services by governments have to evolve and even transform for the country to survive and remain competitive.

Using the operational capability framework, we’ve identified the critical success factors behind digital transformation:

  • Strong leadership
  • Public-private partnerships
  • The people factor.

And we’ve examined the roles of ICT behind digital transformation:

  • Data Strategy
  • ICT Strategy
  • Government Market Place
  • National Sovereign Cloud
  • New Technologies to support the five operational capabilities

This is the way forward and the time is now.

Disclaimer: Any views and/or opinions expressed in this post by individual authors or contributors are their personal views and/or opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views and/or opinions of Huawei Technologies.

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Hong-Eng Koh

Global Chief Government Industry Scientist, Enterprise Business Group, Huawei

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