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Harnessing Government-citizen Partnerships to Build a Digitally Inclusive Southeast Asia

In the world that we live in today, physical visits for government services seem like a distant memory with many of us accessing government services online through websites or mobile applications to get real-time support when needed. This is a remarkable development driven by the growing demands from increasingly digital-first citizens.

In Southeast Asia, a youthful population and a fast-growing middle class have given rise to a new generation of citizens who expect and crave superior digital experiences. However, government organisations in the region have not transformed quickly enough to meet the expectations of Southeast Asia’s digital-first citizens. To bridge this gap, we must adopt a holistic and comprehensive public-private partnership (PPP) model that will modernise Southeast Asia’s digital infrastructure to accelerate growth for the region as the global economy starts its post-pandemic recovery in earnest.

In VMware’s recent Digital Frontiers 3.0 study, we found that 78% of Southeast Asians consider themselves to be digitally curious or digital explorers who are ready for digital experiences. But at the same time, 68% of them also worried their older relatives won’t be able to keep up in this new digital world and have access to the services they require.

As the stewards of economies, the important task of building a digitally inclusive society has fallen on the shoulders of the governments. With 41% of respondents in the region saying that they trust the government in raising the personal levels of their digital literacy, Southeast Asia’s governments have responded accordingly with digital literacy campaigns such as Singapore’s Digital for Life movement Thailand’s Digital Literacy for Education Equality which aim at enhancing digital access to all citizens.

However, to truly move the needle on bridging digital gaps and fostering trust amongst citizens, government organizations will need to work hand in hand with leading private organizations to achieve these ambitious targets. As responsible members of the community, private sector organizations need to play a part in building a digitally inclusive society in Southeast Asia. For instance, VMware introduced its Getting Future Ready program to help Singaporeans deepen their expertise and specialization in next-generation technologies, and in turn, building a future-ready workforce in Singapore.

Enablers of a future-forward digital society

Trust and citizen-led innovations will become the bedrock of digitally enabled societies. In Southeast Asia, we have the advantage, with 42% of citizens indicating that they are happy to engage with the Government through digital means. However, more must be done to deliver better digital experiences that will move the needle for deeper and more impactful digital citizen interactions.

One way forward is the integration of technologies of the future where consumers have expressed trust in 5G (78%), connected devices (77%) and facial recognition (75%). Government agencies have also started on this venture with new digital offerings and services such as Singapore’s SingPass application, the Philippines’ biometric national ID and more.

While Southeast Asian citizens are digitally savvy, at least one in two (57%) still feel paranoid that organisations are tracking and recording what they do on their devices. This issue of privacy is a very valid one and government organisations in the region must work hard to assure citizens how their data is being used and stored. The VMware Digital Frontiers 3.0 study also revealed that less than half (41%) of Southeast Asian citizens say that the government has given assurance that their personal information is secure. It is thus critical for government organisations in the region to provide citizens with the assurance that their personal information is safe and secure.

A close partnership with private organisations will help spearhead conversations around these critical societal issues. While the public agencies can ensure that the necessary digital regulations are in place to safeguard citizens’ interests and encourage businesses to participate in these industry conversations, private organisations can also tap on the robust digital infrastructure and policies to harness data, accelerate innovations and agility for the regional economy.

Sustaining a resilient and digitally inclusive Southeast Asia

A digital-first Southeast Asia will ensure the development of a resilient and inclusive, innovation-led economy that lay the foundations for the long-term prosperity of the region. And this is only possible when governments adopt a holistic and comprehensive approach to deliver superior digital experiences across any cloud, any application and any device, in a seamless and secure manner to their citizens.

While organisations were focused on responding and adapting to the pandemic to ensure business continuity in 2020, 2021 marks a turning point with innovation becoming a priority for future-ready organisations looking to accelerate their growth. Now is the time for public and private sectors to join hands in harnessing technology to build a digitally inclusive and enabled society, and help Southeast Asia move collectively towards a digital-first future.

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