In pandemic conditions, e-services become the new normal
Digital solutions transform Georgia’s public sector
February 11, 2021
The Unified Portal of Electronic Services my.gov.ge holds a leading position among Georgian online resources as one of the most visited governmental websites. In 2020 alone, the usage of services available on the website increased by 40 percent while the number of daily visits reached 30,000.
The secret of this success is that my.gov.ge provides citizens and businesses with much-needed access to electronic services, covering a range of areas from applying for IDs and passports to registering a new company or a land title.
The Unified Portal of Electronic Service was launched by the Government in 2012 as an innovative tool for service delivery and e-governance. Public demand for this one-stop-shop marketplace, where all services are just a click away, had been showing a slow but steady rise in recent years, chiefly owing to Georgia’s systemic reforms of public services and the increasing number of Internet users in both cities and rural areas.
But in March 2020, as Georgia declared a pandemic lockdown that pushed both public and private sectors online, my.gov.ge became a solution for thousands more citizens and businesses.
“Electronic services save time. But now they may also save our lives and health,” explains Dimitri Ghonghadze, a Tbilisi resident and a regular user of my.gov.ge.
“I have been using my.gov.ge since it was launched, but now I am doing it even more often than before. It’s the only way to get things done during a lockdown,” Ghonghadze says.
Mr. Ghonghadze was clearly not alone: in October-December 2020, Georgians used 122,000 electronic public services, 30 percent more than in January-March of the same year.
As usage increased, so did the range of services available. The number of e-services on my.gov.ge increased from 468 in 2019 to 700 in 2020. 133 of the newly added services, including an innovative way to verify official documents through an e-Apostille, were integrated into the portal with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
UNDP assistance is part of a broader UK-funded programme that helps Georgia to advance Public Administration Reform at all levels of government. During the pandemic, this support focused on promoting electronic service delivery for citizens and civil servants, assisting the public sector in adapting to new realities.
To help introduce new electronic services and improve digital service delivery, UNDP is working with two state agencies operating under the Ministry of Justice – the Digital Governance Agency that operates my.gov.ge, and the Public Service Delivery Agency (PSDA), which has the right to deliver qualified electronic trust services and manage the civil registry.
“Even before the pandemic, Georgia was a pioneer in applying digital tools to deliver public services in user-friendly ways,” says UNDP Head Louisa Vinton. “COVID-19 has accelerated that trend. What before was nice-to-have has become need-to-have in pandemic conditions. Our shared vision is to create a people-centred system that ensures citizens can receive quality and secure services wherever they are, in the cities, villages or even outside the country.”
Georgia’s progress in creating innovative and user-friendly service delivery proves that digital tools can address many challenges faced by citizens, businesses and civil servants, ensuring that services are delivered wherever and whenever they are needed.
But expansion in digital tools brings heightened risks to data privacy and personal information.
For this reason, as PSDA Head Zurab Sanikidze explains, cyber-security is an essential part of e-service development.
“A vast amount of citizens’ data is now available online. We have doubled our efforts to store and protect this information. Cyber-security and effective data management are critical to safeguard personal information and enhance the safety of the service delivery process,” he says.
To help Georgia better protect electronic data, UNDP and the UK assisted the PSDA to analyse potential cyber threats and make its prevention systems more resilient. The PSDA is also developing data collection and management standards that will be expanded to all public agencies in Georgia.
In addition, with assistance from UNDP, Sweden and the UK, the Digital Governance Agency (DGA) rolled out an educational website, offering civil servants, university teachers and students online training courses in cyber and information security, cyber-hygiene, risk management and information security audit.
“Information security systems and cybersecurity mechanisms are crucially important, but they can’t be fully effective unless we increase digital literacy,” DGA Deputy Head Nikoloz Gagnidze says. “Educational courses help people and organizations better understand what cyber threats they face and how to protect themselves in an online world.”
Front & Back
Digital solutions are transforming the public sector, affecting both its “front,” or services designed for citizens, and its “back,” or services and tools for civil servants.
Today, Georgia’s public service is shifting to an electronic operation by introducing internal digital platforms that help civil servants to do their job. This includes a fully functioning electronic Human Resource Management System, eHRMS, designed to host performance appraisals, manage the professional development of civil servants and generate civil service data through smart reporting. Two additional digital tools will be launched in 2021 – a Government-wide Monitoring & Evaluation (M&E) platform for policy-makers and an online e-learning platform for civil servants that will serve as a ‘one-stop-shop’ access point for training courses.
Responding to the pandemic realities, UNDP also assists public agencies in improving their telecommuting tools and developing new electronic platforms for municipal civil servants.
Many of these developments are part of the ongoing Public Administration Reform supported by UNDP and the UK in partnership with the Government Administration, DGA, Civil Service Bureau and the Ministry of Finance.
Looking into the future
As in Georgia, the pandemic has accelerated digital transformation all across the world, shrinking the time needed for digitalization from years to months.
But along with the obvious benefits, this rapid and often spontaneous process is creating new challenges and revealing gaps that must be addressed as the world emerges from the crisis.
Many countries are struggling to overcome a “digital divide” of unequal access to electronic solutions. This includes Georgia, where Internet penetration varies between 40 and 70 percent as an average and can be as low as 15 percent in some rural regions.
Cyber-security, public education and data protection are also fields where more effective solutions will be needed, especially as Georgia is updating its national Law on Information Security and introducing new approaches to personal data protection.
With so many countries embarked on similar paths, the opportunity to benefit from a global sharing of experience in “digital disruption” is vast. In this, Georgia has much to gain and much to offer, in a track record of e-governance success stories that other countries might replicate.