Views from Silicon Valley: Helping client countries keep up with changing technology

It is time to tell you a secret my friends. I am a girl who codes. Before joining the Worldsilicon_valley Bank, I was fluent in ASCII, developing systems and applications to make it easier to get things done.

Nearly 20 years after writing my first lines of code, I stepped onto the Microsoft Campus in Redmond, Washington, representing the World Bank Governance Global Practice and the GovTech Global Partnership task team. Along with a delegation representing leadership across the Bank, we visited Redmond and Silicon Valley to meet with some of the top players in Big Tech.

You can imagine how surreal it was to see firsthand how quickly technology has evolved and what is on the horizon. Artificial Intelligence (AI), smart “things”, robots, machine learning, data aggregations, and visualizations that I only dreamt about back in my early career.

During the visit, our partners said it best: change will never be slower than it is today, and governments are falling behind. This is our challenge: how do we help our clients keep up? And, how do we use tech to help crack some of the trickiest governance problems that hinder development – from corruption to low tax collection; from poor service quality to unequal access to key services?

For years I’ve said that public sector reforms will require ICT components. From tax administration, financial management and procurement, to service delivery and citizen engagement, technology plays an increasingly important role. Citizens are demanding more from their governments. As a result, the aims of governments around the world are even more ambitious – striving for instant delivery of seamless services to people and businesses, cost savings for taxpayers, and smarter, better government that proactively engages with citizens.

Our private sector partners are developing solutions that can help meet these aims: human-centered design of digital services; Software as a Service (SaaS) and data warehousing for operations; analytics and AI to monitor risk and fraud; clouds to access data anywhere in the world; digital payment systems to increase economic and financial inclusion; digital identities for those without – just to name a few. The applications of these innovations for governance are wide and varied.

The opportunities created by technology raise new questions. Are solutions secure, inclusive, accessible and affordable? How do we ensure our clients have the institutional set-up, capacity, leadership and change-management skills to reap the benefits and realize tangible impacts on poverty reduction? Buying software and systems intelligently requires new procurement approaches. This is necessary, but not sufficient; there is also the human element to governance.

This human element is where we will find the true value and application of technology.

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