By Iso Bassey
Hardly anyone in today’s world can dispute the value technology brings to service delivery. Whether it is a simple email or SMS that informs you that your application has been received and is being processed or a more complex system that enables you to pay for a service online, technology can make a big difference to how services are delivered.
Airlines in Nigeria were quick to catch on to this. As recently as the late 90s you had to either visit an airline’s office or go directly to the airport to buy a flight ticket. As soon as ATM cards became available, airlines identified an opportunity to radically transform their processes for issuing tickets. It took a bit of getting used to for customers but once they caught on to it, there was no stopping them. Buying tickets online has become so mainstream that it is hard to imagine doing it any other way.
Unfortunately, most governments in Nigeria have been less embracing of technology and citizens are suffering as a result. Recently, yours truly needed some statistical information about health and educational facilities in Cross River State. I first looked online as everyone does these days. When I could not find what I was looking for, I asked someone to visit the state’s statistics bureau expecting that there would be publications containing this information that could be bought off the shelf. Instead, my proxy was asked to write a letter to the Statistician General specifying what information was required and why it was required. I wasn’t too surprised because I had received an identical response from the same bureau almost ten years ago. I felt sad though that ten years on, the bureau had not seen fit to make basic statistical information easily available to the public. Especially through publications that the public would gladly pay for.
There are a lot of technologies that can make a difference to public service delivery in Cross River State and many of these are relatively easy to deploy. I have decided to focus on three that can be highly transformational for service delivery in government.
Biometrics are physical and behavioural characteristics that can be used to digitally identify a person and grant them access to services.
We are all too familiar with those heart-wrenching stories of pensioners traveling to centres and standing under the blazing sun for hours to validate themselves. With the use of voice footprints, pensioners across the state can easily validate themselves regularly by a phone call to an automated system. The system would match their voice to a pre-recorded signature and update a human resource system to reflect the fact that they are eligible for payroll.
Such a system would be kinder to pensioners by eliminating the need to travel long distances and wait in queues to be processed manually. Biometrics can also help with optimising the state’s payroll by weeding out ghost workers.
People in government tend to know exactly which government offices do specific things. The fact that this information is less well known to the public is often overlooked. One way this information gap can be bridged is by using artificial intelligence (AI).
The Cross River State government can use virtual assistants and chatbots to provide accurate information to the public about not just where to access services but also how to access them. Using such systems will lessen the burden on civil servants to manually respond to individual enquiries. The public will be better served and civil servants will have more time to engage in more productive activities.
Blockchain is a distributed ledger system that can be used for creating unchangeable records of transactions. Technology in government is usually hosted on centralised systems where applications and databases are heavily restricted and controlled. At first thought, the distributed nature of blockchain would make the traditional government IT architect uncomfortable. However this very attribute makes blockchain highly suitable for application in government, especially within Nigeria.
Centralised systems are relatively easy to hack whereas distributed blockchain systems are virtually impossible to hack. Information in centralised databases can be altered with little or no trail, whereas blockchain transactions are immutable and easily auditable. Centralised systems are prone to having single points of failure. Being distributed means that blockchain systems are not.
The Cross River State Government can use blockchain to securely manage land registration and related transactions. In fact, authenticity of landed properties can be better verified using a blockchain enabled system. This will reduce fraud, make the process more efficient and provide the sort of transparency that will be attractive to investors.