government corruption
© Alberto Zamorano |

Ben Stewart, CEO, Caution Your Blast, explores how a greater understanding of digital maturity can help tackle government corruption

Globalisation has brought the world’s economy closer together, affording new opportunities to different regions and kickstarting the rapid growth of economies from China and India to South Africa and Malaysia. But in these growing economies, where infrastructure demands are booming, the need for new services and products can often grow at a rate which outstrips proper management of the procurement processes involved. Therein lies the opportunity for the less scrupulous businesses and individuals to prosper through cutting corners, cronyism, or flat out corruption.

The cost of corruption

The UK government has estimated that nearly 10 trillion USD is spent annually around the world on public sector procurement projects. Sadly, more than a quarter of this spend is lost through corruption and bribery, more than the total GDP of all the countries in Sub-Saharan Africa combined. In fighting for lucrative and wide-spanning contracts, providers are not always above bribery, especially in areas that are in the grips of a conflict.

One solution is to go full circle and open up countries’ public sector project tenders to the global economy, to third parties outside of the country in question, who will be more transparent and regulated. The UK Government Global Digital Marketplace (GDMP), for example, shares skills and knowledge in the UK, to assist in the setting up in other countries. There are also tenders to get in additional help for government teams should they be short of resources.

However, a key part of making this happen is understanding a country’s digital, data and technology capabilities. This is the first step towards planning investment and strategy to help transform overseas governments’ approach to more transparent procurement. This can be a far more complex problem than understanding a country’s maturity in terms of infrastructure, transport or natural resource mining. Digital, data and technology (DDaT) strengths and progress to date in a digital transformation strategy can be ephemeral and difficult to track.

A model answer

So how can we get a clearer picture of digital maturity in emerging economies? Part of the answer is finding an assessment model which provides useful insights for an entity like the GDMP to make decisions on where it should invest for DDaT projects, and why it should invest there. Many such models are already available from the likes of the United Nations, The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and Harvard Kennedy School. However, these tend to score focus areas to give an overall indicator of digital ‘health’, but fail to set a context for why each focus area is important in the overall goal of being a mature digital organisation.

A better approach is to establish a maturity assessment framework that shows how key focus areas influence each other – for instance, where low capability in one area prevents maturity in another. Conducting small targeted visits to the governments of each country enables gathering raw data that can be turned into crucial insights. 

Simple stories guiding investment

Using this type of model can help show what is working well and what isn’t across DDaT. However, it’s important that the report is easily digestible for non-specialist readers, in particular senior government decision-makers who need to act on the findings. They need to be able to process the advice in isolation without it requiring any explanation, so it’s important that models can generate visualisations of the insights, highlighting key simple stories for where investment should be prioritised to drive digital capability and maturity. 

Such research can generate simple guidance for strategic investment decisions across digital, data and technology in these governments. These digital capability and maturity assessment approaches should be applicable to any large or small organisation looking to mature its use of DDaT and scale up its capability effectively. 

With careful and methodical assessment of digital capabilities in governments around the world, the playing field for dishonesty reduces greatly. And although corruption will probably not disappear any time soon, governments and digital service providers can take the steps needed to prevent it from proliferating.


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