By Nurdianah Md Nur
June 21, 2016
Contrary to the popular belief, security is not the biggest obstacle to implementing new technology by governments in Southeast Asia.
Instead, sub-par infrastructure and lack of skills are hampering the uptake of new technologies by governments in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, according to The Economist Intelligence Unit's new report.
Sponsored by Microsoft, the 'High aspirations, stark realities: Digitising government in Southeast Asia' study is based on a survey of 300 IT leaders and experts in the industry, government, academic and the civic sector.
The report revealed that governments in the region are open to exploring the use of new technologies such as cloud (37 percent), as well as tools related to big data and analytics (27 percent), and the Internet of Things (25 percent).
Cloud computing is the No. 1 priority for Southeast Asian governments as it enables them to access the latest technologies without needing to upgrade existing hardware and software (41 percent), improve accuracy in cases such as record management (35 percent), as well as provides convenience as it reduces the need for an in-house IT department (30 percent).
Exemplifying the finding, Richard Moya, CIO of the Department of Budget and Management in the Philippines, said: "Cloud enables [my agency] to deploy systems quickly, allows us to test systems early, and lets us offer online services to the public 24/7 without having to increase personnel and resources."
So what's holding governments back from utilising new technologies? According to the study, the foremost barriers include public sector workers' inability to use the technology effectively (46 percent), and insufficient ICT infrastructure (36 percent) in terms of bandwidth, speed and connectivity.
Given the number of high-profile cyber-attacks around the world, it is somewhat surprising that only a small minority (16 percent) of Southeast Asian governments consider cyber-security an obstacle to public sector technology adoption. The research found that private clouds, which isolate sensitive information from public clouds, are one reason security concerns have been alleviated.
Roadblocks to citizens' adoption of digital government services
The study also looked at the factors hindering end users' (ie. citizens) uptake of digital government services. The top barrier was found to be the lack of ICT skills among citizens (53 percent).
The second obstacle is a country's ICT infrastructure (50 percent). Especially in countries that lack fixed and mobile broadband networks such as Indonesia and Thailand, the inadequate broadband speed and reliability, as well as low Internet penetration, may cause citizens in the rural areas to be less compelled to take advantage of online government services.
The third challenge to citizens' adoption of digital government services is the price of ICT for end users (35 percent). According to the ITU, only Singapore and Malaysia (out of the Southeast Asian countries that EIU surveyed) are offering broadband at rates that are not more than 5 percent of the average monthly incomes. To counter this, some Southeast Asian countries such as the Philippines are providing Wi-Fi for free in certain places.