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Disrupting the Public Sector

Digital disruption is compelling companies to change the way they do business – disrupt or be disrupted – and the winds of change are also sweeping through the public sector, with digital technology offering the key to simpler and more efficient governance models.

Belgium dropped four places in this year’s IMD World Digital Competitiveness Ranking, coming in at 22nd out of 63 countries. This is a setback, after Belgium climbed the ranks in 2015 and 2016. The overall performance is based on three main factors: knowledge, technology and future readiness. Out of the nine subcategories, Belgium only saw an improvement this year for scientific concentration and IT integration, whereas its performance worsened in all other areas.

The new technology that is transforming entire industries is also changing expectations of how citizens – and businesses – interact with the government. Instead of digitalizing existing administrative processes, the move to digital is an opportunity to improve the ‘user experience’ and fundamentally re-think how public services are delivered. Moreover, the digital transformation of the public sector will be essential to reduce costs and administrative burdens – two of the recommendations in our 2017 Priorities for a Prosperous Belgium.

While Belgium ranks 6th overall in the 2017 Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI), performing better than the EU average, it ranks only 13th in the digital public services subcategory. On this point, the report specifically cites Belgium’s complex governance structure, which hinders the development of “coherent and nationwide e-Government services” and interoperable systems. Likewise, Belgium’s performance is lagging behind compared to more innovative neighboring countries in the 2016 UN e-Government Survey.

Digital transformation requires an enabling regulatory framework – one that “stimulates and rewards those that invest,” in the words of John Porter, CEO of Telenet. Here, Belgium scores relatively well in the IMD World Digital Competitiveness Ranking, at 16th place; however, this still is six places below the 2013 ranking.

But perhaps more importantly, digital transformation is about people. It requires the right skills as well as the right attitudes, particularly the willingness to change and collaborate. With the rapid pace of technological innovation, we must invest in and encourage lifelong learning. Private initiatives, such as the recently launched BeCentral – an ambitious project aimed at sharpening the digital skills of Belgian citizens and filling the gaps in the labor market – are leading by example.

Digital is a matter of competitiveness and future readiness, for both the public and private sectors. In order to create a more modern, cost-efficient and user-friendly public administration, Belgium must embrace digital transformation at all levels of government.

Download our 2017 Priorities for a Prosperous Belgium