I recently spoke as a panelist at the GovTech Summit in France, which focused strongly on government innovation, and there was ample discussion about power of Government as a Platform (GaaP). The GaaP approach allows the public sector to collaborate with private sector peers to achieve great strides—efficient, impactful services that are underpinned by leading edge technology. Startups are significant among this cadre of private sector partners.
Startups are already engaging in multiple countries globally, serving as a conduit for innovation. They bring a fresh mindset and new capabilities for redefining how government can deliver services. However, partnering with startups is a concept that is new—perhaps even uncomfortable—for many government organisations. It’s time to think differently.
How startups can enable GaaP?
One important differentiator of startups is that they are not “stuck” in traditional government silos. As outsiders, they can look at public service processes through an end-to-end citizen view. Think of the processes that continue to plague government because they are slow and cumbersome. Startups can see where the process fails citizens, and where it can be improved.
Procurement is a good example. Startups bring new thinking and technology to make such processes faster, cheaper and more innovative. San Francisco’s Startup in Residence (STiR) program teamed government with tech startups to create an “Request for Proposal (RFP) bus” that batches similar RFPs with common traits into a joint RFP, thereby spreading out process costs and making it easier for vendors to respond to RFPs.1
Startups have the technology capabilities to do what governments cannot do alone. For instance, they can help governments to be more proactive with citizen data. Using AI, analytics and cloud, they imagine up front how citizen data could be captured and combined to improve government services and, ultimately, citizen interactions and experiences with government.
The e-Estonia project exemplifies the GaaP innovation I am describing. The government in this small country of 1.3 million embarked upon a journey to transform the country to a connected digital society. Through the collective efforts of government, startups and other partners, Estonia now has online voting, connected data that makes processes such as loan applications easier, chip ID cards that simplify the process of paying taxes and much more. The digitisation of processes has saved the country 2 percent of its GDP a year.2
Setting the stage for startups
There must be a mindset shift among government officials before they can fully embrace the potential of startups to enable GaaP. This includes recognising that government may not be equipped with the right talent to compete with the private sector.
Startups bring skills such as applied intelligence, design thinking and data science—skills that may not exist abundantly within the four walls of the government enterprise. These are the people who can help to address some of the most debilitating service issues within government agencies.
But while startups bring the skills and technology to improve citizen services, they don’t have the size to scale. Governments should consider working with a combination of large businesses that have the ability to scale the innovative services that startups create.
1 Startup in Residence (STIR), https://startupinresidence.org/stir/playbook/solicit-and-select-startups/
2 Nathan Heller, The New Yorker, “Estonia, the Digital Republic,” December 18 & 25, 2017 Issue, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/12/18/estonia-the-digital-republic