A renewed push by government to move more of its business online will require an internal shift in the civil service, as well as with the private sector and the public.
That was one of the major messages on the first day of a training academy for government with an organization from Estonia, which has one of the most technologically advanced governments in the world.
Cayman’s government has made several attempts at e-government reforms, with the goal of making public services more accessible and convenient.
The Estonian e-Governance Academy, brought to the country by Cayman’s new director of e-government, Ian Tibbetts, has worked around the world to help small and developing nations improve online services.
“Technology, that’s easy. You can get what you can afford,” Mr. Tibbetts told the more than 50 civil servants assembled Tuesday morning. “The people and process side is where the challenges are.”
Online services in Cayman government have grown in fits and starts. Mr. Tibbetts pointed to the online tools in the Lands and Survey Department, the General Registry and others that offer services online. He called these services a “well-kept secret.”
“We’ve never really promoted them to the public,” he said. “We build them, we put them in place, and there’s limited exposure.”
“The technical part is always the easiest part,” said Estonian e-government expert Mari Pedak. “Technology allows you to do everything.”
The challenges, she said, are “how to protect data, how to build trust, how to build awareness. Without trust, nothing works.”
Annela Kiirats, the head of training for the Estonian organization, said, “Citizens have to feel the need.”
Ms. Kiirats said the private sector in Estonia was essential in preparing the public for a fully integrated e-governance system with training and incentives such as charging fees for in-person business in banks but not for online transactions.
She described the three main parties as a circle, with government, the private sector and the public all having to work together to have an effective e-government system. “You have to pay attention to all three partners,” she said.
Change ahead for civil service
Mr. Tibbetts said the pieces are coming into place to make e-government services a success in Cayman. “The political will is there,” he said.
The efforts from his team are moving from the information-collecting stage into developing strategy, with an eye to begin implementing major reforms online in the coming years. Premier Alden McLaughlin, kicking off the three-day training, said the e-government effort is a priority, but he acknowledged the potential problems: “These are challenging and changing times for the civil service.”
One of the big concerns Mr. Tibbetts said he expected when he assumed the role of e-government director late last year was people worrying about their jobs being replaced by technology. However, he said he has not run into as much resistance as he expected, which he attributes to the training opportunities available to civil servants so they can transfer to a different role in government.
Additionally, Mr. Tibbetts said, the existing online services have given civil servants in other departments examples where e-government services have helped government business without causing mass layoffs. “We have those people who can say, ‘Guys, don’t be afraid,’” he said.
“If we don’t have people worried about losing their jobs tomorrow, that makes this work much easier,” he said.
Tasha Ebanks Garcia, with the deputy governor’s office, said she has found that the “civil service is excited about the potential for more efficiencies.”
“The civil service is poised for change,” she said.
Mr. Tibbetts said a number of new online government services are in the pipeline, including tax undertaking certificates, immigration appeals and electronic vehicle registration. Three big services in the works as a joint project – a jobs portal, online police clearance certificates and work permit applications – would change the entire work permit process, the e-government director said.
“Just that would be a huge impact to the country,” he said.