Chances for digitization in Vietnam
Ha Noi, July 13, 2021 - Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics joined with USAID and Vietnam Initiative at Indiana University Bloomington held the virtual thematic conference “Reaching developing goals in a new normal”, with participation from 59 locations throughout the country.
H.E. Nguyen Manh Hung, Minister of Information and Communications of S.R Viet Nam made an important speech with the thematic: “Opportunities for digitization in local regions”.
Minister Nguyen Manh Hung with the thematic: “Opportunities for digitization in local regions”
His Excellency affirmed: “The age of digitization is in phase three. Phase one is digitizing information. For example, paper documents are digitalized, stored and processed on the computer. Phase two is digitizing the process, digitizing vertically, also known as applying Information Technology. An example of this is human resource management software. Phase three is digitizing the organization, digitizing horizontally, putting the entire organization on the digital platform, changing how the organization works, also known as Digital Transformation (DT). An example of this is the absence of the lower grade reporting to the higher grade. When management wants any information or analysis, they will use software to utilize the organization’s database.
However, DT in Vietnam is different, as many tasks of phase one and two are still incomplete. But it is not necessary for phase one to be complete to move on to phase two. Rather, all three phases can be completed simultaneously. And this simultaneity is the most notable trait of DT in Vietnam. Digital transforming the entire organization needs to occur at the same time as digitizing data (such as digitizing documents for storage) and digitizing the process (such as digitizing human resource organization, finances and accounting). Using this three-in-one method, coupled with the latest digital technology will make DT faster and cheaper. Fortunately, not much was achieved in phase one and two in Vietnam, which leaves many opportunities for applying bleeding-edge technology in DT.
DT consists of 70% political desire, the urge to deploy from the authorities, the intellects of the governmental system. Technology only accounts for the remaining 30%. DT is computers replacing brainwork. Our work is to teach computers about our knowledge, then computers can teach themselves using new data. Which means, the intelligence of computers will initially come from the intellects of the governmental system. The brightest among the system must join in with the technology experts. Moreover, the more local authorities utilize the system, the more intelligent the system will become. In short, leadership needs to find their motive, specialists need to transfer their knowledge to computers, the tech industry needs to create the digital platform, and officials need to do their work on the platform.
The online conference, connecting 59 locations throughout the country
Also, Minister Nguyen Manh Hung added “Talking DT is talking digital government, digital economy and digital society. The best way to evaluate the digital government, digital economy and digital society is to see how they react to certain scenarios, such as COVID-19: are they fast and effective?
Pandemics mean less contact, maybe even social distancing or quarantine. A digital government is a government capable of providing public services 100% online.
Pandemics mean no going to supermarkets, no bringing lychees to the market to sell. A digital economy is e-commerce platforms, is home delivery, is farmers’ lychees being sold to all Vietnamese households, with the most remote areas taking at most 2 days with the fruit still fresh. Covid-19 means no working in the physical office but digital platforms is able to assist employees to work from home online.
Covid-19 means no going to school. Online classes are the bare minimum. At a higher level, will authorities allow 20-30% of subjects to be taught and tested online? Will digital universities be licensed, so that nearly 100% of studying, testing, virtual lab experimenting can be done online anywhere, anytime, and degrees can be handed out when enough credits are completed?
Covid-19 means less going to hospitals. Can there be an app for people to have check-ups remotely? Can an ordinary farmer from a near-border province have online access to top national doctors? If yes, then that is a digital society.
An F0 patient will have their contacts and location traced for the nearest 14 days. But it is nearly impossible to remember that far back in time, which may lead to accidental dishonesty. Can there be such tracing technology that can help them recall? For example, cellular data will record which streets they went to, QR codes will record which buildings they entered, Bluezone will record all close contacts. Contact tracing will become simple and accurate, putting less strain on both the authorities and the public. Fast and accurate contact tracing also means no large-scale distancing, less quarantine, and consequently more socio-economic activities. That is a digital government.
Getting diagnosed and vaccinated means queuing in long, crowded areas for our turn, to get vaccine certificates, which undoubtedly raises infection rates. Can there be a way to make reservations, only arriving when its your turn, and to hand out digital diagnosis and vaccination certificates on smartphones? If yes, then that is a digital government.
Covid-19 is the once-in-a-lifetime chance to accelerate DT. Vietnam needs to utilize this “gift” from Covid to put the country in the lead in DT, so that after Covid a new Vietnam can emerge - a fully digitized society.
Minister Nguyen Manh Hung claimed that as the world becomes flatter and more open, it also become more fragile and vulnerable. A global economy also brings along a global pandemic. Rapid, effective responses to quick, complicated and unforeseen changes is a sign of modern administration. Standing up quickly after falling down is a sign of an enduring government. Every new challenge leads to new development, which is a sign of a clever government.
I will now speak of a few examples of DT at a larger scale. The best way to talk about DT is through examples.
DT is for solving a tough challenge: We are doing hybrid work, which means half on the computer, half offline. Therefore, it is difficult to control staff activities. Working completely offline will actually be easier to control than hybrid. As such, the job of DT is to put all governmental activities on a digital world. Workers will only work on a single environment, ending a decades long period of hybrid working.
At phase 2, implementing Information Technology, is digitizing processes. In any organization, there are those that are already digitized, others that are not, and among the digitized ones still lack lateral connection. This leads to the aforementioned hybrid situation. The implementing Information Technology period is this hybrid period. DT aims to end this hybrid period. That is its mission.
We are moving from the real world to the online world. What we have done in real life will have its own version in the digital world. One of the most important functions of a government is to provide public service. Because of that, their first task of an online government is to put public services online. As of now, 60% of public services from Ministries/Departments are online. The goal is 100% by the end of the year. Any province that wishes to do this fast, reaching 100% online public services in 1-2 months can contact the Authority of Information Technology Application, Ministry of Information and Communications for support.
Us Vietnamese are great at improvising but poor at basic knowledge. Most decisions are made based more on intuition and less on reasoning and data. Is there a way to remedy this? If every one of us has an assistant knowledgeable of the law and the job, working around the clock and is always by our side, then legal and work problems will reduce significantly. They are virtual assistants, but they interact with us using natural human speech through our smartphones. They are highly specialized, so making them intelligent is fairly easy. The more these assistants are used, the more intelligent they become and the more useful their help is. A province with 30000 officials will get an additional 30000 workers who are specialized and professional. Work standards will be raised and so will living standards. Digitization is usually the best way to solve dual-purpose problems.
Another challenge for any province is training work process. Humans have too many concerns nowadays, so they become less focused on work. There are too many things to learn, and they forget very quickly. Every time there is a change in policy or work process, tens or even hundreds of thousands of employees must be retrained. Can there be a way to train without actually training? If everyone works on a digital platform with the policies and work processes already integrated into the platform, all steps pre-programmed and humans only have to make a yes or no decision at each step, then even the most forgettable, most easily mistaken part - the process - cannot be wrong, as the machine already did the remembering for humans. And when a change or a new process do come up, only the platform will need to be reprogrammed, and by the next day hundreds of thousands of people will have been working with the new process in unison, as if they have gone through years of training. That is because if they don’t follow the new process, the machine will not run. This is also the best way to raise the skill floor of government officials.
The job of humans is to make decisions to reach the final goal. Our goal is not the process. But the process must be followed. Without external help to correctly follow the process, humans will fully focus on the process, which makes the process the goal. Computers and technology will help us return to the true values of humans, which is to make right decisions to reach the final goal, not following processes.
Training specialists is another challenge to any organization. Centralized training is costly, and workers can hardly find time to come to training classes. Officials have even less time to study. This results in our officials having outdated knowledge, working solely on experiences. But if there exists an online training platform, by putting training contents on the platform, everyone can self-study, self-test in their free time, which will solve the problem. Every official can be obligated to learn a short course and pass a test every quarter. The content of the course is up to each province. There should be a content designing department to make it livelier. With content designing tools readily available on the platform, content making becomes much simpler. The platform can also support online testing. There are 90 days in a quarter, anyone can study and test at any time they want. With such flexibility, workers and officials will be delighted to study. Provinces need an online training platform.
DT must be oriented towards the people. We talked about digital platforms for the authorities. Should we also develop platforms to assist the people? The people are always our final goal. Helping them will also reduce stress on the governmental system. In transforming the government, the important part is transforming the one who the government serves. Publicizing information for online access can be a first step. A virtual assistant for people to ask about legal issues, about public services is the next step. All of this may sound complicated but in reality, deploying is not that complicated and can bring great practical values to the people.
Digital technology businesses in Vietnam can totally develop these platforms. The remaining issue is the government changing, modifying institutions to allow for new operation models online. As such, many people regard DT as a revolution of institutions, rather than a revolution of technology.
Why are many IT projects unsuccessful, bringing unsatisfactory results? It isn’t because IT is hard, but rather because it is easy. Writing a functioning IT product is easy, a lot of people can do this. But putting these bare minimum, just functional products into use is more inconvenient than without them, and leads to an unwelcoming product. Only outstanding IT works can replace the old way. But outstanding IT works is extremely difficult, the number of people capable of doing this decreases dramatically. Therefore, choosing the right person has defining implications to an IT project.
Minister Nguyen Manh Hung emphasized: One of the deciding factors of the success and efficiency of IT application is to turn it into a working platform for the entire organization, work is impossible without the platform, all employees and officials’ activities must be done on the platform, and no work must be done outside the platform. By doing so, work can be allocated to each individual on the platform, work results can be monitored in real time on the platform, and work results from each division and individual can be evaluated on the platform. Enforcement administration is nearly impossible if everyone is not working on a common digital platform. As provinces are rapidly and effectively digital transforming, the people are those who benefit the most from this.