Japan wants to get started with a digital agency


All beginnings are difficult, also for the new digital agency, which is supposed to take the entire Japanese administration from an analog paradise to the online world: when the agency went live on September 1, the website first collapsed. The office quickly apologized on Twitter that the website was in “unstable operation”. “Wait a bit, please.”

But the agency has been in a hurry ever since. When it was created, it already had 600 employees, around a fifth of experts from the private sector. And they should act with agility, said Japan’s new digital minister, Karen makishimaafter taking office at the beginning of October. The digital agency wants “to be an organization like a start-up, in which people from the public and private sectors with many high ideas, experiences and ambitions come together to create new values,” she wrote in her inaugural message.


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The greatest value, or rather the challenge, is to catch up with Japan’s enormous backwardness in the digitization of administration. Nowhere is there a greater gap between paper form and reality than with the global market leader in factory networking. In international e-government benchmarking studies, Japan often ranks in the top group in the world thanks to its fast internet connection, high cell phone penetration, and ambitious government plans.

But in the ranking of digital competitiveness of Switzerland Institute for Management Development (IMD) In 2020, the country was even nine places behind Germany in 27th place. It is even worse in the daily work with the authorities. According to the OECD Digital Economy Outlook, only 5.4% of citizens actually used digital government services before the pandemic. It is by far the worst value of the OECD, an organization of old industrial nations.

The problem had been known for a long time and repeatedly invited the media to comment on the Japanese love of fax machines. Even in the best universities, there are still faculties that only give a fax number and no email address for written communication on their contact page. But it was only with the corona pandemic that adherence to analog processes became an acute national problem.

Former Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga therefore named the digitization of administration and economy and the creation of a digital agency as one of his most important reforms to reform society and the economy after his started in September 2020. The new office is intended to centralize and control the IT work of the government on the one hand, and encourage the 1741 local governments, which have all set up their own IT systems, to work together on the other go.

However, the start was made easier for the authorities. Because the then Minister of Administrative Reform, Taro Kono, has already tackled the biggest obstacle to the digitization of administrative processes in offices and businesses: the Hanko, the name stamp.

Until now, many documents had to be hand-stamped by various registrars and applicants with their personal or business stamps. At the start of the pandemic telecommuting boom, that meant many employees had to go to their offices to dab. According to the government, Hanko is no longer required for 99% of candidates.

Besides the transfer of technology, the new authority is also responsible for injecting a new way of thinking into the authorities. After all, the new rhythm is exemplary. “The positive point is that it happens very quickly”, underlines Pierre Gaulis, founder and director of IT consultant Cream, which supports companies in Japan in the implementation of digital transformation. In his view, the government is really trying to bring the bureaucracy and the private sector together to accelerate digitization.

More from MIT Technology Review

More from MIT Technology Review

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The big question, however, remains how powerful the new authority can be. In order to break the enormous resistance, the former head of government Suga had entrusted Taro Kono, one of the most experienced and assertive politicians in the country, with the reform of the administration.

Suga’s new successor, Fumio Kishida, on the other hand, relies on a novice for ministerial posts in the struggle with bureaucracy: Karen Makishima, 44, occupies her first ministerial office within the digital agency. She now has the chance to make a name for herself.


(jle)

Disclaimer: This article is generated from the feed and is not edited by our team.

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