Twenty years later, the Japanese government’s digital ambitions still stuck in stacks of paper
TOKYO (Reuters) – Two decades after Japan rolled out an ambitious plan to go digital, the COVID-19 crisis has exposed the government’s deep-rooted technology gaps as ministries remain stuck in a paper-driven culture that , according to experts, hurts productivity.
While Tokyo has made ‘digital transformation’ its main policy focus this year, change may not be so easy as bureaucrats from different departments are still unable to hold teleconferences together and little of their administrative work can be done online.
Analysts say the government’s lack of digitization could reduce the private sector’s incentive to go digital, which would hurt Japan’s efforts to increase productivity.
âThe lack of digital investment from the government has hampered the productivity and efficiency of the private sector,â said Takuya Hoshino, senior economist at the Dai-ichi Life Research Institute.
In its mid-year political strategy, the government pledged to accelerate the digitization of its outdated administration, which has delayed the delivery of cash payments to help citizens weather the pandemic.
Much of the problem stems from Japan’s preference for paper documents and the seal for approval in government offices.
âPaper documents and seals are still prevalent. The politicians I deal with also prefer face-to-face meetings, âa government official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
Added to its digital problems is Japan’s vertically structured bureaucracy: each ministry as well as local governments, for example, have developed their own computer systems that are not compatible with each other.
Currently, each department has developed its own LAN with various vendors, making it difficult to hold conference calls between them due to differences in their online security policies, a Cabinet Office official responsible for IT strategy, who declined. to give his name, told Reuters.
In Japan, less than 12% of administrative work is done online, according to the Japan Research Institute.
Overall, it could cost the government 323 million hours of work per year if it did not go digital, which would translate into personnel costs of nearly $ 8 billion, a panel of researchers estimated. government regulatory reform in a report released in July of last year.
The digital drawbacks belies Japan’s image as one of the world’s leading high-tech countries – in fact, the world’s third-largest economy ranked 23rd out of 63 countries, lagging behind some Asian countries like Singapore, South Korea and China in a survey by Swiss think tank IMD on digital competitiveness.
The latest OECD Digital Economy Outlook ranks Japan last among 31 countries for online procedures, with just 5.4% of citizens using digital apps in public offices, well below Denmark, of Estonia and Iceland at around 70%.
Seiji Kihara, a former finance ministry official who is now the ruling party’s deputy head of policy, said young bureaucrats were running around with a stack of documents asking for bosses’ approval when he was there. twenty years ago.
“They’re doing pretty much the same thing now.”
Reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto; Editing by Shri Navaratnam