Governments worldwide are taking the bold, but necessary step to reimagine the way they govern, serve, and protect their countries and communities.
Even before the pandemic, governments have seen a growing demand for digital services. Online channels to apply for passports, permits and licenses, and paying bills and fees were features familiar to many, introduced by governments to expedite citizen services.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic triggered the unprecedented acceleration of digital transformation across the broader spectrum of citizen experience. Social distancing, lockdowns and remote working entered our vocabulary of life-as-usual. Governments too had to adjust and pivot quickly to continue legislating, educating, and delivering on citizen services securely and virtually.
More so than ever, people are counting on their government leaders to continue serving in their best interests. Even as countries start to move out of the pandemic, the paradigm shift remains. Today’s citizens expect to connect with government services in safe, secure, seamless, and reliable ways.
Bridging the Digital Divide
Throughout the pandemic, technology has stepped in to ensure the continuity of critical public services such as telehealth, distance learning, and other essential services. However, many households without access to reliable internet connections were left out of these services. When the internet is the only factor enabling access to key services or safely continuing work, the digital divide widens as disconnected communities are excluded from participation.
In Asia-Pacific, nearly 52% of the region’s 4.3 billion people are offline. The flourishing digital innovation and high-speed internet connectivity that we see tends to concentrate in urban centers, with many rural areas still lacking internet access. With a growing reliance on technology to continue learning or working or connecting with family members, there is a need to address this digital divide.
As the world begins to embrace a high-tech future that includes the likes of 5G, IoT and AI, connecting our rural and underserved communities will help people leverage these technologies to unlock better social and economic outcomes. For example, agriculture technology is already helping farmers with access to real-time information like weather patterns and crop prices, allowing for better decision-making that contributes to their bottom line.
According to Cisco’s Visual Networking Index, 38% of Asia Pacific’s population will still be without internet access in 2022. Cisco is dedicated to bridging this digital divide. Our Country Digital Acceleration (CDA) program has helped governments from 40 countries to accelerate their national digital agendas. We are all working to achieve our purpose of powering an inclusive future for all.
When hundreds of people could no longer enter the courthouse because of the pandemic, one of India’s District Courts had to find a way to keep courts in session across 6 districts. Halting proceedings altogether in light of social distancing would create an overwhelming backlog.
Their solution? Secure remote hearings with Webex. With Webex licenses for its Judges and court staff, their connected courthouse solution enabled remote hearings for all their districts. This meant that public safety would be ensured, and court hearings could continue. They chose Webex for its robust, reliable platform and the support extended in technology adoption. As this is the first implementation of remote hearings for District Courts in India, their success is creating a model for other District Courts facing similar challenges to follow.
Beyond courtrooms, Cisco is helping governments to empower the continuity of justice and public safety through IT modernization. Our secure connected justice solutions keep courtrooms in session, enable services for incarcerated individuals, and enhance community care programs.
Staying connected with vulnerable communities
From palliative care for the elderly to mental health outreach, social service agencies are dedicated to connecting with vulnerable and underserved communities. However, the pandemic has posed an unprecedented and ongoing challenge to this important work. Societal restrictions have since meant that many organizations and those they serve have needed to pivot quickly and seek alternative methods to stay connected.
In the United States, the San Francisco’s Suicide Prevention (SFSP) volunteers answer calls from over 70,000 clients at nearly 300 calls every single day. Since the pandemic, SFSP has seen a 30% increase in high-risk calls. When offices had to close during the shelter-in-place order, SFSP had to find a way to keep staff and volunteers safe during COVID-19, while still ensuring that they could keep the phone lines open. At that juncture, this was more important than ever. As privacy was a key concern, calls could not simply be forwarded to any home or mobile phones.
A Cisco employee who volunteers at SFSP quickly realized how Cisco could help. Within 4 days, SFSP activated 80 volunteers on Webex Calling with phone numbers and 20 devices for the staff. Volunteers and staff could keep these critical phone lines open in the safety of their homes.
During this public health crisis, social services agencies have demonstrated remarkable tenacity to innovate and continue caring for their communities. These stories of adapting to these uniquely challenging circumstances truly exemplify their unyielding commitment to delivering on their missions. Cisco is honored to work alongside these organizations as they help their communities each and every day.
The way forward
The response by governments during COVID-19 has given us a glimpse of how digital transformation can enable better outcomes for our communities and countries. Now is the time for government organizations to build on this momentum and translate these short-term solutions into sustainable, long-term capabilities that meet the evolving expectations and needs of the citizen experience.
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