Despite its many benefits, the digital transformation of the public sector is progressing slowly in many countries. Abdoul Malick Tapsoba shares critical insights into some of the biggest obstacles to digitalising public administration in Burkina Faso.
Digitisation is an inevitable step for any institution that wishes to adapt to technological developments and the habits of users and customers. The government of Burkina Faso has responded to this challenge with the creation of a ministry in charge of digital transition, the L’agence nationale de promotion des technologies de l’information et de la communication (National Agency for Promotion of ICT), or ANPTIC.
ANPTIC specialises in the implementation of cross-cutting digitalisation projects for the state and oversees the development of the common communication infrastructure, but also of the services whose implementation concerns multiple ministries. It is through this agency that I had the opportunity to work on projects that contributed to the dematerialisation (i.e., the archiving of information on electronic platforms and digitalisation of documents and processes) of certain public administration procedures.
Indeed, the government has adopted a list of 128 priority procedures to dematerialise. However, there are many obstacles that prevent dematerialisation projects from having the expected impact!
1. Lack of Political Will and Trust
As in all projects, it is necessary to ensure good political will, especially where innovating public administration is involved. Unfortunately, this is one of the major obstacles to the success of digitalisation projects in Burkina Faso. Since more and more people demand digital technology in their everyday lives, politicians always show a general desire to support digitalisation projects. However, in reality, there is a serious lack of confidence and trust from the authorities, for instance, when it comes to projects led by local engineers.
We have set up a platform that allows the digital management of all the files of the Council of Ministers. But many members of government at the time were reluctant to use the platform because they feared that certain files might be leaked before its introduction to the Council of Ministers. They worried that system administrators would be able to read the contents of their conversation via the government messaging platform – even though the system does not allow for this. This is a symptom of a severe lack of trust in local engineers and businesses.
2. Resistance to Change
Resistance to change is also one of the main factors impeding digitalisation projects because people like to stick to their habits. In this case, state workers have of course acquired a certain habit in the management of their files and digitisation is perceived as a disruptive factor, even though it can bring certain advantages or reveal shortcomings in standard procedures. This can lead workers to enter a form of resistance. Still in the context of the dematerialisation project for the Council of Ministers, a technical adviser to the government simply asked us if this project could not be postponed until after his retirement. This clearly demonstrates that he has no intention of using the platform and moreover he has never taken any training despite the multiple sessions we had scheduled.
3. Inadequate Mobilisation of End Users
Another obstacle is the difficulty of mobilising the ones who would benefit from governmental dematerialisation projects, the end users working in public administration. Indeed, the public administration has authorised certain motivational elements for workers, which ultimately prove to be an obstacle for any activity that does not integrate these motivational aspects. For instance, the state authorises the organisation of workshops and activities in other cities and the payment of per diems to participants per day of participation. This has become a habit to such an extent that any activity that does not offer any motivational elements will see less participation and thereby have fewer participants who master the subject or who do not have sufficient decision-making authority. As a result, the achievements and benefits of digitalisation efforts are repeatedly questioned. This has a great impact on the success of such projects because naturally they require a strong involvement of beneficiaries. After all, end users who do not see the point of your product, won’t use it.
4. Unstable Access to Internet
There are also certain factors that negatively influence the outcome of digitalisation projects that are rather unique to the digital sector. These factors include the inadequacy and instability of communication infrastructure as well as the low internet bandwidth in Burkina Faso. Indeed, the communication infrastructure is the foundation of digital transformation. If these infrastructures are faulty, it goes without saying that the services that are hosted are difficult to access. In Burkina Faso, the communication infrastructure is being built through the National Telecommunications Backbone Project (PNBT) which aims to mesh the main axes of the country with optic fibre – a process many countries have started a long time ago. International internet bandwidth is also low, making it difficult to access online services. Users therefore do not hesitate to cast these arguments to justify their scepticism about public digitisation projects.
5. Weak Structures
Finally, there is the poor organisation of the digital economy sector which naturally influences the results of digitalisation projects. Indeed, other sectors manage to impose a certain code of conduct or discipline because they are headed by influential politicians or sufficiently powerful corporations. However, this is far from being the case in the digital sector in Burkina Faso. Even though the government has developed a general framework for the interoperability of applications and infrastructures, this is not followed by digital actors, and everyone does what suits them. In addition to these institutional weaknesses, there is the problem of project management. In governmental digitalisation projects, it is not uncommon to see a single person playing several roles. This is likely a result of a lack of best practices and has direct consequences, such as poor project execution.
My experience in the implementation of public digitalisation projects has come up against many obstacles. However, no obstacle is insurmountable, and therefore we continue to devise strategies to move forward. The dematerialisation project for the Council of Ministers has finally enabled certain members of the government to realise what digital technology can bring them. From this project came many other initiatives that are now considered benchmarks in West Africa. However, our task is not finished yet, and we continue pushing forward until e-government is a reality in Burkina Faso.