Surf & Turf: developing interagency e-services in Malaysia & Indonesia

I’m back from a couple of great weeks on the road in two of my favourite cities – Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta.

On the face of it they’re a study in contrasts – Jakarta’s raucous streets and baffling traffic rules perhaps an echo of the lack of coordination that comes with a proudly democratic and decentralised administrative system. Whereas Putrajaya, Malaysia’s federal administrative capital, is a picture of tightly interconnected ministries sitting adjacent to one another overlooking a succession of grand bridges.

I’m not sure how far I can strain the metaphor – but beyond the conversations on big data, mobile government and information security which dominated my meetings in both countries, it was interesting to see the different approaches being taken to foster inter-agency service delivery.

The CIO of Indonesia’s Ministry of Health explained the limits of her ambition to foster the exchange of simple disease outbreak information within the public hospital system: uncooperative doctors and impervious information bunkers, combined with the need to cope with a fast-growing urban population that was straining existing healthcare infrastructure. And she hadn’t begun to mention the challenge of getting community clinics involved. A bajaj-ride away in the Ministry of Finance’s imposing 200 year-old complex, I was led through some of the reasons why closer cooperation between the Ministry and the other arms of government was not on the cards: lack of legislative approval for information sharing, incompatible ICT systems, and the need to have a resilient governance framework that was independent of other agencies.

In Malaysia there was also a healthy regard for jurisdictional niceties, but – and it’s a big but – the mechanisms for driving pan-agency collaboration and performance were always more visible.

It’s a compliment to the work of the Malaysian Administrative Modernisation and Management Planning Unit (MAMPU) that their biannual assessments of ICT adoption were spoken of within individual ministries in decidedly nervous tones. Getting a five-star rating from MAMPU is clearly something that matters. You can see this again in the progress that the country’s Special Task Force to Facilitate Business, better known by its Malay acronym PEMUDAH, is making in supporting inter-agency e-services that cut across departmental divisions.

Back in Jakarta I was struck by something that Basuki Yusuf Iskandar, Secretary General of the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology shared – that in Indonesia the pendulum had swung from centralisation to decentralisation, and that departments needed to remember that all progress came through action.

Rather than wait for ideal circumstances to materialise, Indonesia’s government ICT community need to focus on tactical arrangements and quick wins. It may seem messy at first, and mistakes will be made – but delivering change in government is all about momentum. Sometimes you just need to kick the can down the street, and see how far it goes.

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