Digital governance or digitisation of public sector by using technology to provide government services online is now one of the standard tools of statecraft even in the developing countries. There are some good reasons to believe that digital governance can and has resulted in better service delivery. In addition to improving governance through greater transparency and accountability of government functionaries, digitisation helps governments to ensure the efficient and effective provision of services at a fraction of the costs incurred by providing the same services through traditional means. Besides being an extremely cost-effective method of service delivery, it is also extremely client friendly. It is a paradigm shift; instead of a stakeholder coming to a government office, the state provides its services at his/her doorsteps, a click away whether living in a city or in rural areas. Although providing these very services online is ipso facto, no guarantee of their improved quality, yet being interactive and accessible to millions of people online, digitisation has its own corrective mechanism to ensure improvement. Slackness of any government agency in providing quality services will immediately become topic of discussion on print, electronic and social media, forcing the political elite to take remedial measures to save their own skins.If the state develops proper information highways and portals, it saves the amount to be spent on brick and mortar structures to physically provide the same services besides reducing the burden on public highways. Why should citizens commute by public or private transport to the government offices to seek information if the same service can be made available online? Additionally, an open, participatory and trustworthy public sector also helps in improving socioeconomic inclusiveness which is essential for long-term sustainable growth.In recent years, Pakistan in general and its Punjab province, in particular, have made significant progress in digitisation their respective public sectors. However, keeping in view its importance as an integrated part of public service delivery mechanism, there is a need to increase the scope, improve quality and expand its outreach. The following are some of the issues which need careful attention. digitisation of public sector is a monumental task needing a vision backed by total commitment at the political and executive levelsFirstly, digitisation of public sector is a monumental task needing a vision backed by total commitment at the political and executive levels. Need for this political commitment becomes even more crucial when we consider the uncertainties involved in the entire process namely timely availability of requisite resources, particularly of specialised human resource, project execution delays, rapidity of technical change making technology redundant in few years and the changing priorities of the changing political regimes. Add the typical turf wars among various government institutions which create difficulties in pooling of information and its sharing among public and private-the two main pillars of big data.If there is resolve at the highest level for the digital transformation of the country, even rudimentary legal framework and institutional structure can work wonders; if not, even the best of the above would not deliver. In this connection, bureaucracy can play a very crucial role by helping the elected representatives in the formulation of a long-term vision supported by a comprehensive legal regulatory framework which is in sync with the globally accepted best practices. Some of the fields requiring clear-cut policy formulation and legislative enactment are accessibility protocols for stakeholders, data protection, E-Commerce Frameworks, Public-Private Partnership Agreements etc. This framework must be approved by competent forums known for their institutional legitimacy and offering confidence to the stakeholders for their long-term continuity irrespective of periodic regime changes.Secondly, no one can prepare an exhaustive list of public goods and services which could be made available online to the public; literally, the sky is the limit. According to a recent report by Mackinsy, a small country like Estonia with only 1.3 million population, provides more than 160 services online ranging from the casting of votes to issuing of entitlement vouchers for the poor. You can very well imagine the number of services which could be potentially provided to the citizens of Pakistan. However, prioritisation is essential; prepare a list of services which can be provided online, prioritise them per the ease of their digitisation, needs of the citizens and availability of resources. Piloting with low volume services and learning lessons along the way could help the government to gradually move towards high volume but labour-intensive services.Thirdly, keeping in view the number of stakeholders continuously handling the colossal amount of information for providing services to the public, digitisation needs a robust but flexible institutional framework which is vertically aligned and horizontally linked. The sheer volume of data which needs to be collected, demands a vertical alignment, involving all tiers of the state. At the same time, data needs to be linked horizontally with the public-sector institutions as well as the private sector entities at various levels of the vertical chain above. However, the portals provided at various levels for the public to access the services made available to them online must be easy to navigate and interact.While implementing the plan of action, it must be remembered that the best of the legal framework and institutional mechanism can fail to deliver results if not properly implemented. Attract the best of the technical and managerial brains from within the country or from abroad. Let most of the digitised services be outsourced to the private sector for better professional management. Most importantly, the very technological architecture of digitisation is based on the streamlining of services. It means creating appropriate algorithms for automatic classification of the big data for its easy location and retrieval by the end users. For example, if all the tasks involved in registering companies by the SECP could take place with no human effort, there should be no complaint about its less than satisfactory service delivery.Fourthly, it is comparatively easy to provide digital services to those living in urban areas of a country; the real challenge is to ensure their across the board availability to rural areas and remote corners of the country. If we can have plans for Smart Cities, why can’t we plan for Smart Villages? That is why the creation of a centralised agency with provincial and local branches is the most appropriate and cost-effective way to not only economise on these scarce human resources but also to avoid unnecessary fragmentation of service providers.Fifthly, the state must pass on the savings made through digitisation to the public and must not try to cash on them by pricing the online services at the same rate as are applicable off-line. We must devise a pricing structure which keeps the affordability threshold of the poor as the benchmark rather than recovery of the fixed and variable costs for the provision of these services as its prime motive. Some services must be free to everyone while no service should be priced more than one-tenth of its off-line cost to the end consumer.Sixthly, like every technology, digitisation has its dark side also. The lethality, frequency, and duration of cyber-attacks have increased manifold in recent years and are likely to increase in the coming years. Make cyber risk a priority only next to service delivery, ensuring network security, malware protection, and secured configurations as the cornerstones of cybersecurity strategy.Lastly, technology is a double-edged weapon in terms of creating inequalities or bridging them. Left to itself, technology, unfortunately, favours those who already have and leaves out the have-nots in the lurch. Let it not happen. It is a godsend opportunity to empower everyone. Grab it. Those who are totally illiterate, are likely to remain the worst affected while those who are not sufficiently tech-savvy will get fewer benefits from the greater digitisation of the public services.One way to help them is to encourage the development of maximum user-friendly apps. Establishment of public portals at community centres where the dedicated staff is available to help those who can’t use these services has been the most effective way of increasing digitisation outreach to the poor. Similarly, providing public services on mobile platforms is another convenient and cost-effective method of doing the same.Tailpiece: Here a word of caution will be in order. Digitisation is a tool, not the solution; it is means to ends, not the end itself. ICT itself is not going to solve some of the fundamental challenges faced by the state. Thus, if there is wrong data in our revenue record about the ownership, possession and cultivation patterns of the agricultural farms, just digitising it and making it available online is a laudable effort. However, it is not the ultimate solution to the correction of the land records nor it is going to make illiterate farmers’ tech savvy and redressing the grievances of the farmers.The writer is a retired Federal Secretary. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgPublished in Daily Times, April 12th 2018.