Digitization of Administrative Work: Avoid Making Hasty Judgments, Aim for Steady Progress

It is not easy to standardize systems that differ from local government to local government, but the digitization of administrative work is essential to improve services for residents.

The central government should support local governments that are lagging behind in this process.

The Digital Agency has announced that 171 local governments, or 10% of the nation’s total, will not meet the end of fiscal 2025 deadline for the standardization project to unify the specifications of operational systems of local governments nationwide.

Delays are noticeable among local governments with relatively large populations — including six prefectures, such as Osaka and Saitama, and government ordinance-designated cities and core cities — according to the agency.

Each prefecture and municipality has so far developed its own system, which has resulted in different specifications and data formats. There was also little coordination with the systems of central government ministries and agencies.

For this reason, during the coronavirus pandemic, the sharing of information on the spread of infection and other issues between the central and local governments did not go smoothly. In many cases, local governments had to conduct by hand the procedures for distributing COVID-19 benefits prepared by the central government.

In light of this situation, the central government has decided to unify the systems for 20 administrative tasks performed by local governments, including those regarding basic resident registers and resident taxes. It intends to shift by the end of fiscal 2025 to the “government cloud” platform services, which will be used jointly by the central and local governments.

If the digitization of administrative work progresses, various procedures will become possible online, including the notification of moving in and out of municipalities, and applications related to medical care and childcare. This will help streamline operations and reduce the burden on local government employees.

The main reason for the slow transition is that some local governments are using large, old computers or have made their own individual improvements. This means a huge amount of work will be necessary to modify the systems.

In addition, separately from the standardization work, it is said that in some local governments, companies have withdrawn from system maintenance and management due to a lack of manpower or other reasons.

The standardization project involves the handling of a vast amount of personal information. In the rush to move to the government cloud, the leaking of information and other serious problems must not be allowed to occur. Hopefully, the central government will support local governments’ efforts through such means as dispatching information technology personnel.

Some local governments that have started using the cloud system ahead of others have complained that their expenses have been increasing due to the usage fees and other costs. The central government has said that the introduction of the cloud system could reduce operating expenses by 30% for all the administrative work, but this has not been the case in reality.

It is necessary to identify the causes of the ballooning costs and other problems and take immediate measures against them.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 11, 2024)