Digital Agency must accomplish tasks both ethically and practically

The Digital Agency was launched on Sept. 1. The start of the agency came just one year after Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga put it on the list of priority policies.

The government should not be allowed to repeat past blunders in its nationwide digital reforms. It needs to make a detailed plan and proceed smoothly with the renewal of the administrative system.

Government entities’ inability to properly use digital technology has hampered the implementation of measures against the novel coronavirus pandemic. Online applications for fixed-sum cash benefits became bogged down, and the communication of information on infection situations was ineffective. The smartphone app that notifies users about possible contact with people infected with the virus has hardly worked.

To break through the current situation, which has been described as a “digital defeat” for Japan, it is necessary for the government to reflect on its past behavior and push ahead with reforms.

The main pillar of the digital reforms is to improve the information systems infrastructure for the central and local governments. The central government intends to create a cloud system for data management on the internet, to be shared by ministries, agencies and local governments.

In the past, ministries, agencies and local governments have procured their information systems individually, giving rise to compatibility issues due to differences in specifications, making it difficult for the central and local governments to cooperate closely. If the central and local governments can share information through the central government-managed cloud system, they will be able to implement policies quickly and streamline operations.

The central government plans to unify nearly 20 operations, including resident registration, taxation, nursing care and childcare support, and is asking local governments to join the cloud system by fiscal 2025, among other measures.

Some local governments say it will be difficult for them to shift to the cloud system quickly since it will require detailed work, such as standardizing data formats. Careful preparations must be expedited to avoid confusion.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato has said that the government will digitize vaccination certificates that are now issued in writing to overseas travelers as early as the end of this year.

In Japan, such digitized certificates are also expected to be used at eating and drinking establishments and for travel, among other purposes. The Digital Agency should take the initiative in building a user-friendly system.

It is important for the public to be able to realize the benefits of digitization. It is essential to take tangible measures, such as promptly providing benefits to households and businesses, and greatly expanding the use of My Number identification cards.

The new agency has a staff of about 600, including about 200 from the private sector. It will be a challenge to prevent collusive ties with related companies while introducing technologies and know-how from the private sector.

When the Cabinet Secretariat’s National Strategy Office of Information and Communication Technology, the predecessor of the new agency, ordered an app for the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, some improprieties occurred, such as staffers of the office, mainly from the private sector, informing outsiders of the amount of the estimated value of contracts up for bidding. Compliance must be thoroughly maintained in the organization so as not to undermine trust in the agency.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Sept. 2, 2021.