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August 4, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic is a slow-moving crisis, the likes of which the world has not seen in more than a century. Governments today are faced with the challenge of formulating policies to ensure immediate relief to citizens, while also ensuring business resilience and continuity as we transition from the ‘react-and-revive’ phase to the ‘thrive’ one. 

Citizens have always been at the heart of government strategies, but it has become even more crucial for administrations to address the challenges faced by their constituents during this unforeseen crisis. How governments emerge from this pandemic will determine what future administrations will look like.

While we are in the react-and-revive phase today, administrators need to think about tomorrow in order to rebuild their nations. Coming up with a long-term plan will help governments shift from the unpredictable react period to the predictable yet uncomfortable revive period and, finally, move towards the thrive period.

Governments need to focus on the following areas to engender a public service transformation: 

1. Business agility: There is a need for governments to be flexible, responsive and adaptive to address the needs of citizens in crisis situations. The ability to switch to a virtual model of operation and delivery is the new norm today. Accelerating the use of digital platforms will help in cash disbursement in times of need and setting up of virtual call centers will assist citizens in accessing emergency relief benefits. Governments today are changing business processes and providing support through innovative channels, such as using employers to disburse subsidies to citizens.

2. Adaptive security: With remote working enabled for most government organizations, citizen as well government data is currently at great risk. The Novel Coronavirus pandemic has led to an outbreak of COVID-19-themed SMS spam and phishing campaigns touting fake cures. According to C5 Alliance, cyber attacks in the healthcare sector have increased by 150% over the period from January to March 2020. Adhering to best practices regarding data privacy remains important during times of crisis, as more people rely on remote communications. A real-time adaptive security model is necessary to address the growing risk of data theft.

3. Multi-channel digital citizen services: Different governments have different digital maturity levels. Their ability to serve citizens remotely is also varied. In an effort to respond and adjust to the current crisis, many governments have accelerated the development of digital services and remote working models. But the rush to provide digital services may lead to solutions that are just not good enough. Citizens look for proactive digital governance; omnichannel platforms that build a sense of trust and security toward the government might lead to a better citizen experience.

4. Digital workforce: With workplace environments that often lag behind private organizations in terms of innovation and collaboration, there are serious concerns that persist about the ability of governments to adopt remote work set-ups. The first and foremost step towards change would be the seamless set-up of a digitally-enabled work environment – including infrastructure, communication and collaboration platforms – and training to ensure uninterrupted services during any pandemic. 

5. Analytics-driven services: Real-time decision-making powered by analytics will help governments in taking preventive measures during such outbreaks in the future. Policymakers, government organizations and other entities across the globe have used AI platforms, big data analytics and data visualization tools to predict where the Novel Coronavirus will go next, track the virus spread in real time and identify medications that might be helpful against COVID-19. The use of analytics-driven services is not just limited to predictions about the virus, but also for making strategic and financial decisions, managing supply chains and engaging citizens.

6. Harnessing the power of the network: Governments are collaborating with technology companies, universities and research labs to create a collective intelligence that can help mitigate future crises. FutureNHS is one such collaboration platform: open to anyone working in or for health and social care, it has an active member base featuring many local, regional and national organizations. The platform helps many different organizations, service providers, senior management, frontline staff, clinicians, health and social care colleagues and other interested stakeholders connect and collaborate more effectively.

Will COVID-19 serve as a reset button for returning to business as usual? Or will it propel governments into the new normal? Well, that totally depends on their adoption of digital technologies to rise to the challenge and ensure that they become crisis-ready.


Shalini Manchanda Mehtani is Head, Offerings and Marketing, Public Services International Business Unit, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). Based out of India, Shalini has an overall experience of 23 years, with more than a decade spent in the Public Services domain. She has worked across business domains such as delivery management, sales, finance and change management. Shalini holds a Master’s degree in Computer Applications from Victoria Jubilee Technical Institute (VJTI), India.


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