An Encrypted Future

Category: Consumers

Digitization in Government

By Joanna Allegretti, CHAMPtitles 

It is 2022, and US government is ripe for adopting digitization for two main reasons: the benefits (cost, security, ease just to name a few) are significant and the touchpoint are numerous (331 million citizens and counting). 

When most people think of government, they do not consider it a first mover for adopting innovative technology, but the desire is there. According to an Accenture survey, more than 65% of public service leaders have cited creating a personalized citizen experience as a priority. More than a mere preference for policy makers, digitization in government is now being adopted at a faster pace than ever before. There are plenty of good examples of implementation to mention.  

Here is one to start: Nearly all US citizens must file a US federal individual income tax return each year. If you submit your return online, you are the beneficiary of this digital government process. E-filing is a huge improvement on completing form 1040 by hand. It also saves the time spent mailing the return at the post office and the cost to send it to the IRS. Best of all, because of the digital process, the tax refund arrives more quickly. Citizens are not the only ones to benefit from this simplified process, so too does the Internal Revenue Service. Between 2010 and 2015, the IRS budget decreased in part due to increased electronic filing. It is no surprise that converting a paper return into a machine-readable format is costly! The more user-friendly digital process also means government resources are freed up for more important things. Customer engagement and satisfaction are also improving; in 2020, 94% of all individual tax returns were filed electronically! Mother nature is equally pleased about this change. Electronically submitting an income tax return is an environmentally friendly alternative to printing and mailing. 

Sadly, not all government processes have transformed like this one though, and there is far from broad-based support for digital government by key decision makers. It is the reason many government agencies at the federal and state level still employ legacy and paper-based processes using mainframes or cloud-based systems to process transactions.  

Take the Department of Motor Vehicles, a government agency that many adults in this country have interacted with whether it was to apply for or renew a driver’s license or title a new car upon sale. Citizens know all too well that these processes are cumbersome and paper-based: long lines and wait times at the DMV office, piles of paper to manually fill in, and the result: a paper license or title mailed home weeks later. For the DMV, these paper-based processes are costly, inefficient, and prone to human error and unnecessary delay. Even moderately sized states use an estimated 18 million sheets of paper per year to process car titles! 

A digital solution for DMVs would be one that modernizes their title and registration systems. For citizens, a digital vehicle title would be profoundly better than what they experience today, lowering costs, increasing security, easing the transfer of ownership, and improving customer satisfaction. As was the case with electronic tax filing, digitization is seamless for citizens and innovative for government. Digital systems replace legacy ones for a fraction of the price, which is a direct savings to taxpayers. A digital process is also more secure for government, and the time efficiencies and cost savings realized by this transformation allow them to pursue other priorities. 

The DMV is just one interesting example of the future of digital government, but the good news is interest in this idea of digitization is on the rise. We, as citizens, eagerly await the simplification and savings of all these once onerous and costly government processes.  

Examples of Digitization

By Joanna Allegretti, CHAMPtitles

We have defined digitization and now understand what it means in theory, but what does it actually mean for you and me? It is not some futuristic intangible.  You are likely benefiting from digitization right now, and you might not even realize it!  

Let’s consider some examples of digitization in practice. 

1. The most obvious one starts with the device on which you are reading this post. Before digitization, we would have printed this write-up on paper and mailed it to you. Now, once you subscribe to our blog, you can receive this content electronically by email. Everyone can agree this digital means of communication makes receiving and absorbing information much more immediate and convenient.  

2. Remember the paper boarding pass? In 100 years of aviation, it evolved from a handwritten paper tag issued at the airport check-in desk to an electronic ticket in the 21st century. Then, a new technology by way of a barcode replaced a more expensive magnetic strip allowing passengers to check-in online and print their boarding pass at home. Today, boarding passes are sent to a mobile device, and that digital version is machine-readable. Soon biometric screening will be commonplace, accelerating boarding and more importantly improving security for all passengers.   

3. Only in the last decade has a trip to the Emergency Room begun to digitize. For example, not long ago, a suspected fracture would require x-ray images captured on a physical plate to be rushed to image technicians who would develop the x-ray image onto a film before delivery to the medical staff for interpretation. Today, it is increasingly likely that the x-ray image is processed digitally at the radiographer’s workstation, providing accurate and instantaneous results. Of course, this saves expense in terms of materials and time – appreciated by the hospital and the patient.

With digitization in place, future enhancements can be layered on top creating further savings and improving outcomes. For example, we are seeing hospitals trial software that can offer a doctor preliminary medical diagnoses based on the library of similar digital images the computer has previously captured.

These three examples just begin to scratch the tip of the digitization iceberg. The list is vast and includes much more complex examples that we might not even realize are working behind the scenes to benefit our day-to-day lives, which we will cover in a future post.  Still, we can look to these use cases to understand why digitization is so important and life-changing. Further, the story of IT evolution in communication, aviation, and radiography should and will be a model for all sorts of industries and businesses, many of which are ready for this kind of digital transformation, improving the experience, enhancing security, and reducing costs. 

What is Digitization?

By Ben Walton, CHAMPtitles

Digitization is the process of creating a digital representation of something of value, resulting in what is called a “digital asset”. So, what is a digital asset? 

Let’s break that down. First, the asset part. 

According to the MerriamWebster dictionary, one definition of an asset is “an item of value owned”. Value can be monetary and/or give an individual access to something else. Ownership is required so that the asset can be transacted upon for a specific entity be it an individual, company, trust, etc. For any asset, there will be certain rules that define ownership, verification, and transference (if possible). 

An example of an asset is a music festival wristband. It has the monetary value of what it cost to buy and gives an individual access to the concert venue. Ownership is defined as possessing the wristband. Verification happens at the festival venue when the staff visually checks the wristband to confirm its authenticity. To transfer the wristband from one individual to another, the owner physically hands it over.  

Now, let’s define the digital part. 

For an asset to be considered digital, there are two key components. First, the asset’s information must be stored electronically. Second, the electronic information should be coded in a format that makes it receivable and acceptable to third parties. Simply put, the electronic asset must have utility to the original creator and any future owner. It is important to note that encryption and immutable ownership records are not a pre-requisite for digital assets, but as society looks to store more valuable assets in digital form, these features have grown in importance as they ensure the asset is correctly and honestly used to prevent theft, fraud, and forgery.  

Let’s consider the evolution of the humble concert ticket. Years ago, a paper ticket was used to enter the concert venue. The venue staff would tear off a portion of the ticket to show that it had been used. Nowadays, we receive an email of the ticket with a specific QR code. Once you arrive at the venue, the staff scans the code to confirm its authenticity and permit entrance. The concert ticket with the QR code has the same authority as the original physical ticket. Now why does this matter?  

When dealing with an asset that enables a person to access valuable benefits from the state or an employer, there needs to be a heightened degree of security to assure the legitimacy and provenance of the asset. An example is an asset like a birth certificate that provides an official government-issued record of a person’s birth and is generally required for school registration. So, for an electronic birth certificate to be considered “digital”, it must be accepted by the school as valid proof of one’s name, sex, and date and place of birth, meaning the digital version allows for the same action as the physical one.  

We can now conclude that a digital asset is electronically stored information that defines an owned item of value and has the same authority as the non-digital asset (if one exists or existed). By establishing this common definition of a digital asset, we can start the conversation around creating them and then using them. We can begin to explore the possibilities of what they can do, how they can be created, the internals of implementation, and so much more.  

Before we can dive into the specifics of digitization and digital assets, we should understand the argument for pursuing digitization. That is up next.  

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