To improve competitiveness, build invisible government services

By Her Excellency Aisha Al Marzooqi and Hani Zein


Individual and business customers are increasingly demanding highly personalized and hassle-free service. Many international businesses can be deterred from establishing operations in the Middle East region because of the prospect of time-consuming interactions with government bodies. To attract such investors, governments need to devote resources to the ambitious goal of invisible government, which limits duplication of application processes for individuals and businesses. The necessary investment in interoperable digital platforms and technological capabilities for invisible government will be repaid, most notably by boosting the region’s economic competitiveness.

Government entities in the region have managed to modernize and digitize their services in recent years. For example, the Abu Dhabi government has established TAMM, a one-stop shop for all services. TAMM is built on an entire system of digital capabilities and provides over 500 digital services. Approximately 98% of Abu Dhabi government’s citizen services are digital and 90% of total government transactions in Abu Dhabi are now conducted through digital channels.

However, customers still want more personalization and for governments to be more proactive. A recent survey in one GCC country revealed that around 30% of customers are “dissatisfied” with the complexity of official websites and the amount of information they have to provide.

Governments therefore need to move further than the one-stop shop, and realize a vision of invisible government. With this system, customers benefit automatically from the services for which they are eligible, without any further interaction with the government. Governments thereby become an invisible enabler.

The invisible government system relies on an open digital platform that gauges eligibility and improves integration with private sector companies. Predictive analytics, based on efficient monitoring and sharing of data within a unified government platform, examine the services the customer has previously used to offer further potential services. Expanding collaboration with the private sector through a government-to-business-to consumer/business model can allow customers to complete business transactions effectively without the need to initiate related applications to government entities.

“Governments therefore need to move further than the one-stop shop, and realize a vision of invisible government.”

Along with the advantages for the customer of greater convenience and personalization, governments would gain by making the business environment more attractive to foreign investors. They would also achieve technology synergies through the consolidation of digital channels and platforms. It is estimated that Abu Dhabi has already managed to produce government savings of around AED 750 million ($204 million) by making some steps towards an invisible government system.

There are many areas in which authorities can offer a service without the individual or business having to provide additional information. Estonia has been a pioneer in this regard. For instance, banks automatically transfer information on companies’ income and expenses to the tax authorities. This allows managers to focus their energies on building their business rather than worrying about time-consuming financial statements, monthly tax declarations, and tax payments. Another example assists families. When a birth is registered with the relevant government entity, the social security authorities are automatically informed, and any applicable child or maternity benefits are dispensed without any further form-filling.

In the Middle East, there have been moves towards invisible government. In Abu Dhabi, automatic exemptions and actions are becoming more common when customers change status or request certain services. For example, a person diagnosed with a certain disability at a medical facility is proactively registered to benefit from a range of government services and privileges. This enables the government to better reach people of determination and reduce the application burden and waiting times. Some public-private initiatives have been established to offer seamless services to customers. One government’s partnership with a private-sector company planned to remove an employee’s obligation to submit a doctor’s note in order to justify a sickness absence. Through integration with government infrastructure, the company would be able to find the medical report electronically, eliminating the need for manually checking thousands of sickness absence notifications every year.

Governments will need to build the necessary foundations to enable non-sensitive public data to be exchanged and reused. They should develop interoperable digital platforms and a broad range of technological capabilities. For example, machine learning algorithms and performance visualization will be necessary for providing advanced customer analytics. The TAMM platform has already captured a considerable amount of customer data, enabling the analytics unit to derive meaningful insights.

To complete a successful transition towards invisible government, the right organizational structure and culture must be in place. The sponsorship of the top-level leadership team, such as through a digital board, and the support of other key stakeholders, will be essential.

By taking such steps in this direction, governments can provide proactive and quality services that are appreciated by their customers, while also attracting invaluable international investment to their country.

This article originally appeared in The National, June 2021.

About the authors

Her Excellency Aisha Al Marzooqi is the Executive Director at the Abu Dhabi Digital Authority and Hani Zein is a partner with Strategy& Middle East, part of the PwC network.

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Hani Zein

Hani Zein

Partner, Strategy& Middle East

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