Tony Scott says convenience, trust will drive U.S. government’s digital transition

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On Tuesday, federal chief information officer Tony Scott joined Lars Lose — Ambassador of Denmark to the United States — for a discussion about the future of digital government at ACT-IAC’s 2016 Executive Leadership Conference in Williamsburg, Va.

Lose said his country’s transition to a fully-digital public service did not come overnight. Denmark built their current IT infrastructure over a 15-year period. They started with simple digital communication (i.e. email) between citizens and government officials, developed a common digital platform, then put a digital keystone in place. Today, that keystone is used by nearly 80-percent of the Danish population.

“It’s what we call an easy access easy ID — an encrypted ID passcode for everyday citizens,” Lose said. “[We use it] not only for [our] dealings with the public sector but also with [the private sector], home banking for example.”

Lose said that digital infrastructure saves Denmark $330 million a year and makes the country a very attractive place to do business.

“Forbes ranked Denmark as the number one place to do business,” he said. “That was mainly due to our IT structure.”

Lose made an attractive case for Denmark’s model of digital government, but it would not be easy to replicate in a federation of states like the U.S.

“Fortunately, there is a technology solution to this which is identity federation,” Scott said. “It’s not a new thing. In government, we’re just a little bit slow in thinking through some of those hard problems and delivering it as a reality.”

Scott said individual agencies like the IRS, General Services Administration, and Department of Defense are making strides in moving to common platforms and coming up with new ways to secure information. He expressed admiration for the Danish system, but said the U.S. method of digital exchange will be unique, based on convenience, and backed by trust.

“People won’t hate government if it serves them well and if it’s efficient,” he said. “Clearly some of the digitization ideas that I know were talked about [at ELC] start down that path.”

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