“India is driving transformation at a much larger scale”

Interview with Uschi Schreiber, global government and public sector leader, Ernst & Young


Samir Sachdeva | October 31, 2012

Uschi Schreiber is the global government and public sector leader for Ernst & Young and is based in Hong Kong. In this role, she manages EY’s consulting business with governments around the world. She leads teams across mature and emerging markets providing advisory, audit, transactional and taxation services to government and public sector clients. Schreiber spoke to Samir Sachdeva on the transformation which India and other countries are going through. Edited excerpts:

What are the key challenges and opportunities that governments are currently facing worldwide?
We are working with governments all over the world which include governments in mature and emerging markets. Most mature governments face the challenge of long-term systematic change. These are the economic changes that occurred post the global financial crisis. The ageing population is another big issue in mature markets because it clearly has an impact on budget.
In emerging markets the challenge is the need to improve the education system and ensure private investments. Infrastructure is also a big issue in such markets and so is the engagement of citizens in transformational change.

How are the governments reacting to these new challenges?
If we look at the issue of ageing population, it will have a serious impact on number of aspects of government service delivery. It will impact the taxation system, the workforce and even skill development. Also it has a significant impact on the cost of health care system. The cost of health care is significantly higher in the case of the ageing population than the young population. So the impact is lower tax rates and higher costs in service provisions in mature markets. This creates the tensions around what entitlements the government can provide. What degree of social network and social security systems can be provided? It provides challenges to governments in adjusting between income and expenditure. 

Some governments worldwide are toying with the idea of establishing a ‘department of future’. What are your views on this?
It picks up on the issue of long-term planning and long-term solution. Some governments are very deliberately thinking about what they need to get ready for and what their citizens need to get ready for. There are various ways of addressing it. One way is to have a department of future. The other way is to say how we can have the best futurists thinking into all our planning and affairs. Sometimes when it is a department, people might conclude that the particular department is now responsible for the future. The right approach is to commence a dialogue between government and people who are thinking about the future. The biggest challenge is that we cannot correctly predict what new technologies will do. What will be their impact and consequently what challenges governments might face in five to ten years? Working with futurists and working with those whose business is to understand the impact will be an important thing for governments to do.

Do you see a role for technology, specifically information technology, in delivering government services?
IT will drive a lot of transformational change and it will create a momentum which cannot be seen at this point in time. There is now real passion and excitement about the opportunity that IT presents to drive transformational change. Introducing new technologies in it will drive change. It will be better if it is supported by collaboration between government and industry in job creation. So, there will be possible job creation which we cannot foresee now. We also need government to stimulate education, skill development and we need industry to play its part.

The Indian government is planning a bill to make e-delivery of services compulsory after a given time period. What are your views on this?
It is a sign of the times. Automation of processes is what happens around the world and it will also happen in India. It will facilitate transparency, it will facilitate access and it will lead to more accuracy. For example, the learning we have from using IT in health care. We now know that IT has a capacity to minimise error in clinical treatment to a much greater degree than the paper-based system.
But the challenge in shifting to electronic delivery is that some parallel system (manual) will have to run over a period of time to ensure that people actually get that access. Because everybody is not technology savvy, so clearly there needs to be a (manual) system around that. The intention to increase transparency with help of technology is really great.

In your discussion you have referred to automation and transformation. What is the difference between the two?
We can automate all sorts of manual processes without necessarily achieving significant change. We continue to do what was being done but now we do it using IT. In this case we are using IT to trigger change. In transformation we need to look into what are the business processes which we are currently using? How can we do it better? Why are we doing them? And what is the outcome we are seeking? Sometimes we get so used to processing stuff that we forget what it is actually about. It is essentially about providing better services to our customers, to the citizens and to the people who are end users of the service. So that’s where transformation occurs when you start thinking about how you can get better outcomes and how we can use automation as just one step in the transformational journey.

India being a diverse nation linguistically, geographically, and structurally, do you think the global learning can be applied in India?
Of course, India needs to have access to what has been learnt and experienced around the world. It has to learn what has worked and what has not worked in the mature markets. But at the same time India is dealing with issues at a much larger scale. There is learning in whatever change is happening here. I think after five years you can ask the same question as to what one can learn from India.  

What is the key challenge you foresee in the Indian context?
If you look at the population projections then no one else has the chance that India has. India will have 300 million people under the age of 30 years in the next ten years. Many people in government understand this challenge and are working towards it. Understanding is the first step towards driving change.

If you have one suggestion to make to the government of India, what would it be?
One thing is that the government needs to be very clear about what outcomes are being tried to be achieved. One has to be very explicit towards describing those outcomes and ensuring that all efforts are aligned towards those outcomes. But then that is not easy in a democracy and that’s why India is different from some other countries. The government should align as much effort of the government departments towards that explicit goal and measure the progress towards it.



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