South Korea: The leading e-government country in Asia

Published on July 15, 2021

Digitalisation is undeniably crucial in our modern world, particularly as the private sector has adapted to the past year’s disruption caused by the pandemic. Many different innovative breakthrough services were introduced, such as IoT (Internet of Things), cloud services, or eCommerce. However, all this development increases the pressure that governments have to face now from their citizens because it is expected of them to take a more proactive role in offering public services inclusively and efficiently. 

Clearly, not every country’s government can keep up with the pace of transformation, and some countries outperform others. An example is South Korea, which has proven itself to be one of the leading e-Government countries in the region. It has one of the most innovative e-government services and levels of e-participation in the world. 

South Korea’s journey to e-government

The country initiated its e-Government plan as early as the 1980s when initiatives were taken to establish the proper infrastructure. In 2001, South Korea adopted the Act for Promotion of Digitalisation of Administrative Work for e-Government Realisation. It provided the legislative framework for 11 key initiatives that aimed to improve government institutions’ productivity, transparency, and social equality. From that time forward, the country has produced more citizen-oriented services, expanded the service levels, and increased the measures for information security and privacy.

 There are five essential stages through which the country has become a leading e-government. 

  • Stage 1 (1980s to 1995)- the foundation. During this time, the government digitalised national critical databases and built a network for each government agency. 
  • Stage 2 (1996 to 2002)- the promotion stage. High-speed broadband networks were established, and 11 high-priority IT projects were completed. 
  • Stage 3 (2003 to 2007)- the diffusion. The government-for-citizens (G4C) applications were established, and systems implemented to share administrative information. 
  • Stage 4 (2008 to 2012) – the integration.  This saw the launch of an integrated e-government platform. 
  • Stage 5 (2013 to 2017) – the maturity. This stage was committed to innovations in the information and communication technology (ICT) sector for service integration at all levels of government. Also, there was a great collaboration with the private sector and citizens that enabled growth.
  • Stage 6 ( 2018- onward)- the intelligent digital government. e-Governance has played a critical role in innovative screening, contact tracing capacities, economic intelligence assessment, etc., for adjusting tightened and loosened policy measures. 

 Policy continuity and consistency

Although the leadership and personnel have changed, the e-governmental initiatives and projects have remained stable and constantly progressing forward. Due to these efforts, public productivity has improved, and administrative services have become more efficient. Since e-governance is basically a large-scale digital transformation, such a change is not an easy task, but South Korea has shown that it is possible and worthwhile doing. 

This country has really proven that success relies on solid political commitment and determination, and robust infrastructure investment to build efficient e-services systems.

 That’s why the international community has recognised the Korean e-Government efforts for their excellence:

The key success factors

As you can see, South Korea didn’t become one of the best leaders in e-government overnight, but rather the success resulted from multiple efforts and decades. But, what are some of the factors that made this possible?

  • The proper infrastructure. The critical enabler is the infrastructure that covers the central and local governments. This means that all ministries and regional public offices share information by interconnecting their systems helping with the improvement of expertise and efficiency of public administration.
  • Constant investment. Korea has allocated a monetary fund for national informatisation promotion, continuously investing in it, ensuring flexibility of budget allocations for its projects. 
  • Well-established implementation framework. As mentioned above, all government ministries and departments share responsibilities for e-Government projects. Additionally, the Korean government has an e-Government committee with members from the public and private sectors, also known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution Committee. Under the direct management of the President, they develop a framework for a systematic collaboration with government ministries.
  • Technical support. Many organisations such as National Information Society Agency, Korea Information Society Development Institute,  Korea Internet and Security Agency etc., have contributed their expertise in policy-making and technical areas.



About the Author

Mohammad J Sear is focused on bringing purpose to digital in government.

He has obtained his leadership training from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, USA and holds an MBA from the University of Leicester, UK.

After a successful 12+ years career in the UK government during the premiership of three Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair, Mohammad moved to the private sector and has now for 20+ years been advising government organizations in the UK, Middle East, Australasia and South Asia on strategic challenges and digital transformation.

He is currently working for Ernst & Young (EY) and leading the Digital Government practice efforts across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and is also a Digital Government and Innovation lecturer at the Paris School of International Affairs, Sciences Po, France.

As a thought-leader some of the articles he has authored include: “Digital is great but exclusion isn’t – make data work for driving better digital inclusion” published in Harvard Business Review, “Holistic Digital Government” published in the MIT Technology Review, “Want To Make Citizens Happy – Put Experience First” published in Forbes Middle East.

More from Mohammad J Sear



FRIDAY, 30 JUNE 2022