The AWS Institute / ...

Cloud for CEOs: Measure Innovation with One Metric

Accelerate public sector transformation with the cloud: Design

Accelerate public sector

transformation with the cloud: Design

PDF | 10 minute read

How do you know if your company is truly innovative?


The cloud empowers governments to accelerate the transformation of their services. Examples of successful transformation using the cloud, from Singapore to the UK, India to Iceland, Australia to Argentina and many countries in between, show that the public sector can respond to their citizens’ changing needs. However, they also show that transformation is about more than modern technology. There are common elements that underpin success. There are also common challenges. Some nations are well advanced, and those who started their transformation journey more recently can benefit from the experience of early adopters.

The Amazon Web Services (AWS) Institute has taught almost 5,000 government leaders in 23 countries through its Executive Education programme, in collaboration with leading academic and international nongovernmental institutions. Participants deliver government services of varying types and sizes. They raise five common challenges.

Five common challenges to digital transformation:

1. Where to start

2. How to build capability

3. How to acquire new IT and manage legacy systems

4. The security of citizens’ data

5. How to design better digital services for citizens

crowd of people from above

This guide summarises the answers from experts, many of whom have first-hand experience of nation-scale transformation. There are links to real examples and additional resources, including technical guides. The guide is in five distinct sections that reflect the most common challenges. Find more insight and solutions for other transformation challenges specific to your region or service at the AWS Institute.

Four Blockers of Innovation

How can I design digital services to be better for citizens?

A note from the expert contributors:

Government services based on digital capabilities shared by all departments are simpler for citizens to use and can reduce development costs. This section explores what’s needed to overcome traditional silos and explains how national digital identity platforms underpin seamless citizen services.

Government services have grown up in silos. They collect the same information about citizens in various formats but for similar tasks, for example, to make an appointment, register ownership of something or receive funds.

Mark Thompson explains why this is a problem and what can be done to change it: “In the UK there are 215 NHS trusts, 317 local government authorities and 45 police forces, and they have all been building slightly different versions of the same thing,” he says. “This costs money and it means we can’t share data and we can’t update things.”

Digital transformation is an opportunity to improve this situation for public sector organisations and the citizens who use their services. There are two elements to the transformation: culture and technology. The cultural change can be the harder one as the way an organisation works tends to be embedded and to have been set up to work for the organisation itself rather than for the end users. This can reinforce silos whereas in fact much of what public sector organisations do can be achieved through shared capabilities. Similarly, the technology that supports service innovation can also be shared across functions and whole departments. This becomes clear once your organisation designs services for the user need and works backwards from there.

Expert contributors

María Inés Baque
Government Transformation Advisor (LCC), Amazon Web Services (AWS)

Choy Peng Wu
Government Transformation Director (ASEAN), AWS

Mark Thompson
Professor in Digital Economy, University of Exeter Business School

Three Steps to Innovation


Government as a platform, or the Lego principle as transformation leaders sometimes describe it, means establishing and accepting certain shared components and capabilities, guided by standards that are common to departments and organisations. Only unique and specialist services need to be built in a bespoke way.

Authentication tools and common application programming interfaces (APIs) make it possible to share information securely between departments. However, to get the best out of these tools, data standardisation, convergence and common standards are essential. Governments including in India, Singapore and Argentina have progressed interoperability and a core component of their success is a single digital identity, which enables citizens to access multiple government services.  


You design with citizens, not for them

Put citizens at the centre

When people come to register the birth of a baby or replace a lost passport, “what they want is to spend less time with government and get to the end of the process as quickly as possible,” says María Inés Baque, AWS government transformation leader, who previously led Argentina’s digital government transformation

“Starting with citizens’ needs and working backwards from this is how you connect silos and build the end-to-end services that touch different departments and different parts of the same agency – you design with citizens, not for them – you find out what their pain points are,” she adds.

The first task is journey mapping in order to understand the existing experience citizens have when they phone a call centre to access a service. Next, observe the users of that service as they go about their daily lives and then talk to them in focus groups to establish what matters to them.

In Singapore, the government expressed this concept as Moments of Life, named this way because citizens interact with government regarding important life stages such as registering a birth. Chief technology officer Chan Cheow Hoe explains that making sure the experience is seamless for the citizen requires joined-up public digital infrastructure. He explains in this AWS Institute video, User First, how Singapore’s government was very fragmented, as many governments are. Singapore took an inside-out approach instead of seeing the services through citizens’ eyes.

Chan Cheow Hoe explains how although governments may have a lot of data, there’s no “single source of truth.” It’s technically challenging to bring together multiple systems that don’t talk to each other. Singapore’s solution was to create a government-wide API gateway. Each agency created an API that works through this gateway. This all fed into a single interface for the citizen – LifeSG.

Tools to enable interoperability

The main technology elements that enable digital interoperability are available, says Choy Peng Wu, AWS director of government transformation (ASEAN).

“The ability for governments to know which information sits in which department and how to pull it out, those are not esoteric technologies, they are mature,” she explains. She adds that alongside the technology it’s essential to have “a good data management and sharing framework so people have trust in the system.”

A single digital ID

The seamless experience for the citizen was enabled by the Singpass digital ID program, which made it possible to enact quickly and simply with government online services. There are considerable benefits on the government side because when departments have a clear picture of an individual’s interactions across government agencies, which a unique ID enables, fraud and overlap are more difficult.

“For a real digital transformation centred on citizens’ needs, a digital ID is essential,” says María Inés Baque. She says the move to a single digital ID in Argentina was eased because people in the country were already used to showing their identity card to access services.

However, she says that the flagship digital identity scheme worldwide is India’s. The country launched the Aadhaar ID scheme in 2009 to make it easier to get welfare payments to the poorest in society, and to reduce fraud. Citizens submit eight items of personal data including name, date of birth, address and gender as well as a biometric. They then receive a unique 12-digit number following an iris scan and validation of a photograph and their fingerprints.

Some 1.3 billion Indians now have an Aadhaar ID. In addition to accessing government services, Aadhaar is the foundation of the JAM trinity of Jan Dhan [public bank accounts]-Aadhaar-Mobile, which has increased financial inclusion in India. Being able to authenticate their identity has enabled citizens to access bank accounts and mobile phone contracts, and so carry out financial transactions.

The ID provides authentication, authorisation and access. It delivers efficiency, effectiveness, reliability, transparency and accountability in provision of government services to citizens in an inclusive manner.

The success of JAM has been accompanied by the development of a thriving digital payments infrastructure in India, which together form the basis of India Stack. India Stack Global now provides 12 platforms for digital services, including payments and telemedicine. In Singapore, too, a resident’s digital ID can be used in commercial transactions, such as with banks. The Philippines, Togo, Burkina-Faso, Madagascar, Ethiopia, and Sri Lanka are also working to adopt Aadahar-like ID systems, and are at different stages of maturity.

In Canada there are digital ID solutions at province level, at different levels of maturity. For example, in British Columbia, citizens may use a BC Services Card app to access federal taxes online. The challenge now is how these solutions could be integrated to have a digital ID at national level. The federal government is in the planning stages of a digital credential system

Baque emphasises how important it is for governments to be able to keep personal data secure and use it appropriately and according to the sharing permissions granted by citizens. There needs to be a clear and positive case for governments to establish digital ID systems. Shared access, and the seamless services that interoperability enables, transform the user experience of essential government interactions. This provides a positive case for the convenience of one ID from the point of view of citizens.

“If you already have the data, you don’t need to ask citizens for it again and again,” Baque explains. “As long as they have a real need for it, you should provide it to the other departments that require it. All the pieces of this come back to delivering better services for citizens.”

Three Steps to Innovation

Service design case studies


How the Singpass mobile app simplifies government services


An interoperable digital payment system that transforms personal finance


Digital driving licenses open doors to other Queensland public services

Expert contributors

María Inés Baque
Government Transformation Advisor for Latin America, Canada, and the Caribbean (LCC) at Amazon Web Services (AWS)

María Inés Baque served as secretary of digital government and technology innovation in Argentina from 2016 to 2019. She coordinated the Digital Agenda 2030 and led the transformational efforts in the areas of digital services, digital inclusion, open government, open data and new technologies adoption.

Global awards and recognitions she has received include Innovation Lab, Tel Aviv, 20 exceptional GovTech Leaders (2020), Women Corporate Directors 2019 and The 100 Most Influential People in Digital Government, Apolitical, 2018. She was co-chair of the G20 Digital Economy Taskforce for Gender Inclusion in 2018 that issued the Bridging the Digital Gender Divide report.

Before government, her career was in global IT and financial services enterprises. She focused on process reengineering, start-ups, IT management, outsourcing and business process operations.

Mark Thompson
Professor in Digital Economy, University of Exeter Business School

Mark Thompson is professor in digital economy at the Initiative for the Digital Economy, Exeter (INDEX), part of Exeter Business School. He has built three technology-based start-ups, is a member of Digital Leaders Advisory Board and was a twice-elected main board member at TechUK. He has also been a member of the National Audit Office Digital Advisory Panel, Cabinet Office Data Steering Group, Intellect Main Board, Cabinet Office ICT Futures senior advisor, advisor on digital to the Scottish Government and senior technology advisor to George Osborne when he was the UK’s shadow chancellor.

Thompson is co-author of the 2014 book Digitizing Government and the 2018 Manifesto for Better Public Services, and writes on digital transformation in the public sector. He began his career as a change management consultant at Accenture.

Choy Peng Wu
Government Transformation Director, Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) at AWS

Choy Peng Wu spent the first 20 years of her career in the Singapore public sector.

Her senior roles included chief information officer (CIO) of the Ministry of Education (MOE), the Singapore government’s chief information officer and deputy chief executive (industry) of the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA). IDA is the predecessor of today’s Government Technology Agency (GovTech) and Infocomm Media Development Agency (IMDA).

She spent 15 years in the private sector as CIO and chief technology officer at Neptune Orient Lines (NOL), Singapore Telecommunications (Singtel) and the Government Investment Corporation (GIC).

She is on the boards of the National University Health System (NUHS), Integrated Health Information Systems (IHiS) and the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA). She is also a member of the Ministry of Finance IT Projects Advisory Panel and the NUS School of Computing Industry Advisory Committee.


Sarah Ryle AWS Institute senior content manager