Mexico's Digital Shift
New Initiatives Are Making It an E-Government Leader
The cumbersome process to get professionally licensed for healthcare in Mexico used to be a driver for corruption, not to mention frustration. A doctor who misplaced a license had two choices: Halt the practice for six to 12 months to navigate a bureaucratic, paper-based system, or pay off an official and expedite the process—or maybe even secure a counterfeit.
But after the government's three-month project to bring that system online—connecting government databases with university records—the process of replacing a license can now be done in a matter of minutes.
It's one of numerous projects launched recently by the government to streamline its agencies and make life easier for both residents and businesses. As a result, Mexico ranks fifth in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's (OECD) latest open data policy ranking, making it a leader among its neighbors to the south and north alike. The United States, despite its greater resources, places 12th. Mexico is also a leader among countries with a GDP comparable to its own, ranking 55th in digital maturity among 151 countries studied by McKinsey.
A busy street in Mexico City, Mexico
Among Mexico's standout successes is the government's project to develop gob.mx, a one-stop online portal for accessing services from professional licenses to birth certificates. It consolidates 34,000 databases from 250 government institutions and 5,400 public services. The government has also launched a new digital payment system estimated to save the government US$1.27 billion annually on wages, pensions and social transfers. The nation has the second largest government-to-person payment system in the world, using electronic bank accounts with associated debit or chip cards to deliver payments.
Strong leadership and commitment from the top made it possible to execute such projects quickly. This was particularly beneficial because some requirements were predicated on first changing existing government regulations, says Yolanda Martínez, who spearheaded the gob.mx initiative as the national digital strategy coordinator in the Office of the President of Mexico until late 2018.
“To be in the president's office gives you quick access to everyone that has decision-making power,” says Ms. Martínez, who is now based in Santiago, Chile.
The team was also empowered to take a broad view from the start, defining the common standards that all government agencies would be able to comply with. The team also defined necessary data security and privacy protections that future initiatives would follow.
To keep end users front and center, the team created several feedback loops during project execution to collect data and measure satisfaction from the website. “We were very interested in what the citizens were thinking,” Ms. Martínez says. Even if it nailed scope, budget and schedule, a project that didn't actually appeal to and work for Mexico's citizens wouldn't have been a success.
This Way Forward
While early digitization efforts have soared, the challenge ahead is ensuring progress continues. McKinsey predicts that further improvements in digital governance would boost Mexico's GDP by 7 to 15 percent—or US$115 billion to US$240 billion—by 2025.
The government has demonstrated a desire to seek outside input and gleaned lessons learned from other government leaders. When officials asked the OECD to review the country's progress on open data in 2016, it selected South Korea and France (the top two nations in the OECD's open data rankings) to be peers in that process to help identify ways for Mexico to improve.
“A country that does a review is a country that accepts the fact that there are areas that need to be strengthened,” says Barbara Ubaldi, digital government and open data lead, OECD, Paris, France. Ms. Ubaldi has worked closely with Mexico's central administration in its digitalization initiatives through her capacity at the OECD and, prior to that, the United Nations.
—Barbara Ubaldi, OECD, Paris, France
She says that by establishing open data laws and positions such as chief data officers across government agencies, Mexico has made progress in ensuring that digital governance outlasts shifts in political priorities and administrations. “It's a way of producing solutions that can't be undone,” Ms. Ubaldi says. “The fact that Mexico could count on the political leadership was essential, but they also understood that was not enough.”—Ambreen Ali