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Taro Kono wants to update the technology of Japan’s bureaucracy



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TOKYO — For a country where emojis were invented, Japan’s bureaucracy remains similarly steadfast.

Official documents are usually sent via fax (phone line message machines) or floppy disks (precursor to USB drives). In fact, thousands of government regulations emphasize the use of such 20th-century resilients.

The Japanese government wants to upgrade the technology and move 1,741 local autonomous cities and central government systems to a government cloud platform. But it’s a big job. Taro Kono, Japan’s new digital minister, who began the role in August, is tasked with giving it his all and getting officials to change their deeply established ways.

“If it’s something from the 20th century, maybe we should leave it in the 20th century and do something new,” he said in an interview with The Washington Post. “When the cars come and they want to open the road, and the carriage riders oppose the opening, you still have to do it. The same thing.”

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Because of government officials’ persistent belief that paper-based systems are more secure than digital communications, Japan has opposed the move to a more efficient electronic system.

The limitation of this method becomes clearly During the height of the coronavirus pandemic, when medical professionals were required to submit handwritten reports of each new case and fax them to the public health office. It flooded doctors and public health offices with paperwork, and created delays in updating the public on new cases and sending pandemic benefits to businesses.

It’s not just a government service. Banking transactions and housing contracts often require the use of a hanko, a personal seal, in lieu of a signature.

Japan, the world’s third-largest economy and home to humanoid robots, this year ranked at a record low level in the International Institute for Management Development’s annual measure of global digital competitiveness. economics, a leading business school in Switzerland. Japan ranked 29th out of 63 economies as measured by knowledge, technology and “future readiness”, lagging behind other Asian economies. In four categories, Japan is last.

Last year, Japan established a new Digital Agency to digitize Japanese bureaucracy and society. The agency got off to a slow start, facing opposition from local authorities and even technical glitches when launching its website.

In August, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida appointed Kono as the new digital minister to carry out the country’s digital overhaul. Kono was previously the foreign minister, minister of administrative reform of Japan and a candidate for prime minister in 2021.

A Twitter-savvy Japanese politician who speaks standard English, Kono made a big impression in 2021 as minister of administrative reform as he worked to eliminate bureaucracy. into the fax machine. Now as digital minister, Kono has become a staple on TV shows, at public events and on Twitter with over 2 million followers, praising the effectiveness of the transfer. to digital.

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One of Kono’s priorities is to integrate Japan’s My Number system, similar to the US Social Security card. The system launched in 2016 so that Japanese residents can connect health insurance, bank accounts and other services, including buying alcohol. It requires people to get a physical card, but registration is slow because people worry about security issues and find the registration process troublesome.

Another way is to remove 9,000 government regulations that require the use of outdated technology, including fax machines, and discourage teleworking in government offices. It is difficult for government employees to work remotely because rules and practices require them to work in person. Kono wants these to be phased out by 2025.

A 2020 survey of 480 government employees by a Japanese consulting firm that supports teleworking shows that in times of covid, 86% of communications with politicians are done via fax, and 80 % of briefings with politicians conducted in person.

The digital agency employs less than 700 full-time employees to serve a population of more than 125 million people, 30% of whom are over 65 years old. The goal is to communicate the practical benefits of using technology to those most resistant to it, Kono said.

“It doesn’t look like a grand ideology. That’s the practical application,” he said.

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The Japanese government’s salaries can’t compete with well-paying engineering jobs in private companies, so the agency offers a revolving door model for part-time private sector employees. two days a week. To prevent brain drain, staff from local governments and other central government ministries can also work at Digital Agency, which Kono compares to a “missionary system.”

The Digital Authority is also looking to make the complex government contract procurement process more accessible to startups that can introduce new technologies and ideas for how it works. current job.

“When renewing your driver’s license, you have to go to the police station to watch a half-hour video. But why do you have to show up? Why can’t you do it online?” Kono said. The same concept applies to the implementation of required government exams, he said, and startups offering remote testing technology have begun bidding for government contracts under the regulations. new.

However, there is still a long way to go.

Earlier this year, a government ministry asked the public to give their thoughts on the future of metaverse platforms and the challenges that prevent people from accessing them. However, the effort by the Department of Home Affairs and Communications to gather feedback on the emerging technology was remarkably similar: People were asked to write their ideas in an Excel spreadsheet, then email the spreadsheet. as attachments, adding barrier layers in the submission process.

The feedback mechanism went viral on Twitter, drawing ridicule from Japanese residents. Kono retweeted the viral post, adding his own comment: “We’ll use a form [online] next time.”

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