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Opinion and Editorial

Digital government: Who develops the services?

Hamad Obaid Al Mansoori
Filed on August 31, 2020

The WeChat model and other popular applications put forward the idea of reaching out to people and providing services through platforms that appeal to them

The Chinese app WeChat was developed in 2011 as a messaging platform. For several years, it had been competing with many well-established and popular applications - the most important being the QQ application. In 2015, a shift occurred that turned the tables and settled the competition for one champion, WeChat.

Blogger Kai Yogyan was a happy QQ user, who resisted catching up with her peers and relatives who had switched to WeChat. However, she made the difficult decision, and gave up the social platform that she had been using for ten years.

Today, more than one billion people use WeChat, which equals close to three quarters of the Chinese population. More than 30 per cent of the time they spend online is on transactions conducted through this popular application. What is the secret behind this huge popularity of WeChat?

The striking paradox is that many of those including Kai, who joined WeChat, did so in pursuit of privacy. The belief was that WeChat provided private and relatively smaller groups to communicate on a limited scale. This fulfilled the users' desire of not exposing themselves to hundreds of thousands people on other platforms.

However, the app became hugely popular. As it got more crowded, all kinds of companies and service providers got keen to advertise their products through it.†Through a gigantic network interconnected with these third parties, WeChat today has become a mixture of a huge market, a connected community, and a comprehensive service complex.

Through WeChat, one can book a train or plane ticket, rent a car, buy a movie ticket, rent a house, reserve a hotel room, order a meal, pay an electricity bill, request a bank loan, and transfer money. And this is just the tip of the iceberg, as almost all of the services that people need are available on the app and can be obtained through a few taps on the smartphone.

Today, WeChat has exceeded its identity and function as a social media application, and has become the starting point of a new business model or a new kind of digital society. In this type of model, the question about centralisation or decentralisation must be resolved before embarking on the design of the digital transformation strategy for the coming years.

In a debate like this, it is obvious that there will be many different opinions about the ideal model of a digital government. However, the key element is providing services to people. In this context, the WeChat model and other popular applications put forward the idea of reaching out to people and providing services through platforms that appeal to them. It is okay to keep providing services through other platforms as well, as providing multiple service channels is necessary for the satisfaction of customers. The WeChat model is something that deserves to be taken into consideration.

Hamad Obaid Al Mansoori is the Head of Digital Government and Director General, TRA

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