In today’s world the idea of a major organization that operates without a computerized environment that supports some sort of electronic data processing is almost inconceivable. But this was the case with the Mexican government until November 2013, when the Mexican National Digital Strategy (NDS) was released.
The Mexican people had been waiting for a long time to get a real digital agenda, although they had seen the launch of some related initiatives before the current one. One example of this was eMexico launched by Mexican President Vicente Fox back in 2000 with the general purpose of reducing the digital gap in the country. eMexico helped to create many different initiatives at the three levels of government: federal, state and municipal; however, it could not be considered a national digital agenda and the results proposed at the beginning of the program were never fully realized by the end of Fox’s term in office.
Pressing Need for a Digital Overhaul
In January 2012, the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) released a report including the following in the executive summary: “Mexico, with the lowest GDP per capita in the OECD, a high inequality of income distribution, and a relatively high rural population, needs the socio-economic boost provided by greater access to more efficient communication services, in particular high speed broadband. The welfare loss attributed to the dysfunctional Mexican telecommunication sector is estimated at USD 129.2 billion (2005-2009) or 1.8% GDP per annum.”
It was clear that eMexico was not satisfying all of the country’s requirements regarding the benefits expected from the use of information technologies and communications.
So on March 28, 2012, the Mexican Ministry of Communications and Transportation announced the “Agenda Digital.mx”, a new attempt at developing a National Digital Agenda, albeit one that faced a potentially serious challenge given that the government announced it less than a year before President Felipe Calderon was due to leave office.
Fortunately for the people of Mexico, when Enrique Peña Nieto became president later that year, his team considered the National Digital Agenda a major priority and included it on the National Development Plan (NDP) that was released on 2013, specifying the strategic actions that the federal government planned to execute over the next six years. The digital agenda now had an advantage: having been defined at the beginning of a presidential period there was now a reasonable amount of time for the government to implement it and reach the principal aims.
Aims of the Strategy
The National Digital Strategy was included under the “Close and Modern Government” section of the National Development Plan. Its backbone is comprised of five enablers, five objectives and 23 secondary objectives.
The federal government is relying on the National Digital Strategy to transform the country before the end of 2018 in order for Mexico to be ranked first in Latin America in terms of Internet connectivity, while also improving its standing with regard to some of the issues raised by the OECD.
But connectivity is not the only benefit that the National Digital Strategy will bring. In total it is focused around ten projects that will bring a raft of benefits to Mexican governance and society:
- Open Government. To improve services received by the citizens through transparency in the execution of the government duties.
- Single National Window. The web portal known as “mx” will become the single point of contact for citizens to interact with the government to find information or execute a procedure.
- ICT Policy. The different Mexican authorities involved with this have already started the construction and enablement of the legal and administrative framework that will constitute the foundation of the NDS.
- Digital Goods and Services Market. The third version of a program created by the Mexican government to boost the Information Technology sector is being released: PROSOFT 3.0.
- Civic Innovation. To find, build and release new ways to have the government effectively interacting with the citizens.
- Democratization of Public Spending. To better manage the way the government administers its budget.
- Data for Development. Datasets will be used to create social programs that will support the improvement of the quality of life.
- Natural Disasters. To provide transparency to the actions executed by the government to help communities affected by natural disasters.
- To enable the people’s right to access to broadband Internet.
- Legal Framework. To create and use the legal instruments needed to enable the execution of the NDS.
- Open Data. Mexican government will make diverse datasets available for the citizens to use them.
Upon defining the National Digital Strategy, the government named Alejandra Lagunes as the chief coordinator of the policy. Recently interviewed by the Mexican magazine Punto.Gob, Lagunes said that the current National Digital Strategy has three major elements that will help this initiative finally succeed as opposed to what happened to other initiatives promoted by the government or the private sector in the last 14 years in Mexico. These elements are:
- The fact that the access to the Internet has been defined as a fundamental right for Mexican people, as now specified in the sixth article of the Mexican Constitution.
- The definition of a telecommunications reform that will promote competition and cheaper services for Mexican people.
- A clearer vision for the definition of a digital strategy for the country.
Challenges to be Overcome
The National Digital Strategy faces several inherent challenges due to its complexity: interaction with a lot of stakeholders is required, a number of resources need to be managed and many must be people coordinated – just to mention a few. But arguably the major challenge is the credibility crisis that the Mexican government is going through, mainly at the federal level. The erosion of trust in the governmental institutions caused by different factors is distracting a lot of people from their main duties as they bid to reverse the effects.
This has coincided with oil prices plummeting to a historic low, forcing the Mexican financial authorities to reduce the amount of money to be spent in different programs. Sooner or later, the National Digital Strategy or one of its projects could have its budget cut, negatively impacting the development of the initiative.
Notwithstanding such challenges, the initiative is underway now and the National Digital Strategy website shows the progress made on each one of the 23 secondary objectives. It may not be happening as quickly as we would hope, but the wheels are turning. It remains too early to jump to conclusions but if all goes according to plan the National Digital Strategy has the potential to have a remarkable impact in Mexico.