It is easy to a priori think that automation and fancy digitization is not possible in a failed state with a weak government. There is no ‘capacity’. But yes, the world of ‘failed states’ is also digitizing. Intensely.
Here are three reasons why automation of repetitive tasks is perfectly feasible for a fledging government in a poor country. It’s all about low barriers to entry.
1. The democratization of IT- and code
Concrete and specific problem-solving knowledge is available, like for no other discipline. There is a curious cultural phenomenon among coders worldwide in sharing knowledge and specific solutions on web-forums like StackOverflow.com. Millions of coders have shared solutions for very specific problems in all sorts of programming languages.
This is as easily accessible for a curious person in rural Somalia as it is for someone in Bangalore or San Jose. There is no such equivalent phenomenon for other disciplines, i.e engineering or mechanics. But for IT, this has been a cultural phenomenon for a long time.
The solutions tend to be in response to very specific questions and issues. It is less helpful if you are trying to design an architecture for something very big, complicated or cutting-edge. But, most of the time, and especially for relative beginners, coding problems can be broken down into small pieces and a smart user can piece together various strings and build some really useful applications.
2. Low cost infrastructure and tools
With a normal laptop, office software and internet, the possibilities are incredible. Most tasks will not need a dedicated physical infrastructure, i.e server-rooms and specialized technicians.
First of all, the programming capabilities built into standard office software are really powerful. Capacities of even relatively cheap laptop computers today is sufficient by far to run processes that just five years ago would have been out of reach.
Second, all the major tech giants are offering serverless cloud capabilities. Practically this means that you can have data and code-scripts hosted on servers, somewhere else in the ‘cloud’, and the interfaces are becoming increasingly low barrier. Even the free-tier consumer oriented offerings will be sufficient for surprisingly many tasks, even corporate tasks, and if there is a need to scale to professional grade, the costs of transitioning are low.
3. Necessity is the mother of innovation
A paradox of the relatively high informality of organizations in a post-conflict government is that there is scope for variation, innovation and individual initiative.
While such phenomenon’s are often seen as a problem for fostering a rule-based behavior of a bureaucratic system, they can also be a source of strength. Managers can encourage and help foster such initiatives in the right direction.
The barriers to encouraging innovation may be lower in a post-conflict government than in a well groomed and established bureaucracy.
Go for it!