Suga to invest billions in Japan’s digital agency

New Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga last week unveiled plans for the digital agency that will be tasked with hauling the country”s government services into the 21st century. This week, he is getting ready to put his money where his mouth is and is expected to kick-start the initiative with a significant proportion of next year’s $994bn national budget. The budget will come into force next April – if approved by the Diet in December and legislation is pushed through during the 150-day ordinary Diet session that begins in January.
japanese statue coronavirusOne of the principal drivers behind Suga’s decision to set up a digital agency has been the disconnect between Japan’s success in developing cutting-edge technologies and its public sector”s inability to harness them. This became all too painfully apparent at the height of the pandemic when stimulus payouts routinely failed to reach households on time and outdated software systems hampered the collection of coronavirus-related data.
As well as streamlining the country’s public sector by consolidating government procurement procedures and establishing a unified format for data, the new  digital agency is also expected to promote digitalization in the private sector and to lay out measures to boost telemedicine and remote education.“The creation of a digital agency is a reform that will lead to a major transformation of the Japanese economy and society,” Suga said. “I’d like all ministers to cooperate in this major reform with all their might.”
japanese business meetingBoth Suga and his digital transformation minister Takuya Hirai know that in the end the agency’s success will rely on its ability to win the hearts and minds of the Japanese population and one of its first tasks will be to explain to the public why Japan must adopt digital technologies. Hira also wants a woman to head the digital agency up. “In the digital world, most meetings held overseas are dominated by women,” he said. “Here, all I see are men in black.”