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Knowledge Co-Creation - Profiles of researchers

Constructing a Global Research Center for e-Government in Super-Aging Japan

Toshio Obi
Professor, Faculty of International Research and Education (Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies), Waseda University
Director, Research Institute of e-Government

Government CIO finally appointed in Japan

I have studied and made policy proposals on the movement toward computerization of administrative operations and services, or e-government from the nascent stage. E-government has been underway since the late 1980s in the US and the early 1990s in Japan. Although still a new field, it is an extremely important subject for all developed nations, developing nations, and emerging nations alike. I have also worked on the studies of the role of a CIO (Chief Information Officer) as a ICT leader to oversee computerization, along with recommendations on HRD (human resource development) in ICT sector.

American governments and private companies installed CIO systems early on, but in Japan the issue was not readily addressed and it was only in the 2000s that CIO systems were installed in government ministries and agencies, since when limited e-government has been achieved. However, the content and level of action varies greatly among ministries and agencies. In the last few years, I have persistently called for the need to appoint an overall government CIO in various commissions and others. Finally, the Government CIO Act came into effect in May 2013 and Koichi Endo, former vice-president of Ricoh, who has been involved in ICT projects in the private sector, was officially installed as Government CIO (information and telecommunications policy advisor to the Cabinet). The hope is that he will open up the way for smart e-government, which should be able to bring ministries closer together. (Government CIO portal site)

Although Japanese e-government is the best in the world in terms of the infrastructure of information systems and networks, it lags behind in terms of its applications and services, that is, how it is used. For instance, e-tax, the computerization of tax declaration, has only recently started to become widely used. The integrated computerization of pension data has at last been carried out, but it is a weak mechanism in terms of providing citizens with usability and convenience and running administrative services efficiently. Applying for a car license or passport should also be more efficient. My hope is that the appointment of a government CIO will be a big step forward to achieve comprehensive e-government, and I intend to engage in various support activities.

Announcing e-government ranking to the world

I first became interested in e-government in the 1980s while staying in New York as a senior researcher at the Center on Japanese Economy and Business at Colombia University. A heated debate raged for several years before and after 1984, when America’s largest corporation AT&T, which had developed into a monopolistic telecommunications corporation, was broken up under monopoly regulation policy. The extent of the monopoly was such that one in hundred citizens was an employee of AT&T.

Looking closely at this transformation, it destroyed the previously held notion that a monopoly was unavoidable because AT&T was like a publicly owned company that had built a network infrastructure nationwide. Soon afterward, NTT Public Corporation in Japan was also privatized and diversified. Although ICT policy was not my actual research subject in those days, I became interested in the possibilities of the new communications infrastructure called the Internet, and when the debate about e-government emerged I instinctively knew that in future I should study how government and public services were changing along with the move toward revolution of ICT.

Our contribution on ICT and e-government is highly regarded worldwide. This photo was taken at the 7th World Communications Award ceremony at New Delhi, India in May 2013.

Taking full advantage of the global connections and negotiating ability I had cultivated through a career at the United Nations, I wanted to conduct my research globally and systematically, and when I took up my post at Waseda University I established the world-leading International Academy of CIO Japan (IAC-Japan). Academies later spread to other countries around the world and were brought together under the International Academy of CIO (IAC). In 2004 we also started to release the World e-Government Ranking. Nearly ten years on, this ranking attracts a great deal of attention globally. Having consulted with academics and experts around the world to create a rating indicator incorporating 30 factors, we rank the 55 leading countries and release the results every February under the name of Waseda University. I am delighted with the response we get these days – senior officials from various governments take the time to visit us, and at international conferences I soon find myself surrounded by people making an appeal for something.

Particular need for e-government in an aging society

Silver ICT Revolution Saves the Super-Aging Society [Shirubaa ICT kakumei ga chou kourei shakai wo sukuu], co-written with Naoko Iwasaki (Mainichi Shimbun, September 2011

Another important subject of research is “convergence of information society and the super-aging society”. Japan has rocketed into the lead in terms of population aging and is now the only super-aging society in the world. For many years, people around the world have said, “Japan has a serious problem. Please tell us how you are going to solve”, but there has been no thorough national debate about the issue, and deep down I have started to wonder whether Japan is thinking seriously about the future. E-government should be the trump card for the survival of a super-aging society, and I am now completely absorbed in studying what can be resolved and what will be changed by combining e-government and population aging.

In the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, more than 70% of the people killed or injured were the elderly. It is no exaggeration to say that disaster countermeasures are countermeasures for the elderly. We need to transform the social system itself through more senior-friendly urban planning for future disaster countermeasures to work. When it comes to having a policy on not only information society and a super-aging society but also disaster prevention, we are the only country in the world able to offer any suggestions. Japan is expected to lead the rest of the world based on our experience and practice. Waseda University and UNESCO launched the International Joint Research Project on Education for Disaster Prevention eight years ago, and the Research Institute of e-Government which I head is taking a leading role in activities aimed at establishing and spreading disaster prevention education through collaborative research with 30 of the world’s major universities.

Following on from Japan and the West, other countries around the world, especially China, will also face population aging sooner or later. When China’s population ages, ICT is the only way they will be able to resolve the problem. Unlike in developed nations, the concern in developing and emerging nations is that population aging in stage of continuing poverty could lead to political instability. National governments are treating the issue of aging population as a potential crisis. I recommended to the two international organizations -OECD and APEC that they set up project teams to respond to the situation, both of which I chair, and we have implemented research projects and international conferences.

The culmination of this was the joint OECD- APEC conference on “Integrating the super-aging society and the information society – the greatest challenge for the 21st century” in September 2012, three days of presentations and discussions hosted by Waseda University and attended by nearly 400 experts and senior officials from countries all over the world .I was co-chair of it and there are proceedings available. In the preceding May, the first Conference on Aging Society in China, Japan and Korea was held in Beijing, which I attended as head of a combined academic, business, and governmental team representing Japan. Recently, as a follow-up, an international e-government conference was held in Bangkok in November and a Japan-EU aging society forum in Brussels in December 2013, both of which I chaired.

For my work on e-government policy formation and promotion in a series of international initiatives and, in Japan, as a member of the Council on ICT Strategy and Policy for Growth and chair of the National e-Government Promotion Council, I was given the 2013 Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications Award in October 2013. It is a great pleasure to receive such recognition of all my efforts to date.

Chair or guest speaker at various e-government related international conferences and associations (left: Speaking at the 2011 iGOV Global Forum at Singapore; right: Speaking at the International Academy of CIO Conference in Beijing in 2013)

Toward an era of service innovation

In this era of big data, where vastly more information is circulated and collected compared with one or two decades ago, methods of knowledge management need to be combined in e-government too. I have gained strong approval at international conferences when I emphasize that from now on CIO should be changed to CIIO, that is, it should include Information + Innovation. At present, we are setting up a joint study with governments in ASEAN. And one of them is Singapore government promoting measures to combine her efficient administrative management with Japanese information and communications technology, with the aim of generating service innovation through e-government worldwide.

Figure: The four I’s required by a super CIO

As a university professor I lecture on e-government and get a positive response, with students showing more interest and attending in larger numbers than I expected. Currently, I make policy proposals on national strategy as an advisor to some governments in Asia and continue to run educational exchanges such as visits from top government officials to Waseda University for training, but I am extremely keen to expand the scope of such educational activities to a younger generation. My next goal is to establish a field like e-government that can only be studied in Japan, and to attract many bright students from around Asia to come here and study.

Toshio Obi
Professor, Faculty of International Research and Education (Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies), Waseda University
Director, Research Institute of e-Government

Graduated from the Faculty of Economics at Keio University and earned a master’s degree from the Graduate School of the same university. Gained a doctorate in Global Information and Telecommunication Studies from Waseda University. Held various positions such as program planner for the United Nations Development Program, senior researcher at Columbia University, and executive adviser to the Japanese Minister of Labour before taking up his current position in 2001. Other posts include special advisory committee member at IT Strategic Headquarters, Cabinet Office and CIO strategy forum member at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. He has also been a visiting professor at Peking University in China, George Washington University in the US, the University of Essex in the UK, Saint Petersburg State University in Russia, and Thammasat University in Thailand. Current posts include: Director, APEC e-Government Research Center; Member, Council on ICT Strategy and Policy for Growth, Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC); Representative Chair, Council on ICT Plans for the Elderly, MIC; Chair, National e-Government Promotion Council, MIC; Councilor, Center of International Cooperation for Computerization; Special Envoy to Secretary-General of United Nations ITU; President, International Academy of CIO; Chair, OECD and APEC Silver ICT Project; Advisor, Communications and Information Network Association of Japan; Chair, Telecommunications Association of Japan; Received the 7th World Communications Award in 2013, and the 2013 Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications Award (for Individuals Contributing to the Promotion of ICT).Published 42 books including recent book [ICT and Aging](IOS press)