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Japan plans massive national tech modernisation program

Land of the bureaucratic stamp wants to be ready if plague and natural disasters coincide

Japan has announced a policy to modernise its government with a massive new program of digitisation, because the nation has decided it needs better information infrastructure to cope with both the current pandemic and other future challenges.

The novel coronavirus is the driver for the change: the documents describing the plan open with mentions of the pandemic as catalyst for increased use of and dependence on digital technology. The plague is therefore recognised as necessitating a rethink of the information infrastructure Japan will need to handle the many changes unleashed by recent events, but also to cope with already-observed increase in frequency and severity of natural disasters. The policy even ponders what happens if a pandemic and major natural disaster coincide.

The humbly-named “Most Advanced Digital Nation Declaration and Public-Private Data Utilization Promotion” plan is very broad, encompassing the creation of APIs for government services, e-health, public-private data sharing, extension of wireless coverage into rural and regional areas and open data exchange. Sectors called out for digital-driven reform include real estate, justice, construction and agriculture. The plans think big and consider how to digitise supply chains across industries, including by addressing labour shortages with AI and robotics.

Another reform aims to replace Japan’s practice of having documents physically stamped with government seals. The plan calls for adoption of electronic seal substitutes, a change both practical and symbolic of a willingness to move on from practices that have cultural significance but do little to improve national productivity.

The plan all-but-assumes that videoconferences are here to stay for both business and education and calls for research on how to adapt the technology to make it more familiar and collaborative.

5G and AI of course score plenty of mentions as very fine technologies Japan needs to adopt.

The thrust of the policy is that Japan’s adoption of IT&T has, to date, been about personal convenience rather than reform. Coronavirus appears to have given the nation’s government a reason to rapidly re-think that approach and set a new course. ®

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