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Japan picks AWS and Google for first gov cloud push

Local players passed over for Digital Agency’s first project

Japan's Digital Agency has picked Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud for its first big reform push.

The Agency started operations in September 2021, years after efforts like the UK's Government Digital Service (GDS) or Australia's Digital Transformation Agency (DTA). The body was a signature reform initiated by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who spent his year-long stint in the top job trying to curb Japan's reliance on paper documents, manual processes, and faxes. Japan's many government agencies also operated their websites independently of each other, most with their own design and interface.

The new Agency therefore has a remit to "cut across all ministries" and "provide services that are driven not toward ministries, agency, laws, or systems, but toward users and to improve user-experience".

Which means a very GDS-and-DTA-like plan to create services government agencies can consume – starting with a plan to create a single platform for all government websites, and to make them consistent.

The Agency chose Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud. While it's not been disclosed if Japan's tech services giants – the likes of NEC, NTT and Fujitsu – bid for the work, they scoop up plenty of other government gigs. However, as Japanese outlet Nikkei reports, domestic services outfits have a reputation for using designs that maximise their chances of long and lucrative engagements – without much consideration for the user experience.

In other words, they made the problem the Digital Agency was created to solve.

By picking AWS and Google Cloud, the Digital Agency appears to be sending a message as much as it is picking suppliers.

Ushio Usami, country leader for AWS's worldwide public sector team in Japan, told The Register he's happy to have the chance to "solve some of the biggest challenges in society". Google Cloud told us the company is "honoured to have been selected by the Digital Agency, based on 'fast, cost-effective, secure' and user-friendly cloud services that the agency has requested".

The Digital Agency's English-language presence explains why it's needed: "With government websites presenting different designs and usability and having no data linkage between each other, users often had to return to their search results again and again trying to find the appropriate website for following the desired procedure." Users could therefore be "asked to enter their address or other personal information over and over, and they ended up having to visit a ward office after all".

"The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the delay in digitalization of Japan's administration," according to the site. "For example, in paying monetary benefits to restaurants cooperating in the government's closure requests, it took a long time from the receipt of application until the actual remittance of the benefits, as necessary documents, such as certificates, were received in paper format and they required long hours to check in detail."

Such stories of governments and private entities being shaken out of digital inertia by COVID are not uncommon worldwide - such as New Jersey's call for COBOL coders to help keep its ancient unemployment assistance services running when layoffs soared in April 2020? Hopefully the Digital Agency's efforts help Japan to take some positives from the pandemic. ®

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