Technology Solutions for Upgrading the Civil Service

Access to e-learning hubs can help civil servants improve their knowledge and skills. Photo credit: ADB.

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Data integration and analytics, cloud-based staff management, and e-learning can serve as building blocks for modernizing the civil service system.


There are myriad complexities associated with modernizing and upgrading civil service talent and function. Major reforms are difficult to realize in the short term, especially for countries with a large public sector.

For example, the Government of Indonesia launched several initiatives to improve the quality and performance of civil service personnel, yet it has made slow progress. It made the civil service promotions system merit-based, standardized the evaluation criteria for entrance and promotions, introduced a computer-assisted entrance exam for civil servant applicants, and adopted a “One Data” standard that allows sharing of data across different government information systems to better track performance.

However, implementation of the reforms within the government’s 32 line ministries and more than 600 distinct national, regional, and local government units has been inconsistent, and many resisted them outright. In 2018, Indonesia’s National Civil Service Agency found that most central and regional government units had “low” levels of professionalism.

Indonesia’s experience is emblematic of the challenges and complexities encountered by many Asian countries when implementing large-scale civil service reforms. The coronavirus disease pandemic (COVID-19) has exacerbated these challenges and signified the urgency of reforms.

Adapted from a recent policy brief published by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), this article suggests technology solutions, such as data integration and advanced analytics, modern human resources (HR) systems, and e-learning hubs, that can help accelerate government efforts in improving civil service talents.

Integrating Data and Leveraging Advanced Analytics

Data fragmentation is one of the biggest barriers to effective decision-making. Government agencies tend to use many different types of information systems for a variety of bespoke purposes. For example, there is one for administering payroll, another for maintaining personnel records, another for tracking employee training certifications, and one for managing expenditures and other financial disbursements. Compounding the complexity are agencies or subnational units within a government using their own versions of each system.

Consolidating data from disparate information systems through data integration and advanced analytics can give decision makers fresh insight into how they can manage and improve service delivery better.

Data integration and advanced analytics can also reveal waste, fraud, discrimination, and bias in the civil service. For example, integrating payroll data with HR data (such as performance reviews) could help auditors find evidence of ghost employees. Aggregated information pertaining to performance evaluations together with biographic details (such as race or gender indicators) could disclose evidence of bias or discrimination in the hiring or promotions processes.

Furthermore, data pertaining to training, education, and other personnel information from across disparate systems of various government agencies can help identify areas in which certain skills are in excess and/or lacking; such data are valuable for forecasting skills needs as well.

Modernizing Human Resources Systems

Many top-of-the-line cloud-based HR systems built by large companies (and increasingly, startups) allow managers to track their employees’ professional journey from date of application to date of separation.

The modern HR system typically enables administrators to streamline applications for positions and programs through the following:

  • advertising opportunities online and allowing HR personnel to manage applications from the back end,
  • administering and standardizing a 360-degree feedback process and storing the results,
  • serving as a repository for records of training participation and certificates of completion.
  • storing records of disciplinary action and awards, and
  • acting as a single source of employee records, keeping employees’ biographical information current for managers to use as reference when individuals are promoted, transferred, or terminated.

Modern HR systems can also help managers design processes that are quicker and more efficient; standardize criteria for evaluations, promotions, and hiring; identify staffing gaps rapidly and perform needs analyses; and easily plan for long-term needs.

Taken together, these efficiencies can improve employee morale and government service delivery.

Creating Online Learning Hubs

Increasingly, many countries are using online learning applications to upskill their civil servants.

Online learning can be a highly scalable, measurable, and quick way to introduce civil servants to new regulations, policies, and procedures. By developing a comprehensive list of courses and making them available to civil servants, online learning portals can be effective vehicles for civil servants to self-assess their skills and voluntarily enroll in courses that will equip them in areas where they need improvement. Given the proliferation of online learning companies, costs to develop and deploy content have also decreased considerably in the past decade.

Governments can develop online course content themselves, including by contracting local firms to develop bespoke content, use licensed educational content developed by multinational or local education providers, or work with education-as-a-service (EaaS) firms.

Factors to Consider

Procurement officials should consult with information technology (IT) security experts to determine minimum security requirements that software venders must meet.

Software providers’ solutions must be compatible with the size and speed of government servers, budget for server and other infrastructure upgrades (if necessary), and devices that civil servants use (including computers and/or mobile solutions).

Invest significant resources in training personnel to use the new software and information systems.

Determine the right mix of open source and/or proprietary solutions based on local needs and sustainability concerns.

Competency-based human resources data are difficult for many IT systems to capture. Consider how HR systems (as well as data integration and visualization software) capture, represent, and make accessible competency-based performance data.

Data quality may vary by geography, ministry, and information system, among other factors. Policy makers who use data for decision-making must be aware of these issues and calibrate processes accordingly.

Many countries have laws or regulations governing where data can be hosted, often including rules stipulating that data should be stored in servers within the country. Procurement officials should verify whether software providers can comply with country regulations.

Large technology projects usually fail because project governance issues are not carefully considered before project implementation.


Technology can help a country advance its civil service modernization agenda, but it will not be a panacea. Change takes time, and human resources systems often need to reform alongside technology system upgrades. While advanced data integration and analytics solutions, modern HR systems, and online learning hubs are useful building blocks for countries intending to begin using technology, many other technologies can help as well. Some of these are online and computer-assisted civil service exam applications and mobile applications to make it easier for citizens to report information to central authorities. Countries should work with experts in civil service reform and technology to identify solutions that would be most useful and relevant to their needs.


W. Kerr and S. Khatiwada. 2021. Using Technology to Improve Civil Service Talent. Manila: Asian Development Bank.

Sameer Khatiwada
Senior Public Management Economist, Public Sector Management and Governance Sector Office, Sectors Group, Asian Development Bank

Sameer Khatiwada leads the preparation and implementation of loans and technical assistance projects in the area of public resource management. Prior to his current role, he was with the Southeast Asia Department, working in the areas of education, skills development, social protection, and jobs. He worked for the ILO for close to 10 years. He holds a PhD in Economics from the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva and a master’s degree in Public Policy from Harvard University.

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