copy the linklink copied!4. Strides towards a digital and user-driven administration in Mexico

Chapter 4 provides a general overview of the Mexican public administration’s capability to successfully implement digital government. It touches upon digital transformation standards and design principles, as well as other tools supporting the emergence of a digital culture in the Mexican public sector. The chapter also delves into the issue of the Mexican’s state data capability and concrete ways to foster a data-driven culture in the public sector to improve government performance. This chapter advances an assessment of the key challenges facing Mexico in terms of developing and deploying a digital talent strategy. Chapter 4 closes with considerations about current challenges in deploying new methods for ICT commissioning and acquisition and stresses the need to increasingly adopt agile development approaches.

    

copy the linklink copied!Digital service transformation

Mexico1 has joined Australia,2 Canada,3 New Zealand,4 the United Kingdom5 and the United States6 in developing design principles, standards, guides and other requirements for digitalisation of public services. This trend has given rise to the internationally recognised Principles for Digital Development7 and the OECD’s forthcoming General Digital Service Design Principles, a document developed by the Thematic Group on Digital Service Delivery of the OECD Working Party of Senior Digital Government Officials. These tools have been powerful tools to boost the digital transformation. They have encouraged digital teams across the administration not to simply digitalise paper-based procedures, but to focus on redesigning them and how to go about it.

By providing digital teams with a principle-based approach to service design, these tools empower teams to leave behind obsolete rules that make little sense. They also provide a clear definition about what good-performing services are, shifting incentives to bring a greater focus on user-driven services (Bracken and Greenway, 2018; Bracken et al., 2018).

Indeed, the power of Mexico’s guidelines, standards8 and principles has been to a great extent magnified by the governance framework put around the government’s single portal, Gob.mx (Box 4.1). This has allowed the Digital Government Unit to be able to decide whether something is good enough to go on the portal or not, thus serving as quality control.

Along with the government’s Seal of Excellence, a government tool providing incentives for compliance with government guidelines and standards, the framework for digital services has brought Mexico a long way, not only in terms of service transformation, but also in terms of government digital innovation. The government of Mexico has made efforts to build capabilities (within and outside of the public sector) to harness the power of emerging technologies, with a particular focus on artificial intelligence (AI; see next section) and blockchain or distributed ledger technologies (see Box 4.2). The question today is how to move further ahead.

One answer for this is the need for embedding digital leadership and approaches across departments and levels of government. A push coming from the centre can only get you so far and is unlikely to deliver lasting, government-wide cultural transformation. In this sense, it is important to understand that digital leaders are not IT specialists, but individuals who can strategically leverage the power and principles of technologies to achieve their organisations’ strategic objectives. In this sense, the title digital transformation officers must go beyond a fancy name, ensuring these officers do not become or rename an IT support system. To help drive change, digital transformation officers should be politically able, and stay close to the ears of organisational boards and become the voice of service users within the organisation (Bracken and Greenway, 2018).

Organisations might also benefit from the presence of chief technology officers (CTOs), individuals able to help organisational leaders navigate the different technological options as these increase in number and become more complex (Bracken and Greenway, 2018). A CTO is expected to clarify the specifics of the options, the trade-offs and their implications. This role is not always the fulfilled by the same person as a digital transformation officer.

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Box 4.1. Gob.mx: Transforming service delivery and digital engagement in Mexico

Gob.mx has been at the core of the digital government strategy in Mexico. Developed and tested in the course of 2013 and 2014, the platform has since become the government’s single window and an essential shared infrastructure for government transformation. It allows users to easily access services and public information as well as take part in digital participation exercises.

The platform has also facilitated interoperability and data sharing within the public sector, ensured consistency in design, and made government more accessible for citizens and businesses. By mandating that all public institutions participate in the platform, the government of Mexico gave the Coordination of the National Digital Strategy office and the Ministry of Public Administration greater ability to ensure that digital services comply with the technical standards and requirements. These standards and requirements, along with a series of guides, templates and reusable components, have been made available for all public institutions to reuse, helping accelerate the transformation of services.

The three main components of the portal are:

  1. 1. Gob.mx/tramites: gives citizens and business quick, easy access to 4 000 federal public services

  2. 2. Gob.mx/gobierno: a shared content management system and a UX design standard applied to 5 336 government websites, effectively consolidating, harmonising and integrating the government’s digital presence

  3. 3. Gob.mx/participa: an interactive platform providing citizens with a channel to make proposals, report acts of corruption, and participate in the development of new services and policies.

Source: Gob.mx (2018), “¿Qué es gob.mx?”, webpage, https://www.gob.mx/que-es-gobmx-extendido (accessed on 26 October 2018); OECD (2015), “Digital government toolkit: Good practices – National One-Stop Portal Gob.mx”, www.oecd.org/gov/mexico-one-stop-portal.pdf (accessed on 26 October 2018); Coordination of the National Digital Strategy (2018), “National Digital Strategy – Project files”, unpublished.

Furthermore, as digital governments achieve new levels of maturity, they have been looking for ways to improve their own digital service standards. The United Kingdom, an OECD peer and trend-setter in this domain, is the clearest example. The UK Government Digital Service is working on a revised framework that will focus, among others, on fostering more joined-up approaches rather than simply individual services (Gill, 12 September 2018). This means a greater focus on what the user is ultimately trying to achieve, rather than individual mandates or responsibilities of departments. Mexico would also benefit from a greater focus on the user journey and life events in the mid- to long term as a means to achieving more substantial, user-driven transformation (Box 4.3).

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Box 4.2. BlockchainHackMX: Building blockchain capability in Mexico

In 2017, the government of Mexico established a roadmap for building blockchain capability in the public sector and society-wide, including the development of a Mexican blockchain. This entails the development of a public network that would serve as shared infrastructure, supporting developments within and outside of the public sector.

The government of Mexico defined the technology, the network architecture and a preliminary version of its governance model in 2017 and these were then put to test in early 2018.

In 2017, the government of Mexico launched a digital government vertical in the Talent Hackathon Campus Party 2017, inviting developers to innovate in public service delivery using blockchain. The winner of the hackathon was the prototype of an app for “Smart Contracts in Public Procurement”. This initiative is currently being pursued to be brought to scale and launched once functional.

Furthermore, Mexico has established a Blockchain Advisory Board with experts from industry, civil society, academia and the public sector to advise the government on the development of the public blockchain, the identification of use cases and provide technical assistance. The use cases identified so far include public procurement; certificates of teacher trainings; public property registry; and a single registry of certificates, warehouses and merchandise.

As of the fourth quarter of 2018, a new version of the governance model for blockchain and the mapping of use cases had been opened to public consultation.

The digital transformation not only helps the government of Mexico to better serve domestic users, but citizens and service users abroad as well. According to the Institute of Mexicans Abroad, an agency attached to the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 12 million Mexican citizens live in foreign lands, with 97.3% of them in the United States.9 In addition, the global economy remains highly integrated and foreign investment and trade a critical strategic area for Mexico. Digital technologies can bring the Mexican government closer to these constituents, allowing citizens to access important services remotely and providing investors with an easy entry point for conducting business in the country. Mexico might also benefit from further exploring cross-border services in North America, and other key markets in Europe and Latin America.

copy the linklink copied!A data culture that supports digital strategy and delivery

The digital disruption is the wealth of data and information produced by the ubiquity of digital devices, which increasingly interact with the physical world (i.e. sensors and the Internet of Things). Growing computing power and increasingly sophisticated statistical models and algorithms (i.e. machine learning algorithms, AI) can lead to better public performance and more robust decision making. Mexico has taken significant steps in this direction.

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Box 4.3. Transforming service delivery in Korea through life-events approaches

Korea is widely recognised as one of the most advanced countries when it comes to digital and user-driven public administrations. It has achieved this by putting a strong focus on the user’s journey and experience and carrying out a comprehensive implementation of a life-events approach.

As an illustration, the figure below represents the transformation of the administrative procedures required by heirs when confronted with the death of their parents. Prior to the integration of systems, the mourning heir had to complete seven different procedures, including: register the death at his/her local government; provide information on transactions to financial agencies; pay national and local taxes; and complete the transfer of car and lands. These administrative burdens made the mourning even more burdensome. Today, these procedures can be completed with a single form thanks to the integration and interoperability of systems.

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Figure 4.1. The transformation of the administrative procedures required by heirs when confronted with the death of their parents
Figure 4.1. The transformation of the administrative procedures required by heirs when confronted with the death of their parents

Similarly, today new parents can automatically apply for a wide variety of birth related welfare services using a single form when registering the birth of their baby. This is a tangible example of how services can be reorganised around the user’s needs by cutting across traditional silos and areas of responsibility.

Source: Ministry of Interior of Korea (2017), “Presentation at the OECD-MENA Working Group II on Open and Innovative Government”.

The government of Mexico has embedded the relevance of data for the digital transformation in the National Digital Strategy (Government of Mexico, 2013), and has made concrete efforts to build the institutional, social and economic infrastructure around it to support it (OECD, 2016; 2018b). Furthermore, it has progressively built the necessary institutional capabilities and the organisational underpinnings to achieve increasing levels of sophistication in the use of data in the public sector. Efforts such as the institutionalisation of chief data officers and digital transformation officers are of remarkable importance to advancing the data operations of the public sector (OECD, 2018b).

Mexico has also maintained a healthy interest in disruptive emerging data-processing technologies that will upend industries, such as AI. Indeed, the government of Mexico is expected to show leadership in this area of critical importance for its sustained economic development. The Coordination of the National Digital Strategy office worked with the British Embassy in Mexico, Oxford Insights and C Minds to develop a white paper that laid out a roadmap for effective and ethical AI in the country (Dutton, 2018; Martinho Truswell et al., 2018), which would then come to be acknowledged as a national policy (Zapata, 22 March 2018). This policy or strategy looks specifically into the application of AI to government services and administration, R&D, skills and capability, data and digital infrastructure, and the ethics around AI. Following the adoption of the AI strategy, the government of Mexico has pushed for the creation of ia2030, a multi-sectoral partnership to set the course for AI development in the country. This partnership has prepared and put forward for public consultation a proposal of General Principles for the Development and Use of Artificial Intelligence in the Federal Public Administration and a Guide for Impact Assessment in the Development and Use of Systems based on AI in the federal public administration.10 This is consistent with trends across OECD countries. France, for instance, recently presented the Villani Report, which sets a vision and a strategic approach for the country (Box 4.4).

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Box 4.4. France: The Villani Report

The Villani Report, published in March 2018, offers a series of recommendations to ensure that artificial intelligence (AI) generates the best possible benefits in the French society and economy. Among the different aspects covered, the report discusses the importance of defining a French data policy and creating a French AI ecosystem in order to enable and promote the application of AI in the country. It also indicates that efforts in terms of artificial intelligence need to focus on four main areas (health, environment, transport and security) while involving the different public and private stakeholders of those respective fields to ensure AI is used to address policy challenges.

The report also addresses the need for a strong government leadership to spearhead the impact of artificial intelligence in France with, for example, the creation of an inter-ministerial co ordinator to implement the French strategy on AI. Furthermore, the report advocates for the need to provide training programmes and promoting research on artificial intelligence as well as establishing clear ethics for AI and assessing its impact on the labour market. In addition, it highlights the importance of transparency in machine-learning algorithms and of adopting an evidence-based approach; for instance, testing projects targeting specific groups to assess the potential effects of artificial intelligence.

The Villani Report was drafted by the French task force on the artificial intelligence strategy for France and Europe, which was created in September 2017 by the French Prime Minister.

The task force was composed of different stakeholders from academia and the French Digital Council, and it received the assistance of the French Secretary of State for Digital Affairs and other government institutions. Its mission began in September 2017 and ended in March 2018, with different hearings, public consultations and surveys that were held.

Source: OECD with information from Villani, C. (2018), “For a meaningful artificial intelligence: Towards a French and European strategy”, https://www.aiforhumanity.fr/pdfs/MissionVillani_Report_ENG-VF.pdf (accessed on 26 October 2018).

In this regard, and as discussed in Chapter 2, Mexico has largely succeeded in making the case for the relevance of open data and data-driven approaches going forward. The question now is how to nurture a data-driven culture in the public sector that is ingrained in public sector operations and strategic priorities and policy objectives.

One of the first challenges in achieving this once awareness has been raised is ensuring that public organisations have the ability to look beyond the hype and engage with a way of thinking that is founded on a thorough understanding of technologies’ opportunities, but also understanding their limitations and what they cannot achieve. A clear-eyed view that understands that data are not about buzz, but about taking better decisions, and deploys data capabilities consequently. Data science skills are scarce and expensive. Public sector resources should be used with balanced understanding of their power, but also of the scarcity of these resources if it intends to achieve maximum impact.

Effective use of data starts with determining the business or policy problem an organisation would like to solve. The problems and strategic questions, not the hype, should drive the data efforts in the public sector (Díaz, Rowshankish and Saleh, 2018). Data analytics have been successfully deployed in digital service delivery through the Gob.mx portal, but cases of successful implementation for policy making are still scarce. As such, the data governance in the Mexican federal public administration should continue to encourage and expand the implementation of data-driven techniques in highly strategic ways through frameworks, incentives, guidance and capacity building.

While frameworks and systems are critical, culture ultimately relies on people and are preserved by senior leadership. Technological disruption is not new, but what makes the digital age unique is its pace, scope and reach. Political leaders and senior management in public institutions are still only rarely digital natives, but as mentioned in the previous chapter, the speed and depth of technological change exposes them to great risk of failure if they do not understand the strategic implications of these changes and of the choices in front of them (Díaz, Rowshankish and Saleh, 2018).

To strategically deploy efforts in advanced analytics and other data-processing innovations, public sector leadership does not have a choice but to take the time to grasp these technologies, how they could change or shape their operating environment, what opportunities they bring, and what risk they entail. As previously mentioned, this outcome will demand direct and frequent lines of communications between chief data officers and digital transformation officers and the top decision makers in the organisation. This will also empower these digital and data officers by giving them the opportunity to bring technology and data to bear as valuable sources of evidence to inform strategic decisions and to support policy implementation to achieve policy objectives. As top-level decision makers progressively see how technology and data can make them more effective executives, this relationship is bound to gain the digital and data-driven culture support.

Ultimately, to embed a data-driven culture into the fabric of the state, regardless of changing administrations, chief data officers and data scientists must be able to work effectively with business units and operations. By making the latter improve the delivery of their respective functions, thus enhancing the performance of these units, chief data officers and their teams will gain growing support and interest from the different parts of the organisation.

The Mexican public sector would also benefit from focusing early data-driven missions to improve public sector performance in areas that require substantial effort, thus ensuring high returns on investment. For instance, predictive maintenance of infrastructure and equipment could lead to substantial savings of resources and lives (Bender, Henke and Lamarre, 2018).

The interest from business units in different sectors of the administration should be nurtured with the secured and free flow of data within the organisation, unless justified for legitimate privacy or security concerns. The free flow of data will become an increasingly important complement for the progressive spread of data and analytics capabilities across the public sector. If developed within the right framework, the growing interest in data-driven approaches from across the Mexican public administration will likely result in exponential benefits from data-driven innovations while ensuring that solutions are interoperable, compliant and ethical. Ideally, data governance frameworks and data infrastructures should help advance data accessibility, usability and sharing. These frameworks should also be conducive to growing robustness in data quality and reliability, and promote the continuous enrichment of data for it to be made more valuable and easily exploited. Mexico should concentrate on maintaining the focus on setting the right data policy framework covering all key aspects of the data governance for value creation as to maximise the potential of national data value chains. If the government of Mexico achieves this, it will be ready to reap the benefits of digitalisation as the prospects of machine learning and AI applications in the public sector come closer to reality. More importantly, Mexico will be on a high-speed rail to a digital, proactive, data- and user-driven administration.

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Figure 4.2. Data governance in the public sector
Figure 4.2. Data governance in the public sector

Source: OECD (forthcoming), Digital Government Review of Sweden.

copy the linklink copied!Building digital capability in the Mexican public sector

As highlighted in the previous chapter, digital reform ultimately comes down to the human factor. Government transformation is first and foremost about transforming the way government works and building new capabilities and a culture that supports delivery.

Digitalisation will transform the future of work, requiring new skills in every sector and industry (Chui, Manyika and Miremadi, 2015; Manyika et al., 2017). Government is not an exception. Quite the contrary, decades of outsourcing IT delivery and maintenance has probably undermined the public sector’s ability to manage and deliver IT projects, not to mention digital design and delivery approaches. The Mexican public sector faces the need to deploy strategies to reskill, upskill and acquire new talent in the public sector in order to deliver on its digital ambitions.

The government of Mexico has shown awareness about this issue, which lead to the launching of its new Digital Academy,11 a platform providing civil servants access to online courses. It also provides guidance on how to obtain access to in-person digital government training workshops organised by the Digital Government Unit of the Ministry of Public Administration. While this is an important first step in upskilling civil servants, these activities do not have the scope or scale needed to respond to the challenge of the digital transformation.

It is important for the Mexican public sector to clearly differentiate between the skills that it may need to acquire and the capabilities it can build internally with existing staff. Project managers and other roles can be retrained to identify digital opportunities and use agile or DevOps methodologies instead of waterfall project management relatively easy. However, areas like data science, machine learning, artificial intelligence or even human-centred design require very specific skills, backgrounds and experience which are hard to transfer (Bughin et al., 2018). In addition, talent in these areas is scarce and in high demand, but very much needed for a successful digital transformation.

Mexico might benefit from a strategy to quickly attract new digital talent to the public sector while these new skills become more available and are able to spread more broadly across the public sector. These skills are, however, needed to respond to digital challenges today. For this, it would have to work to choose better candidates and make public sector employment or missions more attractive for these highly skilled individuals.

First of all, it should take a comprehensive look at public sector human resource and compensation policies to enable the public sector to manage talent effectively and revise and streamline its public employment frameworks to ensure that the hiring process is more agile and candidates are tested for the relevant abilities. As such, a data scientist should not be asked to write eloquent essays, nor be judged on the basis of his CV or interview alone. Candidates for a position as a data scientist should be asked to perform relevant tasks for the job, including data mining, processing massive amounts of data or setting up data collection techniques for a given service (Bracken and Greenway, 2018; Bracken et al., 2018). Furthermore, these candidates should be assessed by a panel of technical experts that can provide a robust assessment of the candidate’s actual knowledge and capabilities.

In addition, roles should be clearly defined and titles shouldn’t be used loosely. If public organisations call any data role a data scientist, the value and prestige that comes with the title will erode, making it harder to attract talent from the private sector. Moreover, public institutions and managers may end up being even more confused about who they are or should be hiring and to do what. Countries like the United Kingdom have taken a proactive stance in this domain and have been setting up competency frameworks for key digital and data positions as well as clarifying the role and responsibilities of these positions in the civil service.12 The federal public administration could also aim to make the public sector more attractive to digital talent by reviewing compensation frameworks to allow for performance-based bonuses and to appropriately recognise, price and compensate scarce talent.

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Box 4.5. Attracting new talent in government in the United States

After the 2011 Healthcare.gov debacle, it became evident that the US federal government had to drastically change how it procured and managed IT projects. While public sector wages weren’t as competitive in the public sector, the US federal government was able to develop a strategy to attract digital talent from the vibrant tech industry building on tech entrepreneurs’ and specialists’ interest in having a social impact at a scale that only the federal government could offer.

Indeed, the Obama administration succeeded in creating a series of programmes that called upon highly skilled software engineers to perform missions of six months to two years to tackle specific problems. These missions were framed as civic duties that would ultimately enhance government performance and its ability to use technology to deliver better services, even if such efforts would be hard to sustain in the long term unless they transformed the practices of career civil servants (Mergel, 2017; OECD, 2018a).

Sources: Mergel, I. (2017), “Digital service teams: Challenges and recommendations for government”, http://dx.doi.org/10.13140/RG.2.2.27227.57121; OECD (2018a), Digital Government Review of Morocco: Laying the Foundations for the Digital Transformation of the Public Sector in Morocco, https://doi.org/10.1787/9789264298729-en.

Another key area of improvement as Mexico seeks to build its capabilities to deliver digital services is the revision of ICT acquisition frameworks to support more integrated and digital delivery.

Through the ICT Policy,13 its implementation guides and handbooks,14 the government of Mexico has established a clear process for conducting an ICT commissioning exercise and structuring ICT projects. These include basic requirements, such as the use of open standards, reusable components, digital identity, meeting interoperability requirements. In addition, the current policy is sound in identifying a project manager, establishing ICT project catalogues, performing feasibility studies, structuring a business case and providing clear definitions of minimum requirements. These specifications are made more robust by the use of the Digital Government Seal of Excellence,15 granted to those services that meet the existing digital government standards and have gone through a robust process of development. This tool serves as a strong incentive for compliance with digital government standards, norms and guidelines.

To make procurement simpler, the government of Mexico has also set up framework agreements for software licensing with 31 software providers.16 Moreover, the government is currently developing a software framework agreement to efficiently respond to the software needs of public organisations.17 While these efforts are greatly valuable as they save the public sector time and resources, more can be done to expand the number of providers participating in this sort of agreement, to limit concentration and expand the pool of providers to the state. Ultimately, 31 firms are just too few to ensure adequate competition among providers and licensing agreements are not enough to respond to the need more tailored solutions.

Procurement frameworks and business cases would also benefit from clarifying the approach and contracting modalities to facilitate the use of agile methodologies, contracting approaches and project structures are aligned with digital service standards and design principles. The ICT Policy asks project managers to define service requirements and functionalities in advance. This is sensible, but it should be recognised that the need for new functionalities and requirements may and will be revealed in the testing or roll out stages, requiring further iteration and improvement. While the digital standard and the service design principles of the government of Mexico provide guidance to project managers on how to manage digitalisation initiatives, the ICT Policy and handbook do not clearly advise on how to conduct the procurement process or structure contracts to effectively use agile approaches.

If not carefully structured, contracts may require successive extensions to address problems with the solutions delivered, improve functionality or user experience, which may be uneconomical and inefficient. As Mexico’s design principles highlight, experience shows that digital services should privilege agile approaches, which enables the organisation to work on frequent iterations or improvements. As such, the underlining frameworks, such as business cases and procurement frameworks, do not do project managers a service if either by action or omission they push managers to structure the project as a traditional waterfall initiative where all the specifics and functionalities of the digital solutions are determined in advance, without user input. 18F, inside the General Services Administration, developed agile purchasing agreements that made agile contracting easier for the whole federal administration of the United States (Box 4.6).

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Box 4.6. 18F’s agile procurement agreements in the United States

18F, an innovative digital transformation team within the US General Services Administration made up of top-notch talent coming mainly from the tech industry, has looked at introducing new technology deployment techniques in the US federal government. To do so, they have developed new contract and service agreement templates that are compatible with agile software development.

As part of this effort, 18F established the agile blanket purchase agreements, which radically transform the ICT procurement approach. Instead of traditional requests for proposals, which require very detailed descriptions of technical requirements and specifications in advance – by definition unlikely to include all the functionalities and details the contractor would like to include, as the testing and use process most often reveals – blanket purchase agreements work as a competition that requires participating firms to prepare a prototype in an open GitHub repository open for everybody to see. This approach allows the contractor to appreciate what competing firms are actually able to deliver. The blanket purchase agreements can foresee agile development sprints and iterations, allowing both the contractor and the service provider to progressively define software requirements and functionalities as the project advances.

Source: Mergel, I. (2017), “Digital service teams: Challenges and recommendations for government”, http://dx.doi.org/10.13140/RG.2.2.27227.57121.

Furthermore, investment and funding frameworks and cycles can support iterative digitalisation projects, in particular for large projects. Funding can be progressively disbursed based on a results assessment of project stages (i.e. Alpha, Beta, roll out). This strengthens the governance of large projects and enables a progressive learning process for project managers. It also limits the risks of large IT investments by conditioning funding on delivery. These frameworks, however, require the sound use of project thresholds to structure the governance of IT projects.

Moreover, IT project management frameworks and guidance might benefit from encouraging practitioners to adopt more joined-up management approaches, such as DevOps. The DevOps model (development and operations) brings together a combination of philosophies, practices and tools (including agile) to achieve greater integration of development and operations in ICT projects to deliver applications and services more quickly. This approach seeks to break down the silos between the development and business units or operations teams to evolve products faster.18 As Mexico seeks to achieve greater digital integration in its public sector, these approaches are well worth the investment.

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