Prepare for Failure: South Korea's Digital Government Outage

04.03.2024|Christian Kreutz

South Korea is well-known for its advanced digital government, ranking third globally according to the UN Egovernment 2022 report. Denmark and Finland take the first two spots. In November of 2023, South Korea experienced a unexpected network outage lasting for 56 hours due to a glitch. As a result, the Government24 platform was inaccessible, leading to over 240,000 complaints from citizens. "The network failure thus became a national crisis that dented the country's reputation as a digital leader, and cast doubt over its incident response plan." Source The government's failure to communicate was a major issue: they simply instructed citizens to wait. The story goes that one reason it took so long to fix the glitch was that it happened on a Friday. It's not easy to mobilise a government on a Friday afternoon.

One of the most intriguing aspects of this issue is that even countries with highly developed digital governments are not immune to failures like this. And even after four months, there is still very little information about what actually caused the problem. I wouldn't be surprised to discover that the real cause is too embarrassing to reveal publicly, as it often boils down to a single human error or undetected software glitch that triggers a chain reaction of problems - a clear demonstration of how complex systems can be unpredictable. But it's not just governments that face these challenges; even cloud providers like Amazon Web Services experienced a major outage in December 2021 due to a network glitch. Without a doubt, top-down bureaucratic organizations are far too sluggish in identifying and addressing such issues.