Digital Transformation in Government, keep calm and carry on

Small steps equate to big strides

Recently I attended a conference on Digital Transformation in Government along with leading senior managers from different government agencies in the US. We were there to discuss the challenges of Digital Transformation and to celebrate some of the incredible success stories. It struck me just how daunting the process of transforming to digital government can appear. Yet, time and again, presentations at the conference demonstrated that you don’t have to ‘boil the ocean’ to achieve significant results.

The conference delegates heard from government organizations that have already succeeded in putting in place a digital platform that allow them to share data and create customizable and portable applications that run on top of it. But, the audience members were equally excited to hear where agencies had been able to implement enterprise-wide systems to manage the content within their email communications.

Of course, you want to benefit from the strategic opportunities in Digital Transformation but that doesn’t mean you have to start by completely replacing your model for citizen engagement. You can start with an area of your operations where implementing digital processes – even in a small way – will return quick and tangible results.

Disruption doesn’t spell disaster

When I’m presenting to senior managers, I often use a slide to illustrate the effect that digital disruptors are having on their organizations. It shows the disruptors on the outside impacting the organization while on the inside forces are also increasing the challenges they face.

Digital disruption

There are, undoubtedly, a whole lot of moving parts in Digital Transformation – and they are constantly evolving. The change can appear too large and complex. Certainly, Gartner reports that the vast majority of digital government strategies it has evaluated are simply modestly updated versions of prior e-government programs.

Perhaps this explains why a recent GovLoop survey of 163 US federal government professionals found that over 60% described their agency’s ability to innovate the way it meets its mission and service citizens was ‘average’ at best.

But, hold on a minute….here comes a caveman metaphor.

Imagine for a second, we’re back in caveman times. We’ve got fire and some flint tools. Then along comes a very clever caveman – let’s call him Adrian – he’s found this new thing called metal and he’s made an axe. Adrian has not made the world’s best axe. It’s just so much better than anything that’s gone before. Everyone is happy that things have moved along.

According to a recent European research report that seems to be exactly what’s happening with digital government. Government CIOs may not believe it but citizens think that Digital Transformation is going quite well. On average, 64% of European citizens felt that government’s use of digital technology was advanced – rising to 75% in Norway. Surprisingly, 83% of respondents said they would be willing to use online services as new digital channels are introduced – even if it meant changing their own habits and behaviors.

In effect, digital government isn’t always about the big things for citizens. It’s about making the little things better. Citizens want to go to one place to access all their services. They don’t want to click a hundred times when one should do. They don’t want to visit multiple website and complete multiple forms to receive a service. They certainly don’t want inconsistent service levels depending on the channel with which they engage with you.

Again, the European research confirms this: over three quarters of respondents wanted a single portal that allowed access to multiple public services and enabled the single transmission of data and information.

You can start small and know that, if you have identified achievable targets and put in place a solid Digital Transformation strategy, that every step you take will be a step in the right direction.

There are challenges ahead…

That’s not to underplay the technical challenges involved in Digital Transformation. It’s fair to say that the public sector has had paper-based business process that are largely unchanged in the last 200 years. Key challenges include:

challenges in service delivery

Low digital maturity

Digital government is more than automating paper processes.  It includes redesigning business processes to take advantage of all of the new functionality inherent in digital information, such as workflow, collaboration, data mining, metrics, and applying analytics.

Duplication of effort

Traditional paper-based processes lead to information being duplicated in multiple files – with the attendant questions about which was the most current document and what was final. By eliminating duplicate information, you gain greater visibility into processes and documents.

Lack of standardization

It was hard to standardize processes when business was paper based and each stakeholder in a process was in a different office or organization. Non-standardization produces inefficiencies and requires individual attention to each request, which takes more resources to manage.

Poor process visibility

Traditionally, stakeholders only understood their portion of a process and it was difficult for management to see or map the processes end-to-end. It was therefore difficult to measure success or determine the roadblocks in a process. The new automated tools allow for process mapping of all functions, with full visibility for streamlining and workflow.

Cross-jurisdiction integration

To work across jurisdictions in the past required paperwork and approvals to be transferred from one organization to another. This transfer and cooperation could be time consuming and frustrating for everyone. With the new business tools, sharing information and collaborating across organizations can be built into processes.

Legacy systems

Early automated systems are reaching end-of-life – often no longer supported, difficult to incorporate into new processes, and may pose security risks to your organization. Replacing these legacy systems with modular applications on a central digital platform allows the agility required to make changes as needed for Smart Government.

Diverse user experiences

Citizens can be frustrated with government when each organization has a different means of connecting and engaging with them. Providing a centralized portal into government services provides a unified user experience and repeatable processes.

Fragmentation of services

When services are fragmented, the citizen feels as though they are moving through a maze trying to determine how to complete a task among multiple stakeholders. Fragmentation leads to dissatisfaction for citizens and the staff trying to provide services.

While these challenges are technical, many are also cultural. It’s worth considering that Digital Transformation isn’t service change underpinned by digital technology. It is the incorporation of service delivery with technology.

…So figure out where you are and plan for where you want to be

As with any change, you need to start by an open and honest assessment of where you are today. Recently Gartner introduced the second iteration of its Digital Government Maturity Model. It breaks maturity into five levels beginning with initial e-government and moving to fully integrated, smart government.

The model is quite basic but gives you the chance to assess yourself against a set of high-level criteria to establish where you are on the Digital Transformation journey. According to Gartner, very few government organizations have yet made it to level three.

Forbes has gone simpler yet by proposing five questions to ask yourself to begin to understand your Digital Transformation readiness and requirements.

  1. What is your current strategy – offense, defense, or wait and see?
  2. Are you disrupting or being disrupted in digital channels?
  3. Do you know what your customers are thinking and doing?
  4. How good is your customer experience?
  5. Are you evolving faster than your customers and competition?

The answers to these questions will help you to start planning and prioritizing your Digital Transformation investments. Achieving success requires selecting the right programs and being clear what benefits you need to delver. Working with a trusted technology partner can help.

OpenText™ Enterprise Information Management (EIM) solutions are already delivering the digital platform needed to government agencies worldwide. We help government organizations take the right steps in Digital Transformation that deliver big strides for their citizens.

Carol Brock

Carol is the Industry Marketing Strategist for the Public Sector worldwide. An Information Governance Expert by education and training with 20+ years of experience in federal and state government, she is passionate about facilitating digital government to provide electronic services to citizens. With initiatives such as digital first, open data, and smart cities, there is much to talk about.

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