In January, I made some predictions about what would happen in government tech this year. That was before the global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. As we emerge into a new world, we can see that technology has played a crucial role in government responses to the pandemic.
Digital transformation is accelerating
Research shows that over 80% of US government officials believe their agency is not as technologically advanced as it needs to be to cope with new challenges and opportunities – something that was in stark evidence during the COVID-19 crisis.
The same research shows over 60% of respondents reporting that the pandemic has accelerated digital transformation in their organization. A great example is the rapid move to remote working. A multi-disciplinary approach – both inter-agency and with private partnerships – quickly yielded an 800% increase in teleworking capacity. Suzette Kent, the former Federal CIO, estimates that this allowed agencies to send as much as 85% of their workforce to safer locations.
In a recent podcast, the former Federal CIO told me: “COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption of digital transformation. But, this isn’t a short-term thing. Government CIOs have seen what we can achieve, in areas such as teleworking, cybersecurity and digital services. A lot of folks that were resistant saying ‘we can’t do this this way’ are now asking: ‘why didn’t we do this before?’”
Driving the digital citizen experience
Research suggests that we’ve jumped five years forward in consumer and business digital adoption in around eight weeks. Government is no different. Digital application and funding portals have gone from concept to delivery in a few weeks. Schools have managed to pivot to 100% online and digital learning. And, there’s growing evidence that citizens prefer digital experiences.
Accenture states that 64% of people would happily engage with a virtual agent if the agency offered it. As McKinsey states: “Unlike physical offices, digital ones are open to the public 24/7…Digital interactions are less time consuming… automating case handling significantly boosts productivity, reducing backlogs and freeing up resources for other priorities”.
Government begins to adopt digital platforms in earnest
In my conversation with Suzette Kent, she emphasized the role of digital platforms in facilitating the speed and effectiveness of the US government’s pandemic response. She commented that the platforms were key to enable collaboration and information across agencies. They allowed new systems to be quickly developed and tested by different agencies as well as ensuring that agencies could meet the huge growth of demand for information from citizens.
The speed, reuse and resilience that digital platforms can engender are ideal in an environment where the demand for digital services is increasing and budgets are shrinking. COVID-19 shows the fragmented, siloed and inefficient nature of much of today’s public sector technology. Digital platforms – such as the OpenText DigiGov platform – contain a comprehensive range of standard processes pre-configured for government to drive efficiency, collaboration and innovation.
Governments double down on modernization
In 2019, an US Government Accountability Office report showed that there had been little progress on modernizing 10 of the most critical government systems since 2016.
COVID-19 exposed the weakness of legacy systems. Moving to remote working has placed intolerable strain on many existing systems. It has shown that to enable the access to digital services new IT infrastructure is urgently required. IT modernization now needs to take center stage.
To better serve citizens, agencies need to move from reactive to proactive service delivery. That means being able to properly capture and analyze citizen data to identify trends and help focus and personalize service delivery.
According to Suzette Kent: “COVID-19 shone a bright light on the need for high availability, high quality and accessible data. When you put the data, computing capacity and AI tools together that can really begin to transform government.”
An increased focus on automation
In a post-COVID-19 world, the drive towards automation has been accentuated. The demand for new and improved digital services will continue to grow at a time when revenues from taxation and central funding are greatly reduced. Today, automating digital processes is the only way departments and agencies can continue to meet their mission faced with limited resources.
There are undoubtedly major challenges ahead, but with every challenge comes opportunity. It’s clear that government can no longer go along happily servicing the technical debt but must find ways to fund and embrace a new digital world.