driving digital transformation in government

At Orange we are always interested in digital transformation and how organizations are using new digital technologies to change the way they operate, innovate or interact with stakeholders.

So it was with interest that I read how the Australian Government has announced the launch of its Digital Transformation Office. The new agency is tasked with delivering government services “digitally from start to finish and better serve the needs of citizens and businesses”. It will act as a digital champion across all government agencies to coordinate Australia’s digital transformation plans and create shared digital platforms and services. One of its first projects will be to create a single online identity that will allow citizens to log in to all government services.

Of course Australia is not alone in creating an overarching agency to oversee all public sector digital projects. In Europe, for example, virtually all governments have one in place responsible for driving digital transformation from the center rather than leaving it to the individual departments.  And many of them also coordinate activities with local government.

joined up thinking

It makes perfect sense to have an overall view of public sector digital projects, especially given the vast number of initiatives undertaken. Citizens are already enthusiastic adopters of public sector digital services. According to an Accenture Public Services Pulse Survey in the US, 42% of citizens said that the majority of their interactions with the government were already carried out digitally, and a formidable 86% want to either keep it at that level or increase their digital interactions.

However, the road to government digital transformation has been anything but smooth, and recent history is littered with expensive projects that failed to deliver. For example, in the UK, the government won’t even tell citizens the total cost of its Universal Credit system until after the forthcoming election. It last estimated the project cost at £12.85 billion in 2012, but now the project is running two years behind schedule.

Success, when achieved, can be spectacular. In Europe, Estonia has been called one of the most joined-up digital governments in the world. Its citizens can do everything online, from voting to checking their medical records and receiving a tax rebate. All citizens have a unique ID for them to access government services and the state standardized national public key infrastructure (PKI) over a decade ago. This means that digital identities are assured and harmonized across all government services.

routes to take

So how should governments go about their own digital transformation? Well the answer very depends on what type of country they govern. Estonia, for example, has only 1.3 million citizens and was virtually a green-field site when it chose to embrace technology at independence in 1991.

More broadly, Accenture has defined three different types of country that are taking three different routes to digital transformation.

  • Cutters are developed economies focusing on reducing government spending and have a relatively mature digital infrastructure (such as UK or the US).  Their priorities are to achieve cost-savings by shifting public services to a digital channel. The UK government estimates that it can generate annual savings of nearly $3 billion per year by moving transactional services such as welfare payment, tax and payments online.
  • Builders have robust economic growth and want to build a digital infrastructure to meet their future needs (such as Brazil and India). They are typically being creative with digital public services and are focusing on inclusion by delivering services for all. India has created a unique identification number for all citizens that can be verified and authenticated online. As of March 2013, this has been deployed to 316 million citizens.
  • Enhancers have survived the economic downturn fairly well and want to deliver leading-edge digital public services (such as Norway and Singapore). They are looking to use digital government to drive greater citizen engagement. Norway has created a nationwide platform that allows citizens to interact with government services using any device. As of early 2014, this incorporated 40 government agencies an 130 self-service electronic services.

Accenture ranked the progress of digital governments in 10 different countries that span all of these categories. Out of the 10 Singapore came first, followed by Norway and the UAE, while Brazil came last.  It says that the key to success is strategic vision and rigor, citizen-centricity and implementation focus. The leaders managed to harness all three of these requirements to build the joined-up services that citizens want.

In other words although a coordinated central strategy is vital to the success of government digital transformation, you actually have to give citizens something they want – and mustn’t make a mess of deployment!

Find out more about the work that Orange Business has done to help the digital transformation of governments. This includes deploying a secure network for the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Anthony Plewes

After a Masters in Computer Science, I decided that I preferred writing about IT rather than programming. My 20-year writing career has taken me to Hong Kong and London where I've edited and written for IT, business and electronics publications. In 2002 I co-founded Futurity Media with Stewart Baines where I continue to write about a range of topics such as unified communications, cloud computing and enterprise applications.