Government slow off blocks in digital transformation

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Digital transformation may be having a disruptive impact on enterprises globally, but many governments are only just getting their feet wet.

Analytics, infrastructure and cloud computing are the top three technology priorities for government CIOs, according to Gartner’s 2016 CIO Agenda survey, but they have still to make any real headway. Why? Because Gartner maintains that governments are still at “an embryonic stage of maturity” when it comes to digital transformation.  

The public sector’s dawdling is primarily down to a shortage of workers with the right skills and rigid organizational cultures which are hobbling any progress in governments implementing these digital priorities.

Despite these challenges, the intention is there. The Gartner survey highlighted that leveraging digital technologies to transform operational and service models is now number one on the business agenda for many elected leaders and public officials.

Government CIOs estimate that 44% of business processes are now undergoing digital transformation, with 62% to be impacted within two years and 80% within five years. Whether a government CIO is pursuing quick, tactical wins on an ad hoc basis, or as directed by an enterprise digital business strategy, the survey saw a unanimous agreement that significant digital disruptions to existing and future business processes are inevitable.

"Government organizations require the sustained focus and commitment of successive administrations to realize the cumulative, step change benefits of moving from system or process-driven business models to operating as a platform within a digital ecosystem," explained Rich Howard, research vice president at Gartner. 

"This calls for better succession management practices and behaviours in government. Progress toward higher levels of digital capability must not be slowed down or derailed by changes in executive leadership. Continuity of vision is the key to building on technology investments made by prior administrations,” he added. 

US makes headway

In the US federal agencies are making progress meeting the public’s rising expectations of digital adoption, according to a study by the National Academy of Public Administration and ICF International (ICF). But the accelerating pace of technological advancement is causing concerns that government will still continue to lag some distance behind the private sector.  This is particularly true in the wake of the Office of Personnel security breach where allegedly 5 million finger prints were stolen in a cyber attack.

The study found that federal leaders see mobile devices, data analytics tools and cloud computing digital technologies as being most help in enabling agencies to reach their digital goals. But inefficient budgets, security/privacy concerns, recruiting and slow acquisition processes as their greatest barriers to the implementation and adoption of digital technologies.

Just 3% of federal agencies said they believed that their agency invested in digital technology to completely reimagine existing processes.  “A lot of the old legacy systems cost billions of dollars to maintain. There should be a way to do it far cheaper. That’s got to be the ultimate goal,” one respondent said.

The National Academy of Administration believes that the US government should encourage “real innovation and re-imagination, rather than accepting simple automation of existing processes”.  Whilst there have been strong and positive cases of digital transformation, the National Academy of Administration recommends the government facilitate collaboration among leaders to ensure it stays firmly on the agenda and doesn’t lag still further. 

European portal assists transformation
The public sector collects large amounts of data online. This so called ‘open data’ - which is free to use, reuse, link and redistribute for commercial and non-commercial purposes, is providing a link for governments in their digital transformation.

To support this open data initiative in Europe, for example, the European Data Portal (EDP) was launched last year as a central touchpoint for all public data throughout Europe. EDP harvests metadata from public sector portals throughout Europe as well as the Open Data portal of the European Union, which contains datasets collected and published by the European Institutions. The European Commission is currently exploring how to bring those two portals closer together. 

For administrations willing to disseminate their data, they have the advantage of providing public access without the need to reply to individual requests for access to data. Certain data sets can also be integrated into products or used to gain insights into a wide variety of areas, such as crime records.

The open data concept provides a way for governments to improve customer experience, operational processes and internal business models. Estonia has integrated the idea into its innovative e-police system, for example.  Each police car contains a mobile workstation that can access a large number of databases if a driver is stopped, including car insurance and weapons register. It is also linked to the Schengen Zone’s information system, allowing them to see if the vehicle is stolen or if the driver is wanted in another country. Since deploying the system the police have been able to handle 70% more reported offences daily.  Eventually using open data, police will be able to identify and tag drivers based on real time data.

Transformation demands strong leadership

Truly transforming government through technology will be a journey in itself.  In a recent study by Deloitte just 32% of respondents believed their leadership had sufficient skills for meeting the challenge of digitally transforming public services. Deloitte believes that leaders must manage competing priorities and buy into the ethos of user-centred design if digital transformation is actually going to be achieved.

Jan Howells

Jan has been writing about technology for over 22 years for magazines and web sites including ComputerActive, IQ magazine and Signum. She has been a business correspondent on ComputerWorld in Sydney and covered the channel for Ziff-Davis in New York.