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Digital government is designed and operated to take advantage of digital data and technology to create, optimize and transform digital government services.
Technology has become essential for remote working, distance learning, maintaining economies and keeping governments running. Automation and delivering services digitally, wherever feasible, is imperative to the sustainability of many government operations. For most governments, however, the pace of change during a crisis is not sustainable once the crisis abates, due to risk-averse culture and lack of resources.
Technology leaders need to help agency and political leadership understand why maintaining the appropriate level of digital acceleration is so important to government services. They can do so by identifying quick wins, aligning digital to political priorities and improving the agility of their operating models.
One approach is to reprioritize ongoing and planned digital initiatives based on their use case and value. Some projects:
May need to be stopped to free up investment and resources for other initiatives.
Need to continue but at a steady (or even slower) rate to make room for more pressing needs.
Are needed to address vulnerabilities exposed by the quick solutions put in place during the pandemic.
Should be scaled and reinforced for long-term use, such as to support remote/hybrid working, digital citizen interactions and remote operations.
Support longer term fundamental shifts in citizen and business behaviors, for instance replacing existing service with a more proactive and predictive approach in human services, public safety and even taxation.
Digital optimization is the process by which government organizations use data to significantly improve what they are already doing. For example, a tax and revenue agency can enhance its risk analysis capabilities with predictive models to assess the likelihood of payment delinquency and take preemptive steps to avoid that outcome.
Digital transformation changes the shape of how the government operates through a process of reinvention and creation. For example, that same tax and revenue agency could move beyond digital optimization by using its vast data resources, fiscal policy knowledge, forecasting expertise and deep-learning software. It could offer tax advisory services provided by virtual digital assistants for a nominal fee. This new source of revenue would be the result of digital transformation.
It is important to exercise caution whenever a "transformation" project or program is announced or already underway. It is quite possible the charter and scope of such a project calls for a complete reinvention of government operations by exploiting digital data and technologies. However, upon closer examination, the actual goal of a transformation initiative may well be the optimization of the organization's existing capabilities and value proposition.
Several technologies contribute to digital transformation. The most relevant are:
Many government leaders think that “digital” means more technology and turn to the CIO to deliver. And if that doesn’t work, they bring in chief digital officers (CDOs) or chief experience officers (CxOs) to drive the way the government delivers. But while these roles bring great insight, they almost always lack the actual authority to execute.
Ultimately, while the titles vary, it is the chief executives of government organizations who are accountable for strategy and execution. Other C-suite members also play a key role in digital efforts, including:
The CIO, who is responsible for technology enablement.
The chief digital officer, who is mostly responsible for ideation.
Mission-unit leaders, who are responsible for the digital delivery of their agencies’ services.
A governance framework is essential to define which roles are responsible or accountable for various aspects of a digital transformation program and who needs to be consulted and informed.
Most governments have fallen short because real transformation or optimization requires changing business processes, often across organizational silos. This is not an IT problem; it’s a government leader’s insight and ambition deficit.
Does the digital strategy reflect the expected degree of urgency, take into account the readiness of the agency and aim to improve the digital maturity of the organization?
To measure progress on this count, you’ll need a self-assessment tool, such as the Gartner Digital Government Maturity Model, that pushes the CIO or other digital leaders to examine the breadth and depth of its digital strategy and its adequacy to the digital ambition of the organization.
The assessment looks at several areas of the strategy and suggests what key steps are required to increase maturity in each. The purpose is not to achieve the maximum maturity in each area, but to achieve sufficient maturity to meet the organization's digital goals.
To gauge how successful an agency is in executing strategy, benchmark against peers in the government sector and elsewhere.
Tools such as the Gartner Digital Execution Scorecard use digital key performance indicators that are compared to those of industry peers. This generates objective benchmark reports that show relative strengths and weaknesses in different areas of digital execution based on ambition and peer performance comparisons
Lessons learned from governments that are already more digitally advanced surface keys to success. This group consistently includes transformational activities in their programs, show a wider range of focus and are more successful at scaling digital across their organizations. Among the attributes and behaviors that set them apart, they:
Both transform and optimize by redesigning existing end-to-end processes, creating new digitally enabled services or ways to deliver value and automate parts of end-to-end processes to transform citizen experience.
Use clear calculated digital success metrics to measure digital impact and maturity. For example, they are far more likely than less advanced governments to monitor and report on regulatory compliance, transparency and auditability, mission impact, efficiency, workforce safety and productivity.
Adopt contemporary practices, such as user research, human-centered design, co-creation, journey and life event mapping.
Digital transformation programs still face a number of significant challenges, including:
Siloed organizations. Silos exist across governments, departments and business areas. Each silo requires different types of interventions, which affects strategy, funding, and successful implementation.
Risk-averse culture. Governments are particularly sensitive to risk. Executives are fearful of failure, which reflects badly on elected officials. Frontline workforces focused on service delivery can also be change-averse, as they do not perceive any benefit in altering their proven practices.
Funding. Funding challenges are often a symptom of one or more problems, such as siloed strategies and decision making, as well as considering technology expenditure an operating expense rather than a strategic investment.