COVID-19 has reinforced a key principle: innovation and adaptability are key to survival. Digital transformation (DX) has proven essential to the private sector’s response to the pandemic and provided some form of stability despite these extreme circumstances we have found ourselves in. Yet it seems that the public sector, government agencies in particular, have struggled with this transition. Indeed, many appear to be some way behind in their DX programmes and, despite their efforts, the majority of their digital initiatives have not been entirely successful.
As indicated in a recent report by the National Audit Office (NAO), the UK government has been performing rather poorly with regards to digital change programmes for quite some time. It stated that public bodies need to deliver high quality digital services, however, there is a gap between what the government ‘intends’ to achieve and what it actually delivers for its citizens and service users. In fact, it suggested that only a small proportion of senior officials in government have first-hand experience of delivering real digital change and many are unclear as to what technology to implement.
A more recent investigation by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) suggests the pandemic has revealed the ‘legacy’ IT issues across the public sector and the slow progress in tackling IT inefficiencies across government departments over the last few decades has had a clear impact on decision-making throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. PAC insists that the government response to COVID-19 has highlighted the need for higher quality data and improved digital services across the public sector: public policy and technology are inseparable.
It is evident that senior officials simply do not have a clear understanding of the outcomes that digital transformation can and should drive. As revealed in a study conducted by Deloitte (UK), 51 percent of UK government agencies say that digital trends are improving their organisation’s ability to respond to threats or changes, however, 75 percent agree that their digital capabilities still fall well behind that of the private sector. Too many political leaders are prioritising technology or new innovations, as opposed to establishing a well-defined strategy, and therefore, they implement the wrong digital solutions.
Government leaders and senior officials should ideally seek expert advice from an experienced consultant, who can guide them through a tailored digital transformation programme according to the needs of the government department or public office. Ideally, someone who has experience in leading large-scale digital transformation programmes, specialising in a particular industry or sector who can then help leaders establish their ‘digital maturity’ – that is, where the team or government agency currently stands in its digital transformation journey.
Digital maturity refers to how well organisations adjust to their environment. Those that recognise the need for change and embrace innovation will likely be further into their transformation journey than those who don’t. With digital maturity comes flexibility, and leaders will be able to readily develop a transformation strategy that enables new approaches and identifies workable methods to implement them successfully.
At a basic level, it is all about reconsidering the relationship between people, processes, and data. It is best practice to discuss business change programmes across departments prior to implementation. After all, leaders may be unaware of current procedures or inefficiencies and employees could offer valuable insight into how data cycles or communication could be improved between teams. It is vital that employees are on board from the start and realise the need for change in order to ensure wider adoption across an organisation.
Digital transformation must be treated as a continuous journey, and the transformation of government will no doubt prove a tremendous challenge. Each agency will proceed through these stages of digital maturity at different rates, depending on the complexity of their structures, and naturally, some will have to go back several stages to tackle inefficiencies. Only by reviewing the current operational model step by step and removing any pain points, can public sector leaders have a clear understanding of how and where change needs to occur and what the next stage of their digital transformation journey should be. Then leaders can establish clear business objectives and identify the appropriate technology to help deliver these goals. As leaders progress throughout these transformation journeys, many will continue to identify pain points or other areas to improve – it is imperative that they consider how each process relates back to the overall operations cycle and department function.