Strategies for Public Sector Transformation to Digital Services

Strategies for Public Sector Transformation to Digital Services

Jonathan Behnke, CIO, City of San Diego

Jonathan Behnke, CIO, City of San Diego

The public sector has traditionally lagged behind the private sector in delivering innovation and the latest digital services to its constituents. Some of the barriers include limited budgets, a culture that is hesitant to take risks, and a technical ecosystem that is sometimes fragmented to support multiple agency or department business models.

Expectations of constituents for innovation and ease of use have been transformed by the private sector and consumer technologies where sharing information and conducting business is a simple and seamless experience. In the private sector, complex financial transactions can be completed in seconds and online orders are sometimes delivered in the same day.

How can the public sector get past the barriers of legacy systems, aversion to risk, and limited resources to deliver on the digital expectations of its constituents? The first step is to take a close look at your technology ecosystem. While outdated technologies present multiple challenges to organizations they can also provide opportunities for a transformation to modernized services to meet constituent expectations. Evaluate the technology ecosystem for the basics like current database, operating system, development languages, supportability, and security controls. Applications that fall short in these areas will be more costly to support and present security risks to the entire organization. They are also likely to be falling short in delivering on goals of compatibility with analytics systems, ease of use, mobile support, and business continuity.

Does Your Technology Portfolio align with Your Organization’s Strategic Plan?

The most important aspect to evaluate is whether these systems are meeting the core goals of your organization’s strategic plan. Does the application portfolio provide efficiencies and automation to improve the quality of services? Have the business processes been evaluated to remove bottlenecks and delays while optimizing the delivery of services? Your technology ecosystem has been built to support your strategic plan, but changes in technology, constituent expectations, and evolving business needs require a regular review to make sure your portfolio is still supporting the core goals of the organization.

"Expectations of constituents for innovation and ease of use have been transformed by the private sector and consumer technologies"

Get Rid of the Paper

Paper forms are traditional government processes that ultimately prove to be a very costly and slow way to provide services and information. Transforming processes away from paper to online forms saves on printing costs, movement of paper documents, reduces data entry, and can provide efficiencies and automation opportunities.

Think About User Experience

Constituents are already using mobile devices to receive and pay bills, make dinner reservations, order ride sharing services, manage boarding passes for travel, and many other daily functions. The public sector needs to deliver the same level of services for government. Things like single sign-on portals, digital signature, online payments for services, online reservations, and online permitting should be part of every public sector technology portfolio to provide the user experience that constituents see as basic requirements.

How Can You Get There Fast?

There has been a lot of debate the last few years about how organizations can rapidly change their service models to deliver digital services. One proposed model is called bimodal operations that proposes the operations and support of legacy applications continue with the status quo, while new initiatives work under a different set of rules to speed innovation and development. A true bimodal model is flawed because it builds silos in IT. A better approach is to get the entire IT organization focusing on innovation and working together towards the same goals. Start with small proof of concept projects and don’t be afraid to fail. Small failures take less time and are less costly to reach the point of failure than spending significant resources and funding on risky big-bang projects that implement immature technologies.

Leverage Cloud When It Makes Sense

Almost every IT organization is finding benefits in the agility provided by cloud offerings. Adoption of cloud solutions can eliminate the need for expensive major overhauls of on premise IT infrastructure by doing simple large scale replacements of legacy systems with cloud solutions. Microsoft, Amazon, Salesforce, and others have developed their solutions for government to meet compliance and security requirements. It is important to educate your stakeholders about cloud options to make sure they think outside of the paradigm of how they’ve always done things.

Going Agile

The traditional approach of government waterfall project methodologies and procurement models is a barrier to innovation and rapid adoption of new technologies. Large RFP’s with hundreds of pages of detailed deliverables can take 1-2 years to develop and execute. An agile approach can define the business outcomes and iteratively deliver value in shorter time frames with less risk. Technology vendors have been delivering agile projects for years and public sector procurement needs to evolve into the agile world.

Engage With Your Constituents

Citizen engagement is a critical part of developing sound business requirements in the public sector. What are the priorities of your citizens and what are their expectations in the delivery of services? Focus groups, community meetings, and hackathons can deliver valuable feedback about expectations and the definition of success. Don’t forget to show the community your successes and provide dashboards to visualize the progress.

Engage With Your Technology Vendors

Technologies vendors make research and development investments in areas that they see the greatest potential for return. They usually focus these efforts on the private sector first and then make enhancements for government services. Early engagement with tech vendors can provide opportunities to provide input into their R&D roadmaps that will provide the ideal features that benefit the public sector. Technologies like blockchain, augmented reality, IOT, and artificial intelligence are the next wave that can provide efficiencies and improvements in public sector services and we need to work with the tech industry to optimize these technologies for government.

Advice To Those Starting The Journey

Public sector organizations need to begin with the guiding principles of mobile first, elimination of paper, 24/7 access, and a user experience similar to any other large private sector corporation. While a full transformation can take years, there are opportunities to make early changes with significant impact. IT governance is important to make sure that low-value legacy technologies are not being perpetuated and digital goals are going to be met. Incorporate high availability, cyber security, backup and recovery, and upgrades into your technology roadmaps for digital services. Partner with your stakeholders and give them the guidance and tools to succeed. Train your IT workforce in new technologies and empower them to become champions of the transformation to digital services. 

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