Reducing Digital Distress: Building a Digital Friendly Government

By Kirsten Oelrich 4 min read

Governments across the world are in the middle of a historic transformation. Citizens are increasingly relying on digital channels and public service providers are realizing the need to transform their processes, cultures, and capabilities for this new paradigm.

The opportunities for government agencies are unprecedented. A digital approach is not only enabling governments to reorganize and rethink the way services are delivered, it is also empowering them to radically transform their complex bureaucracies to become more agile, innovative and user focused.

But the public sector faces many challenges – globalization, budget cutbacks, increased citizen expectations, and an uncertain future. In this complex landscape, how can government agencies work to meet the challenges of fast-growing expectations and an urgent need for digital transformation?

The journey to a digital future is a long and arduous one. Digital technologies are evolving fast and government agencies too must accelerate their rate of progress. To transform the way the public sector operates and delivers services to customers, governments must answer some fundamental questions.

Let’s explore the key areas public sector must address to re-imagine their existing models for a citizen-first digital world. Here are some questions to ask before you embark on a digital transformation initiative:

1. Do you have a clear digital strategy?

A clear strategy is at the heart of your digital transformation goals. Government agencies can benefit from a roadmap that addresses the key elements of digital transformation: culture, leadership, workforce, etc. However, it’s important that the strategy is accompanied by a mechanism to track and measure progress against the defined digital goals.

A vision for the future

Devising a clear and coherent digital strategy is the first step toward successful digital transformation. Articulate the attributes of a digital-age organization-agency-wide governance focused on the customer, processes that tap into the potential of data, and a passionate and aspirational workforce-and clearly communicate that vision to the workforce.

A detailed plan for digital transformation

Build a roadmap for digital transformation that covers elements such as culture, leadership, workforce, and procurement. For instance, detail how to engage stakeholders and secure their backing to implement the strategy or describe how procurement processes could be reformed for the digital delivery of services.

2. How can citizens participate in your digital transformation?

A key tenet of digital delivery is to start with the user. Yet our survey suggests that many government organizations are failing to engage citizens in service design and lack user-centered design skills in their workforce. Exploring inherently user-centric agile development methodologies is also critical.

Make the user the focal point

To effectively drive a digital transformation agenda, governments need to be user-focused. Change resistant cultures typically have established business processes and long-serving staff members who are convinced they know what is best for customers. Often only genuine user insights can create a persuasive case for change; this means doing primary ethnographic research, asking users to comment on service options, and building a transformation method that reacts to feedback quickly and continually. Even the most change-resistant cultures find it hard to disregard hard evidence from the voice of customers and service users.

Invest in agile development

Public sector leaders can start, through workshops and training, by familiarizing themselves with the concept of agile, and then look for opportunities to use it on smaller projects and scale accordingly.

3. Have you looked at your talent pool?

Many government agencies lack the skills to take full advantage of digital transformation. Digital strategists need to develop a plan that pinpoints what workforce capabilities they need and how they are going to secure them. We’re talking here of not simply equipping existing workers with new awareness, but of genuinely new skills, including user research and analysis, technology skills, agile and iterative project management, user experience skills, financial modelling for digital business models, and commercial skills for a digital supply chain. With relatively constrained public sector pay, public bodies often have trouble attracting the talent they need. The solution is a blend of investment, external support, and innovative approaches.

Invest in upskilling

One of the first steps to getting the workforce digital ready is to identify skill gaps and invest in upskilling staff. Whether an organization facilitates upskilling through in-house training centers or external workshops, it’s important to develop a feedback mechanism and iterate training requirements, curriculum, and delivery methods to find the ones that work best. Agencies can also look for opportunities to partner with the private sector and create peer-to-peer learning communities for employees.

Create a value proposition for the next generation of talent

Millennials and younger employees value opportunities to make a positive impact through their work. One way to attract younger talent is to design a workforce strategy that specifically highlights and communicates the impact that the work of the agency staff has on the lives of citizens. Offering employees, the flexibility to work creatively can go a long way in building your talent pool.

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Kirsten Oelrich

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Kirsten Oelrich