Digital transformation is more than just a buzzword. For many government agencies, it’s a long-overdue necessity that can be broken down into three main improvement areas: better data insights, better delivery models (especially through mobile technology) and a better customer experience.
These three elements are often intertwined in digital transformation efforts, but government agencies are uniquely positioned to improve data insights because of the vast wealth of meaningful data they handle. The problem for federal organizations, however, is their data is typically spread across different silos and is difficult to access for analysis, decision-making and insights. Getting quick access to different data sources through a single view is the crucial first step for government agencies to start their digital transformation journey.
With this as the backdrop, there are three main steps government agencies can take to get better access to data:
1. Understand and inventory your data and corresponding systems
Looking at the broader system and data architecture across the organization is vital. Think about workflows and how the end user travels across these systems. In other words, take a step back to see what end users are doing so you can gather insight to help make better-informed decisions.
You can essentially take your IT architecture, systems and data and overlay the citizen experience to identify where you may have redundancies or duplication. This type of rationalization is a major step toward gaining better insights into your data.
As part of this analysis, cybersecurity is also a key consideration. In some cases, you may have data spread across many systems, and the security levels of those systems may vary. This gives you an understanding of the consumption process, the corresponding risk profiles and the overarching change management approach that will be required.
In many cases, the government has accrued technical debt over the years and agencies have not implemented a coordinated strategy due to a lack of financial and technical resources. The private sector faces similar challenges with data fragmented across disparate silos and legacy systems. New approaches to data management consolidate data on a single web-scale platform and have a unified management interface, thereby greatly simplifying the tasks associated with data management, reducing security risks and allowing for the consolidation of both data and the associated workloads.
2. Use digital transformation as an opportunity to reengineer
Once you have a well-understood model of data usage, you can then do some analysis and start to think about optimization, such as where you’re going to rely on internal services or where utilizing third-party services makes more sense. This could be a Google Maps integration for geotagging, a notification service such as Twilio, or a third-party authentication service such as those offered by Google or Symantec, just as a few examples.
Digital transformation is an opportunity to reengineer business processes. If you have a process that could be streamlined, it will become clear as you map out workflows, and you can decide how to rethink, reimagine or even leverage automation. How can you make processes more efficient by cutting down steps for the end user? Are there integration points you can consolidate? There is always room for improvement — don’t simply take what you have and stick to it as the baseline but instead leverage the digital transformation journey to rethink these processes and workflows.
I often talk to CIOs and CTOs who are working on transforming business processes by applying technology, shifting toward consumerizing the enterprise for an Uber-like experience. Digital transformation gets confused as a solely tech-centric or tech-focused effort, but analyzing it from a user experience perspective is a critical success factor.
3. Perform a self-assessment to find (and fill) gaps
The third leg of a successful digital transformation effort involves performing an assessment of which tools and capabilities you have in-house to digitize and simplify those, as well as where you have gaps. When gaps are identified, you then need to perform market research and work to come up with a business case to include metrics and funding.
Given the increase in the volume and value of data, there has been considerable investment and innovation in the private sector to simplify and improve data management. Many of the technologies currently used are hardware-dependent and lack the scale, agility and flexibility afforded by applying the advances in modern software architecture, such as scalable platforms, hyperconvergence and cloud services. A careful review of the tools, technologies and approaches that are in use by large organizations in the private sector should be a priority.
From a high level, the government has a structured approach to buying IT and related services in order to make sure there’s fair competition. Market research is used to look at the landscape, and it could involve going out and talking to vendors or doing a formal request for information — “Here’s the description of the problem we’re trying to solve, and we want to be educated on how to approach this problem.” There is then a more competitive RFP process to solicit bids and make an award.
The caveat of all this for government agencies, in particular, is well known: red tape and bureaucracy are abundant. There have been discussions about government procurement reform, so it’s a very known fact of life in this sector. Still, this shouldn’t dissuade organizations who are serious about committing to a digital transformation journey.
In the end, government agencies are less likely to have gone through digital transformation efforts compared to other verticals or industries — there is a lag when compared to the private sector. Government organizations haven’t made the same level of progress that others in the private sector have, and it can be tied to factors such as antiquated infrastructure, lack of skill sets and limited funding. At the same time, however, the need for government agencies to provide services for their citizens isn’t going to slow down, meaning those looking for true digital start by creating improved access to key data.
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