Scale is everything in digital government

Gartner Australasia Pty Ltd

By Dean Lacheca, Research Director, Gartner
Monday, 23 July, 2018
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Scale is everything in digital government

Governments must reimagine their approach to service development and delivery as the effects of digital become clear.

As governments look to become leaner and more efficient, scaling personalised government services may not be counterintuitive if digital is used effectively. The alternative — investing in ad hoc digital initiatives that add a digital veneer to government — makes momentum difficult to sustain across changes in leadership or political priorities.

The social and economic benefits of governments’ investment in digital solutions increases significantly when delivered at scale. To do this effectively means scaling across multiple perspectives — up, across and out.

Scaling up through all aspects of a government department delivers organisation and citizen benefits. Scaling across the silos of a local, state or federal government delivers whole-of-government (WofG) and community benefits. Scaling out into the social, community and financial ecosystem that government supports benefits the whole community.

Scaling digital government is inherently challenging. This was highlighted in the recent federal government senate committee report on digital delivery of government services. Moving government services to digital channels as solutions to a specific problem, for example, can offer immediate benefits, but may limit the political appetite and budget for further scaling.

Large-scale programs across government struggle with a lack of community trust in governments’ ability to deliver change; competing political or leadership agendas; and existing legislation, governance, accountability, risk and procurement controls.

Whether you’re scaling up, across or out, all of these dimensions are interdependent, relying on common technology platforms, leadership, collaboration and governance. According to Gartner’s 2018 CIO survey, government CIOs cite culture, insufficient resources and access to talent as top barriers to scaling digital transformation.

Scaling up

Digital government comes from humble beginnings. Early e-government programs were linked directly to efficiency and transparency, with the focus on making traditional services available through online channels.

The unfortunate consequence of these early efforts is that some government executives failed to see the benefits of digital, beyond placing citizen-facing online services on top of legacy processes. This resulted in a lack of understanding of the business drivers for digital transformation and a reluctance to commit to the level of organisational change needed.

Digital government is government that is designed and operated to create value for citizens and the community by taking advantage of data in optimising, transforming and creating services. Government organisations that are able to advance their level of digital maturity will be more successful at scaling.

Many governments already have mature digital strategies in place, which also address changes in underlying legislation. The NSW Government’s digital strategy is a great example, which explicitly states that “frameworks will be established to support new legislation that is digital by design. Legislation that is fit for the digital age does not preclude emerging technology and new digital business models.”

Realising the benefits of digital at scale is about using technologies to transform all aspects of the organisation. This transformation affects structures and business processes. It also changes how we work with service providers, partners, businesses and constituents.

This level of transformation requires CIOs to identify the right opportunity based on multiple forces — culture, regulation and technology. These forces can then be used as a focus for engaging the rest of the organisation and the rest of government in digital transformation.

Scaling across

While scaling up within a government organisation delivers localised benefits to both the organisation and citizens, the real benefit of digital government can be seen when it’s scaled across.

The most visible manifestation of this can be seen in state government investments in WofG portals such as Service NSW and Service Victoria or the federal government’s myGov. But it is also happening behind the scenes with investment aimed at improving data sharing across government.

The focus is on how government delivers services and is implementing public policy that benefits both citizens and itself. It’s about identifying the value to the citizen that digital transformation offers when it’s connected across government agencies.

Scaling this way builds on the digital capabilities of individual government organisations. It can support or force a degree of transformation on slower moving departments. In some cases, it can also happen despite the lack of progress of individual government organisations.

Citizen value, government value and the digital capability to successfully deliver the desired result are the three most important forces when scaling across government.

Complexities and challenges exist in every aspect of the journey, from the technical through to financial and political. The path taken and the progress made are often shaped by politics and personal agendas.

Scaling out

A traditional government-centric approach focuses on government channels, with traditional ICT partners helping to build and deliver their services. Governments must reimagine their approach to service development and delivery as the implication of digital on the ecosystems they leverage, support and orchestrate manifests.

This kind of thinking can be seen in the recently published Queensland Government Digital Strategy (PDF). That government has made collaboration a priority, committing to making open data useful and usable by industry and community. It is also committed to increasing the number of Queensland start-ups and small-to-medium enterprises that are providing services to government.

Governments’ ability to scale out digital government depends on their ability to build on the digital foundations established to engage and empower the ecosystems in which they operate.

By combining the capabilities and resources of ecosystem partners, government organisations can deliver operational efficiency, enable frictionless service delivery and build confidence in government services, which would be impossible to create alone. It can also prompt economic development, innovation and disruption of traditional ecosystems.

In addition, it can assist in addressing the digital divide. Specialist ecosystem partners can bridge the gap to those who can’t effectively participate in a digital society through digital literacy services. It can also provide human services to help special needs groups participate in digital society.

Dean Lacheca is a Research Director at Gartner, advising public sector CIOs and technology leaders on the transition to digital government. He covers topics including digital strategy, digital workplace, open data, government case management and citizen engagement.

Image credit: ©iStockphoto.com/alengo

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