Reinventing state and local government digital services

Reinventing state and local government digital services

Government must continue to reinvent itself if it is to remain relevant at a time of changing community needs. Digital government is a necessary and fundamental step in the evolution of government services, and this creates new opportunities to drive savings by taking a fresh look at the way these services are delivered.

Traditionally, government has been structured according to three separate pillars: engineering (OT and IoT), business systems (IT) and economic development (technology start-ups). Increasingly, governments are finding the need to break down the barriers between these internal structures, particularly when considering a common data strategy and technology skills development.

The innovation agenda is a key focus for many state/local governments, even though the delivery of practical outcomes can be illusive for many governments. However, a number of common success factors are emerging.

A more balanced approach is required in driving digital transformation. Some leaders are inspiring change through the introduction of contemporary technologies, while others are realigning to focus more clearly on the citizen.

Digital technology is no longer something that can be considered separately from the overall business of government, or simply as a backroom activity. Technology is now part of the underlying fabric of every part of government service delivery: from business systems modernisation, to industry policy, to the provision of IoT devices such as smart street lighting. However, coordination between these technology pillars is still typically managed through loose alignments, rather than through a concerted effort to bring the strategies together.

  • Most chief information officers interviewed by Ovum continue to be focused primarily on the modernisation of internal business systems and the development of improved digital services.
  • Smart IoT devices are typically being managed by city engineers, and guided by a separate business strategy.
  • Economic development is also treated separately, and typically reports to the policy areas of city councils.

There is a growing need to develop better coordination between the three pillars. The key reasons typically relate to skills retention and information management. Ovum has found that the more advanced councils are looking at coordinated strategies linking the three pillars, such as integrated data management, advanced analytics and open data, as well as integrated geography-wide strategies around people and skills retention.

IoT — more than devices

The Internet of Things has quickly become a pervasive part of local government. We now have smart lighting, smart parking, smart traffic management and smart cities. IoT is inevitable for all governments, but these often involve big and expensive assets with long depreciation cycles. Limited budgets and fragmented approaches mean that some local governments have limited themselves to small, targeted smart city initiatives, covering only a single application or neighbourhood.

Driving the digital economy

Economic development continues to be a core function of government, and state/local governments have redoubled their efforts to attract small business in the fast-growing technology sector. However, while the objectives are clear, the path to success remains elusive for many governments. Industry assistance needs to involve more than just financial support.

Government routinely collects a significant amount of data that can be a valuable source of intelligence for emerging industries. It has always aimed to provide the best policy and regulatory environment to encourage innovative small businesses to flourish. However, as small business transforms, government must remain in lockstep with these changes. In the digital era, government must find new ways of listening to the emerging needs of small business.

Pragmatic approaches

The time for simple ‘fix my street’ apps has long passed. Today, the big challenges are about providing a broader and more integrated response that goes to the very heart of reinventing government service delivery. The previous focus on quick wins has created a false impression that transformation can be successfully delivered by just writing another app. Unfortunately, real-world government administration is much more complicated.

Ovum research has found government agencies are evenly divided around two popular methods for driving transformation:

  • Some government agencies are driving change through innovative technology, such as mobile/omnichannel services for citizens or leveraging cloud services to transition quickly to new and innovative services.
  • Others are driving change through a fundamental realignment in favour of the citizen. These government agencies invest their efforts into measuring citizen feedback and driving the human aspects of change.

Innovating without disintegrating

Innovation is a key focus area for many state/local governments, but the achievement of practical outcomes can be elusive. It is not just an issue that can be solved in a hierarchical way. Leadership is everybody’s responsibility, but the message is often diluted as it moves up the hierarchy and across the organisation. Most significant concerns are frequently directed up the org chart (“lack of support from my boss’s boss”) and across the org chart (“lack of engagement from my peers”).

A solid foundation

For years, IT managers have been chastised for not being sufficiently business-focused. The lack of business alignment has been the topic of countless editorials, surveys and self-help groups. Perhaps the most enduring image has been the self-imposed ‘wall’ between the business and IT.

Today’s IT challenge is not about managing and maintaining the walls that create separation and boundaries, but about finding efficient and effective ways of tearing them down. Citizens are looking for more agile and flexible solutions from government, and they do not want to be concerned about how government agencies are structured internally. Local government digital services are feeling the impact of this challenge even more acutely, as adverse community feedback can be swift and direct.

Common platforms need to replace bespoke systems. Even when there may be general agreement that a particular system has outlived its usefulness, there will always be some parts of the organisation that will fight hard to keep that system running. Successful government agencies have solved this problem through negotiation and pragmatism, rather than by building barriers.

Reinventing government services

The community now expects to interact with government in a certain way, and this creates new opportunities to drive savings while improving service delivery. The requirement that one should be balanced against the other no longer exists. In this context, digital government is about good government. It is an opportunity for government to innovate, serve and engage with the community in a better way. It is a turbulent time for democratic government, as governments globally scramble to be more responsive to changing community needs while retaining confidence in the processes of government.

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