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The 5 Key Traits of a Successful Digital Government Strategy

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By William D. Eggers and Greg Pellegrino November 10, 2015

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William D. Eggers leads Deloitte’s public sector research and is the author of eight books on government reform. Greg Pellegrino is a recognized leader in customer experience strategy at Monitor Deloitte.

In the U.K., you can find links to online restaurant inspection data embedded in articles on Buzzfeed.  In New Zealand, citizens can verify their identities online with a government program called “Real Me,” which simplifies the process of requesting passports, student loans, or birth certificates, all with one password.

In San Francisco, Muni bus tickets collect data on where riders embark and depart, allowing a more strategic deployment of resources.

Public sector organizations are responding to a changing digital environment. Simply switching paperwork to digital forms can save enormous sums of money, while technological advances in public health and analytical advances in policing or public transit can stem pollution and save lives.

Deloitte Digital has undertaken an extensive survey of the state of global digital transformation. We surveyed over 1,200 officials working in various public sector bodies in over 70 countries, and complemented these with interviews of 130 public sector leaders and outside experts. We identified which government organizations were furthest along the journey to digital transformation.

We identified five main characteristics of digitally maturing organizations, which public sector leaders might strive to reproduce.

Strategy

No government organization will succeed in today’s fast-changing environment without a cohesive digital strategy.  We found that 86 percent of digitally maturing organizations have a clear and coherent digital strategy. Seventy-one percent of such organizations report that digital trends are improving their agency’s ability to respond to opportunities and threats.

Good digital strategies don’t just revise old processes—they respect the need for complete transformation.

For example, the Library of Congress designed its last computer catalog, in the 1970s, to replicate an index of 3x5 cards. Now, it’s exploring an entirely new bibliographic framework, which will organize data by conceptual links, distinguish clearly between “conceptual data and its physical manifestations,” and better track multiple authors and publishers. As journalist Adrienne LaFrance puts it, it’s “a system that works more like a human brain than an unlinked card system.”

Leadership

Respondents from almost all digitally maturing organizations could point to a leader or group spearheading the transition to digital. They almost universally pointed to the very top. More than 80 percent these leaders were C-suite equivalents, agency heads, or just below the C-suite level. Leaders at the most transformative departments were not just savvy but digitally sophisticated, comfortable with an entrepreneurial culture of risk taking.

The same principle stands in private sector transformation. John Chambers, CEO of Cisco, told the MIT/Sloan Management Review and Deloitte that “Very often you have to be willing to make a big move even before most of your advisors are on board. You have to be bold.”

Workforce Development

Classic bureaucratic reliability is less useful in an organization that’s agile, project oriented and user focused. To adapt not just to new technology, but to a new culture and new goals, government agencies need to invest in training their workforce. The best leaders don’t leave this up to HR. Acquiring talent is imperative enough to warrant high-level attention.

Workplace cultures can appeal to millennial values—emphasizing the value of public service, rather than salaries Google can easily outmatch, for example. Organizations can also introduce legacy employees to modern frameworks, like agile scrum methodology. The government of Scotland has undertaken a widespread skills gap survey to assess its workforce, and has partnered with the private sector to train public sector leaders to meet private sector expectations.

User Focus

Digitally maturing organizations have a priority: a laser-sharp user focus. They seek to serve constituents first. This means researching user needs, and even co-creating services with users.  They also aren’t confined to the front-office public facing organizations we often associate with paying fees or standing in line. They range from government organizations that compete in retail markets like package delivery to the most rule makers and regulators.

Again, user focus can require an overhaul. The Federal Communications Commission's old process for complaints sent 18 paper forms to disgruntled citizens, and let them decide which paper to fill out to complain about, say, a hotel blocking Wi-Fi hotspots. Then they could fax or mail the paper back. FCC has now scrapped the paper system for a simple online interface.

Culture

Culture can be one of the hardest, and most important aspects of an organization to reshape.

Public sector organizations are traditionally risk-averse and fragmented, often unwilling—or unable due to statute—to share critical information with other agencies. Risk aversion and siloed, top-down directives simply can’t move very fast to respond to opportunities and threats. Digitally maturing organizations are more risk receptive, and they foster innovation, co-creation with citizens and collaboration. These are the organizations that are more likely to experiment with an agile, fail-fast-fail-quickly approach.

That said, progress is slow. Only 28 percent of organizations we surveyed (18 percent in the U.S.) report that digital strategies are altering their attitude towards risk.

Leadership that embraces strategic changes to the digital landscape will help not only make their organizations more effective for citizens, but make them faster and more flexible in the face of the unexpected.

Whether it’s using data analytics to track the source of contaminated meat, or simply helping citizens register a new car via mobile phone, transforming agencies to work in the digital landscape will require hard work, but could yield impressive benefits.

(Image via Sean Pavone/Shutterstock.com)

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