3 Ways to Infuse Digital into Your Agency’s DNA

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Random acts of digital aren't enough for a transformation.

Digital transformation in government is no longer a question of if or when. It’s a question of how. The new administration demands change. The creation of the American Technology Council and its support of the U.S. Digital Service demonstrates that a more efficient and effective government depends on infusing digital into the DNA of government agencies in order to become a true digital organization.

Random Acts of Digital Are Not Enough

Public- and private-sector organizations that want to become more digital typically try a variety of approaches:

  • Focusing only on a single digital initiative, such as implementing a new technology.
  • Trying to “org design” their way to digital.
  • Going mobile.
  • Implementing an agile approach in the IT organization and hoping it will “catch on.”
  • Buying digital skills without creating the right environment for them to succeed (buying the fish before the fishbowl).
  • Creating a digital team, then declaring digital success.

Such approaches may be a step in the right direction, but they are not sufficient to be a digital organization in a digital era. As I wrote earlier, Taking the Federal Digital Leap, digital is not just about adopting new technologies. It’s about creating a digital strategy and focusing on executing the most impactful initiatives quickly and iteratively. The strategy should incorporate the unique “DNA” including the organization’s core business traits: understanding the internal makeup and what will enable it to become a digital organization. Leading digital organizations are moving forward this way … and so can we in the federal ecosystem.

Understanding Your Digital DNA

Human DNA consists of 23 chromosomal pairs that combine in different ways and genetically determine a person’s traits. Similarly, our research shows that organizations have 23 distinct characteristics that help achieve their goals in today’s digital world. This “digital DNA” is at the core of everything they do. Assessing your organization’s digital DNA can serve as a foundation for selecting which initiatives to pursue and what methods will guide their implementation.

Digital Traits

Truly digital organizations are singularly focused on results that their customers desire (and remove frustrations their customers experience during their interactions) versus focusing on process and expecting their customers to work around the organization’s operations. Digital organizations also take the risk to experiment small, fail fast, and learn even faster: iterating quickly, and adapting to change with speed and fluidity.

An important note: As you take the critical steps toward becoming truly digital, don’t forget to ensure a smooth merge between fast-moving digital activities and slow-moving legacy activities or your efforts will inevitably slow down due to different operating ‘velocities’ in the organization.

Three Steps to Getting Started

To get started, government agencies should determine how to rewire their existing organization and culture with digital DNA. Here’s how to get started:

1. Assess your organization’s current Digital DNA.

Organizational DNA are the key traits of your organization, defining how your people are organized, operate and behave. As a starting point, it is critical to understand your organization’s current level of digital maturity so you know where to begin and what to build on.

The digital DNA maturity spectrum

2. Determine how digital you need to be.

Becoming a digital organization is a journey, and the destination is different for every organization. Recognizing where you to need to be in 6, 12 and 18 months helps prioritize your agency’s focus, energy and investments. Customers and value will guide you in determining what you really need to do.

3. Create an action plan to infuse the needed digital DNA.

Change typically happens more rapidly when you infuse digital traits into your existing organization and environment. Once you have determined how digital you need to be, you can develop a customized action plan that focuses on the particular DNA characteristics your organization needs the most to build or develop to get you from planning to experimenting, changing and learning fast.

Harnessing the Power of Digital

Government agencies are under increasing pressure to harness the power of digital technology and methods to transform mission delivery. Transforming into a truly digital organization may require a holistic approach that considers all 23 digital DNA characteristics, and then uncovers the specific characteristics your organization requires to take advantage of the power of digital.

Digital DNA can reveal an organization’s best way forward. The more digital an agency is at its very core, the better it can be at foreseeing and navigating the changing needs of its customers and stakeholders.

Kymm McCabe a principal at Deloitte Consulting LLP and a federal Deloitte Digital leader and Garth Andrus a principal at Deloitte Consulting LLP. Follow them on Twitter @KymmMcCabe and @Garth_OT.