Moving from Random Acts of Digital to Real Transformation

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Too often, government agencies and businesses alike pin their hopes on a single type of transformative technology.

Digital transformation has become a critical focus of many public- and private-sector organizations. It promises a path to a future where customers and citizens enjoy more personalized interactions and mundane, manual tasks are largely automated, freeing humans to pursue higher-value work.

Yet all too often, government agencies and businesses alike pin their hopes on a single type of transformative technology. In our "Tech Trends 2019 Government and Public Services Perspective" report, we point to nine technology forces that serve as the backbone of innovation from yesterday to tomorrow: cloud, analytics, digital experience, blockchain, cognitive, digital reality, core modernization, cyber and the running IT like a business. With so many forces at play, individual and narrowly focused efforts often amount to “random acts of digital.” They may move the needle in a few bright spots, but they may miss the mark in terms of broader, more lasting change.

Leading organizations, on the other hand, achieve more purposeful results through a thoughtful intersection of technology forces. They create innovative combinations that have real, lasting impact on operating models and performance. Government agencies that take such an approach can eliminate some of the mystery surrounding digital transformation and make it more concrete, achievable and measurable. What follows are considerations for adopting this approach.

Train Mission Leaders in Technology Implications

The most-successful organizations make their leaders informed consumers of advanced technology. Not experts, but tech-savvy executives who ask good questions and explore ways that innovations can be applied in practical ways to their areas of responsibility. Consider taking a page from Deloitte’s own internal efforts to build “Tech Fluency” and combine longer in-person orientation with short videos and ongoing learning opportunities. Pick key new technologies like machine learning and natural language processing to give examples of the “art of the possible.”

This approach encourages leaders to think about where they can use specific technologies in productive ways to improve the organization and helps protect against chasing shiny objects or inaction due to a lack of understanding.

Make Investments with Bounded Scope and Measurable Outcomes

This is especially important for agencies with decades-old legacy information systems whose tentacles are far-reaching and deeply embedded. Technological advances are making it possible for those systems to be modernized, but leaders need to think outcomes first, especially with citizen-facing agencies. What is the experience that we want the citizen/end-user to have? What technologies can make that outcome possible? And how do those desired changes impact our legacy systems?

Many leading organizations simultaneously take an immediate approach to emerging technologies. They view them as tools to replace discrete paper-based or manual processes. By adopting a strategy of putting smaller, more tightly scoped solutions in place quickly (timeframes measured in a few quarters) and successfully (meeting clearly defined outcomes), organizations can build continued successes that move incrementally towards an end-state ambition or goal.

Build Transformation Capabilities in Increments

A common belief is that digital transformation should be enterprisewide in scope, yet few organizations seem to have such a grand plan. In Deloitte’s 2018 global CIO survey, only one-third of the 1,400 executive participants reported having an enterprise digital strategy.

Instead, government agencies can take smaller, more precise steps while building a process for rapid introduction of digital products and services at scale. Over time, a series of successfully realized digital initiatives, each with a positive return on investment, can grow in number—and in alignment with the agency’s mission—until they make an agency-wide impact.

Avoid Complacency

Too often a proof of concept or implementation becomes an end in and of itself. Even as the plan to deploy a technology is being developed, tested and implemented, it’s important to look beyond it. How can its beneficial effects be multiplied? In what other areas of the agency—or other agencies entirely—might the technology be used effectively? How can the technology be combined with other innovations to create new and better outcomes? Or—sometimes—have we simply made a mistake we should stop investing in?

By making the last step of every initiative a question—“What now?”—agencies can keep their digital transformation fresh and still meet the changing day-to-day needs of the organization and its constituents.

It’s All About Building Momentum

Businesses across the industry spectrum are using new technologies in different combinations, learning from their experiences, and then doubling down on those efforts to accelerate their digital journeys. They are growing more compelling and easier to use—raising the expectations for citizens and consumers alike.

Despite massive and intensive efforts, many government organizations aren’t yet meeting these expectations for a modern digital experience. But they can take major steps in that direction by adopting a more predictive, repeatable, and linked approach to technology and innovation. For example, cashierless stores could serve as models for Defense Department Exchanges. Government health providers could use health care insurers’ AI-enabled approvals and screening. And agencies can look to private-sector companies to increasing use AI for accelerating routine processing, screening results, and finding fraud.

By actively developing tech-savvy leaders, carefully targeting and scaling transformation efforts, and keeping their eyes on the horizon, government agencies can avoid random acts of digital in favor of more systematic and productive digital transformation.  

Scott Buchholz is managing director for Deloitte Consulting and government and public services chief technology officer. Kavitha Prabhakar is a principal for Deloitte Consulting and government and public services civil sector leader.