Changing political climates and leadership—as well as budget constraints—can add an extra layer of difficulty.
Public sector organizations are uniquely challenged to justify, execute and support digital transformation projects compared to the private sector. While budget constraints often come to mind, these organizations must also deal with changing political climates and leadership that can disrupt a project’s life cycle. Given these stakes, organizations must ensure that they follow best practices before moving forward on a project. For the public sector, that doesn’t just require addressing technical and staffing concerns, but also navigating political and cultural issues.
There are 10 components that every large-scale, public-sector digital transformation project should have in place to be successful: clear and concise strategy, measurable success, executive sponsorship, realistic timetables, personnel training, sufficient subject matter expertise, flexibility and agility, change management, testing and validation, and a non-partisan approach. While every agency or organization has its own unique challenges, following these best practices will provide optimal long-term results.
- Clear and concise strategy: Arguably the most crucial factor, a clear and concise strategy is a must for any transformation project and its associated IT implementations, so every other step meets the desired goals of the project.
- Measurable success: Leadership must ensure there are defined and measurable criteria for what constitutes success. This includes time-to-value realization, return on investment timeframes and improvements in efficiency and optimization.
- Executive sponsorship: Project leaders need to have their organization’s executives fully onboard with implementing the project. Having their full support at the onset means they are proactive, responsive and willing to weigh in to ensure the project remains on track, on budget, on schedule and aligned with the defined success criteria.
- Realistic expectations on a timetable: An achievable and feasible project execution schedule ensures the digital transformation project is based on experience or best practices, with room for setbacks and revisions.
- Flexibility and agility: In addition to time management, leaders need to anticipate how projects will change over time and how new challenges can arise—and then map out a plan for resolving potential issues.
- Subject matter expertise: Resources are not limited to budget and investment, but also the people behind the digital transformation. Successful projects require experienced experts who possess unique skills to solve the challenges that a digital transformation project is meant to address.
- Personnel training: Once a plan is in place, there needs to be proper training for the personnel that will assist in building the solutions—and be the end-users once the project is completed. This must incorporate awareness at the project launch, knowledge transfers from the project workers to the rest of the organization and support after it goes live.
- Change management: Every successful public sector project depends on organizational change and ensuring that employees willingly adopt it. Sometimes there are holdouts within the workforce who view digital transformation as replacing their labor or believe that management—wrongly—thinks they’re not good at their jobs. Project leaders must plan to win over users by determining the right cultural approach, so everyone understands how the new transformation will benefit them.
- Testing and validation: There must be dedicated time and budget allocated to testing and validating solutions so that deployment is smooth and without downtime. Project leaders should perform trial runs of how the projects will work in the real world and account for how end-users can run into difficulties.
- Non-partisan approach: Too often, politics play a role in public sector digital transformation projects. All parties need to agree and continue to reinforce that these projects will facilitate positive change for employees and constituents, not political parties.
Poor planning and execution can have serious consequences
While the aforementioned steps may seem excessive at first, always keep in mind that the goals of these projects are to serve the public in the best way possible. In both the private and public sectors, digital transformation always runs the risk of failure without proper planning and building. However, public sector projects can face much greater backlash when government services fail, given the potential for citizens to get upset and feel as though their tax dollars are being misspent. This can not only drive a lack of faith in that project, but jeopardize the possibility of future projects as well.
While the truth is more complicated, project leaders owe it to themselves and to their organizations to deliver the best possible improvements. For any organization unsure of its ability to deliver on each of these objectives, there is always the option to bring in an outside expert to help shepherd the project and provide valuable experience that ensures a successful implementation and transformation.
Nader Tirandazi is the CEO of invenioLSI.