Sascha Giese, Head Geek at SolarWinds dissects why public sector digital transformation still tends to lag behind the progress of the private sector.
Digital transformation has been near the top of the government’s agenda for a long time, with current strategies due for completion this year. However, 2020 has proven to be a year no one expected, resulting in some public sector digital services needing to be put on hold. In other areas, such as healthcare, making the move to digital has ensured success. For example, the amount of GP appointments in May conducted via phone or video was 48%, up from just 19% in January.
The pandemic has affected both public and private sector organisations globally, with experts suggesting this could be the catalyst for many digital transformation plans as teams weigh the short- and long-term effects of the crisis. But even with this accelerated progress, some still think public sector digital transformation lags behind the progress of the private sector.
Upgrading or adding new digital services within government organisations is no easy task. The cybersecurity risk from legacy technology is perhaps greater for the government than it is for many businesses in the private sector—the data stored by the government and the functions it must be able to perform make it an obvious target for cybercriminals. This means modernisation is now a necessity and not a luxury. But there are many obstacles to overcome before new measures and systems can be introduced. How, then, can government-based IT pros begin to eliminate digital inertia, boost efforts, and maintain an appetite for innovation in their respective organisations?
Jumping Through the Right Hoops
It might seem obvious, but it’s important to understand why the government’s digital transformation progress is slower than the private sector’s to help keep these organisations moving forward. One key reason is public sector organisations are beholden to the interests of their stakeholders: the general public. Unlike those of private enterprises, public sector digital projects must meet government policies, laws, and—most importantly—budgets. Because of this, digital transformation often happens in jumps; projects must undergo strict scrutiny and countless approvals, even before launch.
This model doesn’t guarantee success; costs can build up quickly, priorities may change, and deliverables can become outdated. But taking this time helps government IT pros establish realistic goals and see the bigger picture around the digital transformation journey. More interestingly, it allows them to implement agile methodologies and approaches such as DevOps into their projects, allowing for a more streamlined approach to development. In the world of private business, the focus is typically pushing out new offerings and improving based on feedback. For government organisations, improvements can happen throughout the development process, ensuring the result meets the needs of the public the first time around.
Despite the varying approaches, modernisation—let alone digital transformation—remains a challenge where success is never guaranteed for IT pros in both private and public bodies. For the government, innovative ideas certainly help, but having experienced IT pros can add much more value. They can ensure the momentum for digital transformation remains high by tying it to one of the main factors concerning most governments: national risk.
Mitigating Risks Around the Clock
Governments in every country must manage and prepare for a range of critical risks, such as national security, economic stability, and foreign relations. In comparison, the risk of digital transformation seems insignificant and isn’t high on the list of priorities. However, as every experienced government IT pro knows, most digital undertakings inevitably touch or address these areas of risk in one way or another. Budgets and internal support are often funnelled into projects complementing the most important risk policies.
Government IT pros can also go further by highlighting how their digital projects can help mitigate risk rather than just technical or user benefits. This is an approach most IT teams in government organisations can easily adopt, as they often work alongside departments or project owners responsible for some form of risk analysis or management. This presents IT pros with the opportunity to better understand the tools and solutions identifying or tracking national risk, allowing them to suggest more effective additions capable of filling in any gaps. Additionally, risk analysis teams can help advise them on the impact of digital changes. Through these collaborations, IT pros can demonstrate the value of their projects—and themselves—by advising the most suitable digital technologies to tackle emerging cybersecurity threats, such as financial fraud and data theft.
A broader understanding of national risk combined with clear transformation goals will help organisations stay ahead of today’s fast-changing geopolitical landscape. And because governments across most countries largely tackle the same pool of issues, IT pros can learn lessons from the digital efforts of their peers overseas and use these lessons for greater success in the U.K.
Collaborating on the Best Solutions
Sharing knowledge and ideas between government IT pros and the wider public sector community isn’t new. The digital initiatives and best practices of various countries around the world already inspire the U.K.’s digital efforts. Because of this, there are more opportunities for government IT pros to improve their skills than ever before. Public-facing digital initiatives are rarely subjected to the same level of secrecy as their corporate counterparts, mainly due to the lack of competitors. This means any IT pro can connect with peers in a common IT area across the world. They can take note of other successful projects, ask technical questions about the details, share knowledge, and work collaboratively on a scale not easily attained by the private sector.
With this in mind, government IT pros should focus on constantly updating and educating themselves on the latest breakthroughs in other organisations, nations, and conferences and apply them to the U.K.’s needs. They can also bring this curiosity to their relationships with third-party technology partners to identify technological solutions and digital ideas with the potential to benefit the general public.
Digital transformation in government can be challenging. With restricted budgets and more critical priorities taking precedence, IT pros should ensure the projects they propose are cost-effective and relevant to the issues the government is facing. Doing so will help persuade senior leaders of their value and will drive the organisation a little bit further on their digital transformation journey.