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Digital Transformation - Who's in Charge Here?


I was recently reading several surveys regarding Digital Transformation in the public sector, specifically state and local governments. In several recent surveys of state CIOs that I have seen, some revealing statistics were uncovered.

• Only 28 percent of state CIOs said their organization has a strategy for migrating legacy applications to the cloud already in place, and 17 percent had no such strategy in place.

• Only 10 percent of state CIOs said their states have finished moving to an off-premise as-a-Service solution, and 31 percent said there were no plans to do so.

• Over half of state CIOs said the current status of their state’s digital government is not formally defined; 45 percent said it’s informally defined and 10 percent said it’s undefined.

• 17 percent of state CIOs say their approach to delivering digital government services is ad hoc or not defined.

These statistics reveal that if you feel your state doesn’t yet have a strategy for digital transformation, you are not alone. And if you do have one, it may well be languishing in its own wake. Why is this? Anecdotally, there are several reasons that I believe this is the case. Here are just a few of them.

1) Digital transformation is a bit of a misleading term. Perhaps a better term would be operational transformation or engagement transformation. The leading term, digital, implies that digital is what we are transforming, which is inaccurate. Technology is positioned as the goal rather than as a vehicle for achieving the goal. In fact, what we are transforming is how we operate and/or engage with citizens and constituents. Digital is the tool we use, not the outcome we desire.

2) It has to start at the top. It is often located in the wrong place. The term, by its very nature implies that the place for the transformation to reside is in IT, thus they are often viewed as the home for digital transformation. Never mind that they are fully consumed with day to day operations, security issues, resource shortages, technology refreshes, and maintaining legacy systems for starters. Are they really the place to redesign operations, roles and responsibilities outside of their departments, reconcile and align competing departmental goals, resolve the political implications and perform change management functions?

3) Transformation should begin with a vision in mind, not of IT, but of the customer/citizen’s needs. What is the experience that the citizen should expect from government. Can we eliminate the need for a citizen to put in the same information on multiple forms and portals? Can we gather insight into their needs and priorities from their digital behavior? Can we serve them better at a lower cost? The answers are yes, but only if there is an overall vision that comes from government leaders – governors and mayors. A recent MIT Sloan article identifies nine elements of digital transformation in three major categories: transforming the customer experience, transforming operational processes, and transforming business models, all of which fall outside the purview of IT.

4) Legacy systems are stable and can’t endure change. So, add to everything else that governments have been running on much the same systems and software for decades. Data is massive and while not integrated, it is reliable. These systems cannot be disrupted so whatever transformation needs to occur needs to maintain the data and integrity of these sacred systems. Yet it is undeniable that they will have to change at some point. This of course underscores the need for a strategic plan with desired outcomes, priorities and timeframes that cover not only the technology but also the people and processes that will be impacted.

Much is written about Digital Transformation in the private sector but seemingly less about the challenges faced in the public sector. In many ways they are similar, and in many ways, they are quite different. We at Nikia Solutions specialize in working with state, local and federal entities to help them plan and realize the promise of Digital Transformation through customer experience and operational process transformation.


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