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Is the Public Sector ready for Digital Transformation (Part 1)

With all the buzz about Digital Transformation (DX) these days, enterprise organizations are receiving a lot of advice and attention. However, the public sector has been somewhat under-served since some of the traditional DX drivers are not there, such as increasing sales revenue. In dealing with public sector customers, particularly state and local governments, I have seen that there are several unique challenges that they face that must be taken into consideration when delivering advisory services.

Here are a few of the key obstacles to DX in the public sector

1) Organizational Challenges - DX is a top down initiative and crosses silos. So, the very organization of the government entities is a challenge. This begs the question, who is the “chief executive” driving and supporting transformation across the government’s siloed structure? As is often observed, while IT is a driving contributor, it is unreasonable to expect IT to have all the answers. We find that if there is no master plan for transformation, the result is often a cacophony of point solutions which misses the ability to share data between functions.

2) Security - Since much of the technology behind digital transformation comes in the form of cloud services, it is imperative to be able to protect citizen data where it sits and as it moves around the hybrid cloud. Studies have indicated that up to 85% of security breaches are due to human error and/or understaffed security teams, not having or following best practices and inability to identify intrusions quickly. Creating and following policies and procedures that incorporate public and private clouds is imperative.

3) Funding - Finding the necessary funding to start a new project is always a challenge. So, public sector organizations face a dilemma: How to do more with less while trying to meet new customer demands. Fortunately, when budget allocations are invested in new, more efficient digital technologies, costs are almost always reduced from current states. Add to that the ability to leverage across departments and functions, and share data, a well-planned initiative can provide dramatic cost savings overall.

4) Legacy Systems – as in the private sector, legacy systems (systems of record) have been around for many years. They are generally reliable and have build up significant data and cannot be scrapped or modernized quickly. The best approach is to integrate cloud-based systems (systems of engagement) and integrate these with existing legacy systems, ensuring a rapid and non-disruptive transformation.

5) New and Broadened Skills – traditionally IT has been called on to provide DX leadership. At the same time, they have been asked, like everyone else, to do more with less. They must find a balance between keeping legacy systems running and upgrading capabilities. So even if they have the skills, they likely don’t have the time. Some of the non-traditional skills needed are around security, change management, project management, data analytics and cross functional collaboration.

6) Impartiality – Not unlike our private sector counterparts, crossing the political, silos and functional areas of government is challenging at best. With each department and function responsible and focused on their own domain the ability to make and influence decisions often works best when outside resources are retained to assist. Not only does this speed the process, but it also provides impartial recommendations and the ability to arbitrate without bias or resentment toward one group or another while ensuring an overall vision and strategy is being followed.

There are many challenges with digital transformation and some unique variations in the public sector. With so many DX projects being deemed disappointments, it is certainly advisable to retain assistance and expertise for your projects.

In my next post, I will address the benefits of digital transformation specifically as it applied to the public sector. The benefits are not all the same as we see in the private sector. But with planning and forethought, the promise of digital transformation can be realized.

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