Digiterre’s Rajesh Jethwa is named in the top 30 of the 2023 CIO 100
Digital transformation is one of those phrases that easily slips off the tongues of MDs and CEOs for pretty much any sort of business or public sector organisation. It gives the impression of ambition, achievement, success and change – or at least the ambition for great change. Perhaps it’s straight out of the ‘How To…’ guide for keeping shareholders and voters happy! It’s so often just rhetoric and as with so many things, so much easier to say than to do. So just what is it exactly?
We think it’s the process of using digitalization to dramatically improve or benefit the customer or employee experience, concurrent with implementing a partial or completely new business operations model. And note we say ‘dramatically’ improve, which is a relative and certainly not a scientific term, but it says it all – transformation is about significant change, not mere change, enabled by digital technologies totally disrupting the established ways of doing things. So in government, what are the areas where digital transformation is having the most impact? We’ve zeroed in on 5 key areas:
Massive reductions in the cost of computing power and data storage are enabling data sharing at hitherto undreamed of scales between diverse public sector organisations producing new digital ‘ecosystems’. These can connect stakeholders, service providers, partners and citizens – impossible in the pre-digital era. Such platforms provide a hub for collecting, sharing and aggregating data, performing analytics and delivering new and improved services, enhanced more and more with machine learning and artificial intelligence. They help eliminate traditional data-related barriers between organizations and connect all the providers and people who collaborate to deliver a service.
A great example of breaking down barriers is the tech initiatives of Registers of Scotland (ROS), a Scottish government department responsible for property records and a huge library of legal documents. The ROS has developed a major digital platform that presents an application programming interface (API) together with supporting documentation, offering programmatic access to services such as the Land Register for any other government department or indeed any private sector organisation. This enables their customers to embed their services directly into their own workflow systems, such as legal firms across the UK, who can leverage the API to integrate the process into their own internal case management application to better streamline their own business operations.
The holy grail here is ‘putting the citizen at the centre of things’. A couple of years ago an Accenture survey found ‘more than 65% of public service leaders have cited creating a personalized citizen experience as a priority’. This percentage can only have risen since then. What’s more, done well, it can create new opportunities – a seamless digital experience can lead to more than just satisfied citizens: it can help governments actually encourage positive behaviours such as greater voluntary tax compliance. Transforming government services needs much more than just a new portal too. Governments must know the needs, motivations, preferences and pain-points of their ‘customers’. They must also own and shape the entire customer experience. Ultimately, providing a personalized
experience requires digital governments to achieve a higher level of sophistication at every level and in every aspect of their operation—and to apply that standard consistently across thousands of citizen touch points. The especially tough part for governments is that most of the time they’re not introducing totally new offers to citizens – but having to adapt existing ones with legacy infrastructures, that are not only complex in their delivery but absolutely massive too; take Universal Credit as just one UK example.
Government data is frequently kept in silos across a multitude of government departments and even within different parts of the same department, meaning that it can’t be compared or combined for analysis. So-called ‘data virtualisation’ technologies can now be used by leaving the original data in place but then creating a virtual version of it, a real-time reflection of the stored version. This can be combined with other virtualised data and made available to high-speed applications without the time, cost and inevitable errors of physically moving data from its original home. Big data and the deep learning algorithms of AI can now be applied to this data – and all the data, without the problems of sampling errors – to provide precise and predictive analytics with breathtaking benefits for government and citizens alike.
In 2018/19, London achieved top-spot in the Eden Strategy Institute’s Top 50 smart cities of the world largely ‘due to its inclusive approach’ to transformation, narrowly pipping Singapore and Seoul in 2nd and 3rd places. Sensors, cameras, household appliances and
vehicles are among the maze of things now being connected to the Internet. Digital devices will tie together and connect businesses, governments and individuals in an immutable ‘web’ which will change the way governments engage with citizens and deliver outcomes. Smart parking systems, which help drivers more quickly locate available spots—provide an example of connected devices supporting an outcome-focused approach in the public realm. Also, connected and intelligent cameras and sensors can help improve public safety outcomes by providing the police with real-time situational data, such as knife and gunshot detection and alerts of suspicious behaviours.
Now, simplified, autonomous processes exist that provide real-time data about everything from traffic monitoring to weather patterns to business activity. Data collection and analytics continue to improve various aspects of government, with widespread acknowledgement of the necessity of establishing concrete rules for how data will be used. In both the US and UK, from housing and transportation issues to possible causes of high disease rates in particular geographic areas, government departments are now starting to consolidate enormous quantities of data and use sophisticated analytics to learn more about everything.
So the digital revolution we’re all witnessing is not just manifest in our experiences of Google and Facebook, it’s clear most governments around the world are also well on their way to re-engineering themselves on the digital bandwagon. But how many are really transforming themselves to face this extraordinary new era of not only constant technology change but ever faster change? The secret sauce to successful transformation perhaps lies in Accenture’s statement that ‘for an organisation to digitally transform it must put organisational, operational and technological foundations in place that foster constant evolution and cross-functional collaboration’. Any major technical infrastructure change in government today that fails to build in constant evolution is likely to end up delivering transformation rhetoric rather than genuine transformation!
By: Rajesh Jethwa
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