How can comprehensive, full-scale digital transformation be effectively implemented in the public sector? It’s a question that governments all around the world are wrestling with – a question that, if addressed successfully, could have enormous benefits.
A 2014 analysis conducted by McKinsey & Company suggests that government digitization could free a total of up to $1 trillion every year in economic value worldwide, thanks to improved cost and operational performance. Those are savings that governments, in all countries and at all levels, cannot afford to miss out on.
But public sector digitization is no easy task. The sector must cope with a heavy burden of complex issues that make digital change particularly difficult to implement, such as systems and data that are owned and operated by different departments and hosted on different platforms as well as the lack of a central owner for nationwide IT infrastructure. Other, less technical issues also come into play, including the challenge of maintaining strategic continuity in constantly-changing political environments.
However, despite these clear challenges, a number of government initiatives have achieved deeper and broader public sector digitization by drawing on best practices from the private sector and translating them into the public context. The following success stories help illustrate those practices which have proved most effective.
Securing broad and profound commitment to clear digital targets.
2012 saw the launch of gov.uk, the UK government’s new public services platform. Widely recognized as one of the world’s most accessible digital-government services, gov.uk is a place where citizens, businesses, and government users alike can obtain correct, efficient, and wide-ranging information and services.
The project was overseen by the UK’s Government Digital Service, the cabinet office that administers digital strategy for the country and implemented the broad digitization of its service provisioning. It is precisely the strong central leadership of this office that helped gov.uk become the success it is today. The Government Digital Service gained the technological capability, as well as much-needed buy-in, by including experienced digital leaders from a variety of public departments in the process.
Additionally, the organization’s specific mandate helped guide execution and raise awareness. Transparency was also a key part of its activities; the unit regularly published its strategy and targets, and frequently reported on its actual performance against those targets.
Keeping the end users in mind during the redesign process.
User-centered design is not just for companies – governments also need to prioritize the needs of the citizens who will be using their e-government services. In 2011, the Netherlands released its government-wide implementation agenda for digital services. Known as i-NUP, the agenda aimed to improve the user experience by boosting convenience and cutting back on red tape.
These expediency measures included not asking multiple times for data that had already been included in a previous basic registration. The redesign also involved setting up municipalities as “citizens’ desks” equipped with a website and central phone number that could serve as a first line of contact for users to field or refer questions as appropriate.
Acquiring and fostering the right talent.
The specific technological skills required to complete digital transformation are in high demand, and government organizations often have a difficult time competing against the higher salaries, entrepreneurial culture, and more structured career paths that the private sector offers. In order to attract enough high-level IT talent for their digital projects, governments have had to get creative.
In South Korea, where the majority of government IT infrastructure is centralized in just a few data centers, the country leverages the size and breadth of those centers to offer IT staff meaningful career trajectories that provide the opportunity to manage data on a massive scale. The UK takes the approach of providing accelerated career and promotion opportunities for high performers as a way of encouraging talented IT personnel to make the switch from the private sector.
Improving decision making through big data and analytics.
Leveraging data to support decision making is commonplace in the private sector, but far less so in the public sector. However, that changed in the US in 2009, when the government constructed a legal and privacy framework for open data that resulted in the creation of data.gov.
This remarkable storehouse of government information, tools, and resources makes more than 85,000 data sets available to private citizens and businesses for use in everything from web and mobile app development to personal research. To further capitalize on this wealth of available information, a variety of competitions have sprung up – such as Apps for Democracy and Apps for America – which motivate talented developers to create new applications that use government data.