Governments aren’t businesses – but should act more like them, says Gartner

Government agencies will always have different priorities than commercial businesses, but they can learn a lot from them.

So says Rick Howard, government research agenda manager with leading IT analyst group Gartner. He was speaking at the firm’s Data and Analytics Summit, held in Sydney on 26-27 February.

“Public trust in institutions is at an all time low,” Mr Howard said at a special breakfast for public sector CIOs at the conference. “But democracy rests on trust. The better government can deliver its services, the more it will be trusted.”

H presented some of the results of Gartner’s 2018 CIO Agenda Survey, which gathered data from 3,160 CIO respondents in 98 countries. It included 461 government CIOs, which enabled a comparison of government ICT priorities with those in the private sector.

“Government ICT expenditure is generally similar to that in outside of government,” he said. “But there is one area of difference. Government agencies generally spend less on predictive analytics.”

Data from the survey showed that 27 percent of private sector CIOs said their organisations regarded business intelligence (BI) and analytics as a technology priority, compared to only 18 percent of government CIOs.

On the other hand, spending on cloud was a priority for 19 percent of government CIOs, compared to just 8 percent in the private sector. And digital transformation was the top-ranked business priority among government CIOs overall, followed by security and governance.

“Governments need to manage risk, and often that can be an inhibitor of innovation,” said Mr Howard. “But BI and predictive analytics can be beneficial to the management of risk. They can help you understand what your clients or customers – or citizens – want. They expect much more than they did a decade ago.

“Digital transformation revolves around data. Public sector CIOs need to focus on expanding their data and analytics capabilities and creating a data-centric culture, by increasing the availability of open data for internal use and public consumption. Building out data analytics infrastructure is fundamental to improving government program outcomes and services to citizens.”

Most of what government does is essentially a service, and they should be comparing themselves with other service industries, not other government agencies. What are the top performers in finance and health doing?”

The higher government expenditure on cloud, he said, was essentially catch-up. “There was a lot of consolidation of government data centres a decade or so ago, before the cloud revolution. Consolidation became the new government business model and a lot of investment went into maintaining data centre. Now there is a new transition happening.”

Mr Howard urged government agencies to experiment more with new technologies. Too often culture was an inhibitor. This is true of any organisation, but he said it was especially true of government. “It’s a battle between the ‘Art of the Possible’ and the ‘Tyranny of the Actual’. In government, culture seems to be a bigger inhibitor to innovation than a lack of resources or a lack of talent.”

The survey found that digital business and digital transformation is more important for government (first priority for 18 percent of respondents) than for all industries (17 percent). Private sector companies ranked it second, after growth and market share. The next three business priorities for government are security, safety and risk (13 percent,; governance, compliance and regulations (12 percent); and technology initiatives and improvements (11 percent).

“Government CIOs have conflicting priorities. They need to bring transformative change to their organisations, while pursuing compliance-oriented priorities,” said Mr Howard. “They will need to work constructively with other business leaders to agree how to balance risk and innovation to support digital transformation.”

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