Lack of leadership, funding hinder digital success: research

New survey of 24 government departments shows digital leadership is a top concern.

A lack of senior leadership to steer digital transformation in the public sector is the biggest concern of government executives, writes Keiran Mott.

Australia’s goal of having one of the top three digital governments in world could be constrained by a lack of success in implementing digital transformation projects.

Digital transformation minister Michael Keenan recently outlined plans to make interactions and engagement with government easier, and to use data analytics to support more innovative decision-making.

However, while such goals would deliver significant benefits, they will be hampered by the roadblocks preventing the delivery of widespread digital transformation across the public sector.

Keiran Mott

Departments and agencies remain highly reliant on legacy infrastructure and applications, which absorb the vast majority of IT budgets. This leaves little funding for new, transformative projects.

The public sector also tends to operate on short, three or four-year timeframes because of the election cycle. This makes it difficult for any large-scale projects to attract necessary endorsement and funding.

According to a recent survey of senior executives in 115 organisations, including 24 government departments, 60 per cent of respondents nominated a lack of tools and methodologies as the top factor inhibiting the successful completion of digital transformation projects.

Leadership worries

The survey, which was commissioned by FTS Group and Software AG, found 41 per cent indicated a lack of senior leadership was their biggest concern.

The results are concerning and highlight the considerable work to be done within Australia’s public sector if the promises of digital transformation are to be fully realised. In particular, political leaders must clearly communicate that they support these critical initiatives and provide sufficient funding to allow the acquisition of the proper tools for the job.

Other constraints flagged by the survey respondents, who included chief digital officers and CIOs, included a lack of funding (34 per cent) and a lack of leadership from line managers (28 per cent).

Despite a clear need for digital transformation within many departments and agencies, the survey found almost a third (32 per cent) are not using digital technologies to transform their internal processes and workflows.

This suggests organisations not taking advantage of technologies to improve the way they operate face entrenched inefficiencies. Many public-sector managers still only view digital transformation as a way to streamline processes through automation but its potential for adding value is far more profound than this.

Key technology challenges

The survey also sought to understand what key technologies public sector organisations feel will have the most impact on their digital transformation initiatives during the next two years.

Top of the list was cloud computing, nominated by 44 per cent of respondents, followed by mobility (37 per cent), the Internet of Things (35 per cent) and advanced analytics (26 per cent).

These results are not surprising as both cloud and mobile continue to be hot topics within the majority of organisations. However, in reality, cloud and mobile are merely platforms to more easily connect government with the public it serves. What’s more important is what services and solutions will be provided in the cloud or on a mobile device. These are the things that will drive digital initiatives and have a positive long-term impact on government.

Key business challenges

The survey also revealed the key business challenges currently faced by Australian organisations that they are aiming to overcome through digital transformation projects. Their greatest issue was business agility, nominated by 52 per cent of respondents, followed by cost efficiency (45 per cent) and data capture and analysis (37 per cent).

Where cost reduction had been top-of-mind within the public sector, these results show that attention has now shifted to becoming more agile. However, while they are often seen as competing priorities, they are actually two sides of the same coin, and both fall under the umbrella of driving organisational improvement.

Strategies for success

Digital transformation programs can achieve both improved agility and cost reduction if some key guidelines are followed. These include:

  • Establish a digital champion: Assign an individual within the organisation responsibility for driving change and striking a balance between the needs of the business and fiscal discipline.
  • Utilise off-the-shelf products and platforms: Most organisations see their operations and needs as unique and therefore requiring a custom solution. However, this can often be addressed with process change. For example, by establishing ways to automate service delivery, an organisation can decrease the time needed to implement a new policy.
  • Make iterative changes: Rapid, small changes ensure innovation is accessible and less intimidating for an organisation. It also ensures that efficiency improvements happen quickly, freeing up time that can be saved and re-invested. Small wins breed momentum for greater change.
  • Don’t forget the human impact: Technology-focused projects often neglect the human impact of the change. Include a human centred design approach and back that up with a strong change management and training program to ensure the digital initiatives are adopted by people driving the business.
  • Promote internal innovation: By focusing on internal innovation, particularly improving procedures and cutting down on waste, organisations can free up time which can be spent getting more of the usual work done or devoting more time to process improvements. 

By following these guidelines, government departments and agencies will be much better placed to reach the stated goal of being a global top three digital government by 2025. They will be able to take advantage of the benefits offered by new technologies and services to drive efficiencies and improve overall organisational performance.

Keiran Mott is the chief executive officer of Veritec.
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