Scaling digital government – up, across and out

Gartner’s Dean Lacheca

Government agencies are looking to become leaner and more efficient. But sometimes bigger can be better.

Scaling government services delivery makes sense if government collaborates and digital is used effectively. The social and economic benefits to society of government’s investment in digital solutions increases significantly when delivered at scale.

To do this effectively means scaling across multiple perspectives – up, across and out. Scaling up through all aspects of a government department delivers organisation and citizen benefits. Scaling across the silos of a local, state or federal government delivers whole-of-government (WoG) and community benefits. Scaling out into the social, community and financial ecosystem that government supports benefits the whole community.

But scaling digital government is inherently challenging. Moving government services to digital channels as solutions to a specific problem, for example, can offer immediate benefits, but may limit the political appetite and budget for further scaling.

Whether you’re scaling up, across or out, all of these dimensions are interdependent. They rely on common technology platforms, leadership, collaboration and governance. But they evolve separately based on many factors unique to their society, including the nature of external pressures such as cultural readiness, as well as the maturity of the ecosystems.

In Gartner’s 2018 CIO survey government CIOs cite culture, insufficient resources and access to talent as top barriers to scaling digital transformation. Large-scale programs across government often struggle with a lack of community trust in governments’ ability to deliver change, competing political or leadership agendas, and existing legislation, governance, accountability, risk and procurement controls.

Digital government comes from humble beginnings. Early e-government programs were linked directly to efficiency and transparency, with the focus on making traditional services available through online channels.

The unfortunate consequence of these early efforts is that some government executives failed to see the benefits of digital, beyond placing citizen-facing online services on top of legacy processes. This resulted in a lack of understanding of the business drivers for digital transformation and a reluctance to commit to the level of organisational change needed.

Digital government is government that is designed and operated to create value for citizens and the community by taking advantage of data in optimising, transforming and creating services. Government organisations that are able to advance their level of digital maturity will be more successful at scaling.

Many governments already have mature digital strategies in place, which also address changes in underlying legislation. The NSW State Government’s digital strategy is a great example. It explicitly states that “frameworks will be established to support new legislation that is digital by design. Legislation that is fit for the digital age does not preclude emerging technology and new digital business models.”

Realising the benefits of digital at scale is about leveraging technologies to transform all aspects of the organisation. This transformation impacts structures and business processes. It also changes how we work with service providers, partners, businesses and constituents. Strong technical and business leadership is needed to succeed.

This level of transformation requires CIOs to identify the right opportunity based on multiple forces – culture, regulation and technology. These forces can then be used as a focus for engaging the rest of the organisation and the rest of government in digital transformation.

Dean Lacheca is a research director at Gartner, advising public sector CIOs and technology leaders on the transition to digital government. He covers topics including digital strategy, digital workplace, open data, government case management and citizen engagement. He is based in Brisbane.


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