This article first appeared in the Winter issue of The Record.
Digital transformation – for many government organisations it means taking advantage of technology to rethink, re-engineer and run their operations more cost effectively and at the same time improve and reinvent their service offerings.
But simply embracing new technology may not be enough. It also requires cultural change and reassessing legacy policy and legislation. According to Paul Hart, director of government marketing at Microsoft, organisations now have the opportunity to change more fundamentally and become successful, digitally-transformed government organisations that make increasingly positive impact on societal challenges.
To help governments make the transition, Microsoft has broken down the complexity of digital transformation into four pillars – optimising operations, transforming services, empower employees, and engaging citizens. Each pillar demonstrates how government agencies can work with people, processes and technology to meet the expanding needs and expectations of the modern citizen.
“When we talk about optimising operations in government, the conversation revolves around taking maximum benefit from cloud computing to increase effectiveness and efficiency,” says Hart. “Leading governments have been steadily optimising their operations from back-end IT to point of delivery for some time. But this has been within the constraints and pressures of legacy systems, budget, policy compliance and pace of cultural change. The cloud accelerates and widens the potential to optimise even further. It means you can shift from capital spending on your own IT to flexible IT services acquisition – even sharing services to reduce costs – and at the same time efficiently contracting the vital high demand skills needed for transformation, analytics, security and operational delivery excellence.”
Hart says that many organisations naturally voice concerns around cloud security, data sovereignty, privacy and compliance, that previously may have been alleviated by the physical location of agency managed servers within a protected government run and financed data centre. But these ‘trust’ issues can be resolved to the highest compliance standards with the right approach to the cloud and partnership.
“Agencies can choose how and where they host different risk levels of data in the cloud by using a hybrid model,” he explains. “This means they can manage their most concerning data and mission critical applications on-premise in a private cloud if that’s what governance requires, while also using public or government community cloud services for less sensitive needs – all while staying compliant with law and policy. With Microsoft and our ecosystem of partners, there are options to match an agency’s data governance and compliance needs to trusted compliant cloud services, solutions and technologies.”
The cloud also presents an opportunity for governments to drive increasing value from growing data volumes and carry out more insightful data analysis. This in turn can improve and optimise operations and services – even suggesting completely new approaches – something which ties in perfectly with Microsoft’s second pillar, transforming services.
“This is about looking at and understanding an organisation’s data in new ways, the trends that are revealed and the outcomes that can be forecast, in a continuous learning process,” Hart explains. “Everything from the effectiveness of a citizen service, to the identification of fraud and waste, to how traffic is flowing, can be analysed to help identify ways to bring about positive impact. It’s the ability to look at data and say ‘actually we can do this in a different and better way.’”
To do this effectively, agencies may have to look at their processes and be open and willing to adapt and change the way they work. In many cases this leads to a focus on the third pillar of digital government transformation – empowering employees. For example, data analysis has flagged that social workers are spending a high proportion of their available time coming back to their office to meet, consult, review and update their case records. The suggested solution could be a more flexible field-based work style and greater usage of managed mobile devices, collaboration tools, and secure cloud connectivity so they can work on the go, without having to return to the main office, saving time and energy.
“Empowering your employees is all about enabling people to do their best work to achieve more for themselves and the citizens they serve,” Hart says. “It’s about helping government employees to do their job more efficiently, with greater flexibility and mobility, when and where they need to work. It’s having access to the information, applications and team you need while staying secure and compliant, without being tied to a government office or internal IT system. Many government workers want to be able to work more with a citizen, client or contractor and have connections to every resource and colleague they need to do their jobs.”
Together, these three transformation pillars all help government organisations to achieve the objective of the fourth pillar – engaging citizens – by delivering the most effective, efficient citizen services either at scale online, through apps and portals or at depth in-person when the human touch is needed.
“Governments need flexibility in how they engage with citizens, and those citizens also have clear expectations about how services get delivered,” Hart says. “People are going to need face-to-face engagement, particularly in areas such as health and human services, and social work where skilled, experienced judgement and evaluation are needed, and for more complex issue or identity resolution. But then citizens also expect less face-to-face engagement or paper form filling if the service can be more convenient and less costly online. If you can do so much on your smartphone, from buying goods to social interaction, citizens may not understand why they need to go to a government office or make a phone call and wait in line to see someone to get a license or start a planning application, or make an enquiry – you should be able to do that online on any device.”
While many paper-based government services are increasingly moving online, the pace of digitisation and automation will increase and enable government organisations to better manage citizen identity issues and engage with their citizens either face-to-face, online or perhaps through intelligent agents that learn as they perform. In the end, citizens expect ‘government as a service’ and digital government provides huge opportunities for better citizen engagement.
These areas of digital government transformation represent a fundamental shift and opportunity in the way government organisations can be run. In fact, Hart believes that the typecast perception of governments as slow moving, paper-centric organisations will fade as a new generation of social, tech-savvy government employees influence the services, operations and workstyles of their agencies.
“The business of government is rapidly changing, and the catalysts of digital transformation are a combination of those innovative government leaders and workers who are driving change and the trusted cloud services and technologies that help them deliver great societal impact,” he concludes. “It’s our job at Microsoft to innovate the solutions and technologies that help government achieve more for their citizens and, jointly with our partners, help government succeed in their mission. This enables governments to do so much more with less, with more capability and positive impact potential than previously possible.”