Changing demographics, and a relentless drive to realise efficiencies. Public sector organisations need to catch up on digital modes of service delivery to satisfy their sophisticated citizens, innovate new services and trim operating budgets.
In a recent Civica survey conducted by the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) to learn the drivers of digital transformation in the public sector, 93 per cent of senior decision makers listed mobile as useful or extremely useful followed by automation (90 per cent) and business intelligence (88 per cent). Web-enabled services (87 per cent), third-party integration (81 per cent) and user interfaces (75 per cent) were also common considerations. But in keeping with the sensitive nature of public sector data protection, cyber security topped the list with 96 per cent of respondents.
But many public sector organisations are confused on where to start and how to prioritise constrained budgets against competing demands for business-as-usual services and physical infrastructure. Further hemmed in by cultural inertia and mixed signals from leaders who may lack necessary change management skills, organisations who recognise they need to move with the times are seeking out ‘digital transformation sherpas’ to guide them on their journey.
Digital transformation challenges budgets, leadership and citizen engagement
Digital transformation is complex and challenging by its nature. It’s why the Australian Government established its Digital Transformation Agency modelled on the UK Government Digital Service, and President Obama mandated the United States Digital Service – to facilitate transformative processes that deliver better services to citizens more efficiently.
And while such an agency is useful at the Commonwealth level, local and state governments are left to their own devices. The need for digital transformation capability is especially acute at the local government level where budget trade-offs between physical and digital infrastructure hinders transformation as innovation agendas are pushed down the priority list. Organisations that are less digitally mature may also lack change management capability, a clear and executable vision for expected benefits, and yet to engage citizens and stakeholders in the dream of better services through digital technologies.
Other factors hampering public sector digital transformation include:
- Historical preference for providing face-to-face or counter services
- Community ambivalence or poor understanding of digital’s benefits
- Change-resistant or risk-averse culture hostile to digital’s promise
- Lack of resources and digital talent to execute transformation program
- Leadership unable to formulate a sound strategy while articulating vision
- Poor data sharing practices within the organisation and with external partners
- Tension between protecting citizens’ data and granting access to trusted partners to deliver services
- Balancing business-as-usual with disruptive or innovative projects.
Recognising these challenges, local governments strongly favour partnerships to speed their transformation. UTS and Civica recently found that 58 per cent of senior local government decision makers said partnering with each other was essential for success, while 54 per cent looked to partner with external consultancies, and private organisations (49 per cent). State and Commonwealth partnerships rated just 34 per cent and 16 per cent, respectively.
Civica Digital partners for change from idea to execution
Many public sector organisations turn to Civica to help them with their digital transformation. Helping them along the journey is Civica Digital, a division within the Civica Group that employs 1000 experts in digital transformation – about a quarter of Civica’s global staff.
As a trusted partner for over 500 public and private sector organisations, Civica Digital supports clients at every step from strategy and consulting to cultural change management, building information infrastructure, and delivering managed services to the successful program, says Civica Digital Technology Director, Tim Ebenezer.
“We offer the whole lifecycle including modernising the workplace, advising on technology, vision and roadmap through to execution,” Ebenezer says.
A key part of Civica’s value proposition is its knowledge transfer and mentoring of senior management teams, he says. Civica Digital recently took a financial services provider on a digital transformation journey to disrupt its business model by providing high-volume, self-service consumption of its offerings. Ebenezer says the organisation took a leap of faith that they could increase profitability and service levels, which would be challenging without a trusted adviser.
“We took their leadership team to an understanding of how to survive and prosper. They had to go through significant change and understand shifting market forces,” he says. “This meant massive change to the back office, eliminating waste through automation, and adopting digital processes and services. They’re now leaner, more efficient and delivering better customer service at scale than they could before.”
Resistance to change extends through an organisation, he says: “In some of the secure government projects we work on, there’s a more conservative risk appetite that can lead to a more pessimistic view of change.”
Having a full-service partner removes the need to orchestrate suppliers. The UK’s South Gloucestershire Council contracted Civica Digital as a commercial delivery partner to deliver a full-service transformation from setting strategy and cultural change management, to discovering user needs through experimentation, and publishing web-facing digital services. Under the two-year contract, Civica Digital will provide a digital customer platform to provide residents with a better user experience and save costs through access to real-time information and streamlined everyday service delivery.
“As part of our relationship, we have joint planning sessions at which we were recently brainstorming how we can adopt emerging digital technologies like artificial intelligence, automation, and the Internet of Things (e.g. intelligent sensors),” Ebenezer says
As part of its strategy to capture repeatable business processes, Civica filters lessons learned through engagements such as South Gloucestershire into its other products and services for the benefit of clients around the world.
Change champions, co-design and experiments light a fire under digital programs
Ebenezer advises organisations to start small with an experiment before jumping into a major change program. A discovery project to test the waters will learn what works for an organisation given its culture and maturity level. Project management techniques such as Agile delivery and rapid iteration can be deployed to great effect but each organisation is different and so the methodology must adapt.
It’s important for future adoption and stakeholder engagement not to presuppose the outcome of such experiments, he says.
“There’s always a risk with transformation programs that set out with the solution in mind, and there’s a danger that you don’t properly engage with the users’ needs or bend them to fit your solution,” he says.
Civica collaborates with organisations to evolve solutions in a process called ‘co-design’, which involves end-users in a design process that ensures the result meets their needs and is useable. In terms of government service delivery, co-design involves agencies, citizens and Civica collaborating on a service that particular community finds fit for purpose. This provides the most efficient use of resources, delivers maximum benefits, and identifies ‘change champions’ who will smooth the implementation path.
Ebenezer says change champions are especially important for any successful digital transformation program.
“It goes back to grassroots, campaign building. Getting an effective change champion program in place for any effective culture change is huge because it’s about empowering people in the organisation,” he says.
“If you have a change champion program working alongside a user research and discovery program there’s a huge amount of buy-in you can get because—in an Agile, iterative approach – people see their needs being met and spread the word.”
And it’s not restricted to the C-suite; anyone can be a change agent.
“It’s about people standing up to the danger of inertia where we’re not moving forward. Getting more change agents in the organisation is low-hanging fruit that will lead to more successful program delivery.”
Speed bumps on the way to a digital-first future
Leaders of public sector organisations may have their digital transformation vision challenged by hurdles that span business and human domains, found researchers Hudson, Hardy and ors. Barriers to delivery of a successful change program are:
- Structural – Service responsibility fragmentation across agency boundaries
- Financial – Differences in funding models and timings
- Procedural – Differences in planning horizons
- Professional – In ideology and values
- Status and legitimacy – Concern for threats to autonomy and domain.
Australian public sector decision makers list constrained budgets as their No.1 impediment to digital transformation and change programs (69 per cent) with organisational culture (65 per cent) close behind. Exposing how technology is seldom the fly in the ointment, just 37 per cent said pace of technological change stood in their way. And following difficulty in matching user expectations (32 per cent), a quarter of respondents listed conservative leadership hindering their efforts.