To Digitally Transform, Focus on People - Canadian Government Executive
E-governmentTransformation
November 16, 2018

To Digitally Transform, Focus on People

It’s important for government executives to continue to accelerate digital transformation while balancing on-going projects and changing the culture and mindset. As a starting point, government leaders can focus activities on three areas that can help accelerate digital transformation.

Public sector organizations are embracing digital transformation, and we’re currently seeing examples of this in all levels of government. But while government executives recognize digital change as essential to their ability to cost-effectively meet the needs and expectations of their citizens, transformation efforts are sometimes hampered by outdated ways of non-agile processes and cultural resistance to change.

In the private sector, digital change is growing exponentially. More often than not, companies are embracing digital tools and platforms as a way to provide exceptional customer experiences, such as tailored products, relevant services, targeted information and shorter wait times.

Citizens’ expectations are being shaped by their experiences with various public and private organizations. Governments also feel pressure from within as public sector employees are looking for new and better ways to service citizens and businesses. They’re also accustomed to using convenient digital tools in their daily lives and want to be able to use those same tools at work.

Accelerating digital transformation

It’s important for government executives to continue to accelerate digital transformation while balancing on-going projects and changing the culture and mindset. As a starting point, government leaders can focus activities on three areas that can help accelerate digital transformation.

  1. Build momentum and learn–early and often

Public sector organizations have typically taken a “big bang” approach to change–working for months or years to get every aspect of a solution perfect before launch. But at today’s rate of change, this approach doesn’t measure up to citizen and employee expectations or needs, and poses greater risk. By the time solutions are implemented, they may already be out of date. This approach can also lead to cost overruns and frustration as there are new requirements and changes needed after launch in order to satisfy citizen and employee needs.

This is why government leaders need to hit the reset button when it comes to implementing change and new solutions. In order to accelerate digital change, a more agile and human-centered approach is needed–one that focuses on making small changes with big impacts. It’s an approach many government entities across Canada are taking, and it will soon become the norm. By focusing on ongoing changes, government leaders can respond quickly to new challenges while making change less intimidating for employees and allowing for new innovations to be incorporated over time.

  1. Procure based on outcomes

Government leaders know what they want to get from digital transformation, such as a one-stop shop for grant applications or a quicker turnaround for passport, health card or driver’s licence renewals. By focusing on outcomes as part of the RFP/Q process, governments can encourage more creative and innovative solutions.

This approach requires transformation leaders to switch mindsets and get out of the “how” business and into the “what they want to accomplish” business. By focusing on the outcomes, government and industry can better partner to find new, innovative and cost-effective ways to deliver the right solutions, which can be scaled to solve today’s issues and tomorrow’s needs. It typically brings together everyone impacted–users, employees and third parties–to develop and test prototypes, understand pain point and adjust course as needed. This approach uses principles of design thinking.

Design thinking works well when you have a problem but no definitive answer. It balances what citizens/employees want and need with government priorities. Since every person is unique, organizations can use principles of design thinking and human-centred design to develop personas to understand what each citizen or employee type wants at different stages of their journey, and test it with these users to constantly ensure we are driving value. I have seen this successfully implemented at all levels of government, and not only is it very powerful, but it leads to faster and more impactful solutions.

  1. Break down silos

In order to accelerate transformation, government leaders need to continue to strive to break down operational silos and forge the relationships needed to solve citizens’ issues. Citizens aren’t picky about what department or program they are dealing with; they simply want to deal with the government as a whole. This helps embed human-centred design into the fabric of the public service.

This change won’t be easy, but it’s worth the effort. Consider that in today’s rapidly evolving environment, about 80 per cent of digital transformations fail–typically because of people issues, not technology. By working together to foster a culture that looks at change as an ongoing opportunity and not a threat, public sector leaders can help make the entire government more agile and able to change.

Starting small and building momentum

When it comes to embracing digital transformation, change should be looked at as a journey rather than as a destination. With the world evolving rapidly, focusing on small human-centred and outcome-driven steps can build long-term success more readily and in a lower-risk way than any single solution.

By starting small and building momentum, government leaders can harness the desire for their employees to make an impact and foster the culture shift needed to take a more agile, citizen-centric approach to service delivery.

About this author

Nadir Hirji

Nadir Hirji, PhD, Partner, Strategy & Digital Services Lead, PwC Canada.

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