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Commentary: Government Digital Transformation in the Post-Pandemic Age

“Promises of quick time to value, seamless integrations, lower TCO (total cost of ownership), and greater ROI are being put to the test, and the results aren’t always positive.”

I will probably regret this declaration, but I am calling an official end to the pandemic. Why, you ask? Because as a gov tech CEO, I’m seeing the return of many familiar patterns in government, albeit forever changed by the pandemic.

Teams are starting to return to the office in whole or in part. Industry conferences and events are back in full force. Emergency procurements are moving back toward more measured purchasing and evaluation timelines. Things, seemingly, are feeling more “normal,” and hopefully we do not have another strain or global event that knocks us off course.

But that’s where the similarities for the sector I have known for decades end. The pandemic forced a seismic digital shift in government and its workforce. This leap forward was enabled largely through new technology, innovative leadership and changing constituent expectations of government itself. There has been a sea of new technology adoption during the pandemic, the sector has seen an influx of new leadership from industry and emergence of dynamic leaders from within, and, most importantly, expectations have forever changed for interacting with and working in government. This is all incredibly positive, and I have never been more proud to play some small part in this change.

As the dust settles, however, it’s become clear that a reckoning is happening from the flurry of recent technology adoption. Promises of quick time to value, seamless integrations, lower TCO (total cost of ownership), and greater ROI are being put to the test, and the results aren’t always positive. The government workforce implementing and leveraging new technologies is also straining given the tight labor supply and increased pace of digital services delivery enabled through new technology.

I’ve had the opportunity of joining my team at a number of recent industry conferences and have resumed what I would call a mostly regular travel schedule. What I’m hearing at events and through my interactions with government CXOs nationwide is clear: We bought a lot of new technologies over the past few years, and there has been a huge variance on how these technologies actually perform and deliver. Some have been transformative and exceeded expectations, while others have underwhelmed significantly. The divergence between success and disappointment is miles apart. Even when technologies performed as advertised, the associated pricing surprises have often stunned governments large and small — particularly around e-signature.

Many technologies billed as no/low code promised to make it easier for the government workforce to deliver digital services and add scale to government teams through the existing workforce. When many of those no/low-code technologies did not deliver the quick time-to-value promise, the government workforce was further strained rather than delivering the promised time savings.

This is bittersweet news but not surprising. Just about every technology company that was not working in government only several years ago now has a government-focused business unit repurposing commercial pricing models, features, personnel and functionality directly into government. While government adoption of COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) technology is nothing new, the level of adoption and surge in implementations over the past few years has been unprecedented and strained vendors traditionally focused on servicing non-government customers, as well as an already stretched government workforce.

Government executives, particularly CTOs and CIOs, are celebrating some well-earned wins, milestones and recognitions, but they are also experiencing unforeseen challenges. Did the technology really integrate seamlessly, as advertised? Why is there an army of consultants on site well after implementation, and why do pricing schematics run at odds with servicing constituents? All are questions that unfortunately influence government’s adoption of new technologies.

While I won’t take this opportunity to highlight SimpliGov’s approach to addressing the government digital transformation challenge, I would recommend that government executives ask questions like these of their technology vendor community:
  • How does pricing work for users (named and anonymous) when I digitize constituent services?
  • Will I be charged for every electronic signature/envelope I use?
  • Do I need a different platform for e-signature, electronic forms and workflow automation, and can I use the same platform for constituent-facing workflow and administrative, internal business process workflow automation?
  • What does no/low code really mean, and will I still be in a six-month coding exercise after I’ve bought one of these platforms?
  • How much of your company mission, focus and product development are focused exclusively on the public sector and customers like me?
  • Could my contract price double year over year or worse without a commensurate increase in usage?
  • Is this application truly scalable across my enterprise and will it give me visibility across other applications? In other words, will it add to my enterprise connective tissue or create yet another silo?
  • Will the technology enable my team, be it IT or lines of business, to use the application without constant support needed from the vendor and create an organic team of in-house developers/designers/experts?
  • Will I have to pay for extra government and commercial cloud services and/or be forced to choose between cloud offerings?
  • Can I realistically expect “quick wins” to help generate digital momentum, or are we really looking at months (if not years) before results and value are realized?

Questions like these, along with many others, are important at a time when the world hopefully returns to “normal.” While massive growth in government budgets has fueled unprecedented innovation and investment in cutting-edge technology, every government organization should take the view of building a toolkit for the long term that can scale up (or down) with changing economies, global conditions, workforce and constituent needs. Otherwise, many of the gains made during the past few years may ultimately result in a wave of shelved solutions and missed opportunities to delight constituents and government employees alike.

Most importantly, we may fail to capitalize on this generational opportunity to finally close the divide between government and commercial technology innovation and constituent experience.
Gary Leikin, CEO of SimpliGov, brings more than 20 years of senior executive leadership experience to this role. Before joining SimpliGov, Leikin served as Global Vice President at Frost & Sullivan, where he was responsible for building global professional services teams. Leikin has deep experience driving digital transformation strategy and building high-growth recurring revenue businesses, and holds an MBA from the UCLA Anderson School of Management.