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Waiting for Digital Transformation in the Public Sector

Items of Consideration as Agencies Embark on their Digital Modernization Journey

Authored By: Ivan Beraha - Business Development Director, U.S. IP Solutions

Watching the famous Becket’s play Waiting for Godot is painful, not in the craftsmanship of the prose or theatrical merits, but in the knowledge, that Didi and Gogo (the main characters) are on their own, and the fictional Godot will never show up. While a lot is said over the course of its two acts, famously not much changes in the end. Attempt at change in public sector feels like this sometimes. The expectation is for us to be able to leverage digital technology in a way that’s transformational in just a few months, only to find the constraints (of policy, process and people) turn that vision into a multi-year project that is destined to not meet expectations. In this blog, I want to help government executives figure out how to stop waiting and start doing by examining three types of constraints before they embark on their digital transformation journey: fixed, fixable and fictitious.

Fixed Constraints for Transformational Government

By their very mandate, governments at all levels are ruled by laws, their behavior directed by policy, and their actions monitored and scrutinized by both legislature and the public. Striving for an ever-more effective and efficient government operation has its boundaries – the most effective way to accomplish a task may be the one not allowed by the legislation. Other approaches are politically untenable or simply wrong. Say, for example, a government tries to renegotiate its obligations with its firefighters or police department because a new digital system cannot process benefits or overtime pay in a matter described by the union MOU. This may mean renegotiating the benefits meant to reward and protect the very people who stood up and protected us from the pandemic – our first responders.

Being a successful digital transformer requires one to be a well-informed consumer. Challenge your team not only to adopt, but embrace change, up to a point. Having a realistic understanding of legal and political boundaries is important for a successful transformation. Be cautious of workarounds and, if they indeed are necessary to adopt, seek to understand and quantify their true long-term cost for your team as well as the ramifications of their potential operational failures. A new digital system meant to bring efficiency in government but that requires additional personnel to manually process workarounds twice a month fails to achieve the overall objective.

Fixable Constraints we can Overcome with Transformational Government

All digital transformations have their analog component – their people.

The silver tsunami of retirees eligible to leave the governments across the nation are likely to create a large knowledge vacuum in their wake. At the same time, adoption of new digital resources, while exciting, may require additional learning and skilling up – something the employees would have to do while they are expected to continue to perform their “day jobs”. 

Work with your vendors to better understand, and then quantify and qualify, the demands that their digital transformation will place on your organization. Is your organization able and willing to dedicate 50 FTEs over the course of the next two years for this modernization? Digital transformations will ask for your best people. And, in most cases, for the very reasons that likely make them your best people, they too will want to be a part of it. Are you able to adequately backfill them with others within the organization, provide them the training and support they need to remain successful without jeopardizing the mission and their tasks? Does the speed of your hiring process allow you to hire the right individuals and make them productive in time to adequately staff your operations and the new initiative?

The good news is – you can overcome these barriers by being prepared, being realistic and then working with your digital transformation partner. While a vendor may tell you the people they need, a partner will work with your team to help absorb the ebbs and flows of an implementation.

By all means, encourage your teams to embrace their inner-four-year-old: ask “why”? Sometimes thrice. The only way to truly transform is to challenge the status-quo by confirming the real constraints. If after a thoughtful inspection none are found, don’t accept “that’s how we’ve always done it” as an acceptable answer. This is how teams come together: by members politely challenging each other and creating a group change mentality.

We can all gain knowledge through training, but wisdom only comes with experience. So, ask your trusted partner to share what they know works well. They certainly haven’t seen it all, but they have seen and learned a lot. If this digital transformation is all they do, and they have been at it for a while, encourage them to share it and be willing to try it out.

Use the fact that you do not compete with your peer government. Their best practice is not their competitive market edge over you, and chances are they are very willing to share them. So, look for a partner who will embrace and encourage this communication across their client base, seek your peers and encourage the members of your team to do the same. You all share the same mission – to provide the best and most effective service to your constituents, not gain the market share.

Fictitious Barriers for Government Transformation

Since new digital tools are so much easier to configure and use than the tools of past, there is a tendency to underestimate, sometimes by a lot, how much time it takes to complete a digital transformation. After all, as we said earlier, all digital transformations have an analog component. While getting tangible, verifiable benefits early in the project, and enjoying them often, be mindful of overpromises. At least, do your best to vary them with a comparable peer client. The fiction of the overpromise can be very deflating to the overall mission and many times it may come with real financial consequences.

We implement digital transformations differently, using an agile approach: we iterate, we experiment early and often, and we adapt – all great practices for visualizing and measuring progress. These practices allow us be more effective at creating the end product, and if done right, do shorten delivery by promoting tangible solution elements sooner.

Sometimes simply asking a question differently or exploring a new forum for team discussions results in a better outcome. Embracing design thinking is an integral part of this process change. Start by discussing the business need that drives the process, which is facilitated by the digital solution. Embracing this approach can be a very eye-opening experience for an organization, voices that aren’t often heard participate, share their knowledge and build a common mindset. Reframing challenges in human, not system terms, can lead to different solutions with surprisingly effective outcomes.

Stop Waiting. Start Doing

Public sector digital transformations is what CGI does. Our teams have the understanding, the experience and the excitement to drive government transformations. We have a shared vision and the same values as our clients.

To learn more about our approach to design thinking, human centered design and how to get started with a goal in mind, … Suggestions for what the reader can start doing right now (with or without CGI)

About the Author:

With more than 20 years leading client digital transformations, Ivan is a Lead Solution Architect in CGI's Strategy and Operations team public sector practice, working on with some of CGI's largest, most strategic and complex public sector opportunities.

Ivan architected and executed complex partnership engagements working closely with clients, leading application providers and industry experts to create the best of breed, award-winning solutions.

Ivan leads program marketing and strategy briefings for industry analysts, as well as the CGI team at national conferences and symposiums where he shares his thought leadership, industry best practices and represents CGI and its Advantage ERP program.

CGI manages complex, multi-stakeholder information technology projects, integrating, streamlining and modernizing systems and business processes to reduce costs and better serve citizens.