‘Analog’ operations stymie digital transformation in governments

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The next decade could be a time of watershed change in the way our government operates — if it can overcome a slew of barriers to shift from analog to digital systems.

According to a report released late last week by Deloitte University Press, the needs of an increasingly tech-savvy millennial generation are quickly surpassing those that a primarily analog government is capable of meeting. Budget cuts, an aging pre-Internet generation and general demand are driving the government toward adopting a “digitally mature” model — but agencies are hampered by antiquated office cultures, skill sets and bureaucratic processes.

Deloitte defines “digital maturity” as “the extent to which digital technologies have transformed an organization’s processes, talent engagement, and citizen service models,” and categorizes the organizations surveyed into three groups: early, developing and maturing. After surveying 1,200 government officials globally and interviewing another 140 government leaders and tech experts, Deloitte found that 26 percent of respondents’ organizations are in the early stages of maturity; 60 percent are developing; and only 13 percent are maturing.

Among the chief barriers to public digital innovation cited in the survey are “competing priorities” and “insufficient funding,” with 41 and 39 percent of experts citing them as most significant, respectively. Close behind are “security concerns” and “lack of organizational agility,” tallying at 32 percent and 27 percent.

At the root of the issues, the report finds, may be a lack of leaders ready to embrace the digital age. Only 38 percent of those surveyed felt their leaders had the requisite skills to advance their organization digitally.

“In the new digital era, leaders are required to make decisions more quickly in the face of a constant evolution in the art of the possible,” the report states. “Digitally savvy leadership is a game changer.”

Lack of resolution at the highest rungs of an organization perpetuates a negative trickle down effect, shaping organizational culture and preventing junior workers from acquiring digital skills. More than 85 percent of agencies cite culture as a “challenging aspect of managing the transition to digital.” Seventy-seven percent of those in digitally maturing companies agreed that their organization made digital training resources available, while only 6 percent of those in developing agencies felt the same.

Among the most damaging cultural elements is a deep-seated risk aversion that the report says is preventing companies from following digital trends. Maturing organizations are five times as likely to experiment with risks than developing organizations, the survey found.

“Surprisingly, given American business culture’s emphasis on risk-taking, American business culture’s emphasis on risk-taking,” the report says, “only 18 percent of US government agencies say that digital is altering their organization’s attitude toward risk, among the lowest percentage of any major country.”

Tech leaders moving toward digitalization must develop a clear, coherent digital strategy, the report says.

“Articulate the attributes of a digital-age organization — agency-wide governance focused on the customer, processes that tap into the potential of data, and a passionate and aspirational workforce — and clearly communicate that vision to the workforce,” it says.

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Government IT News, Innovation
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