Digital transformation is nothing new in the private sector. In virtually every industry, companies are using digital technologies such as social, mobile and cloud computing to upend traditional business models and create new ways of meeting consumer needs in an always-on world.   


The public sector also has an opportunity to use digital technologies to interact with citizens in entirely new ways. According to an IDC study sponsored by Salesforce, 80% of U.S. adults used a smartphone in 2016, while only 45% of government employees used a smartphone and the vast majority still used a desktop computer (81%) over a laptop (70%) or tablet (26%).


As citizens increasingly use digital technologies in their daily lives, government agencies need to undergo a digital transformation in order to meet their needs. Casey Coleman, Salesforce's Senior Vice President of Global Government Solutions, notes that “the government of the future will be organized around the citizen, and no longer will the public have to navigate a complicated bureaucracy to figure out where to get service. Through modernizing technology, government organizations will not only add functionality but also gain the trust of their customers and constituents.”


Can the same digital technologies that have transformed the private sector help public agencies improve efficiencies and better serve citizens and businesses?


We believe they can. So if it’s possible, how can Chief Information Officers (CIOs) and technology executives at public agencies start to tackle digital transformation and IT modernization in their own organizations?


The Challenges and Opportunities of Digital Transformation


Public agencies face unique challenges when it comes to acquiring, implementing, and using digital tools and technologies. During a recent Leading Edge webcast, Andrew Bartels, Vice President and Principal Analyst at Forrester Research, noted four differences that dictate how technology operates in the public sector vs. the private sector: tighter budgets, rules and regulations around staffing, the need to serve a wide range of users, and regulations around contracting and disclosure of data and public information.


However, Bartels says, these challenges also present opportunities: “Agencies can begin to look at cloud solutions as the way to manage resource issues, budget issues and the wide spectrum of usage, and still do so in a way that complies with rules and regulations.”


Another thought leader on the topic, Rusty Pickens, the Founder and Principal of 580 Strategies and former Senior Advisor for Digital Platforms at the U.S. Department of State, said during the webcast: “The government should not be in the business of running servers and worrying about managing contracts and operations. By migrating many of their operations to the cloud, government agencies can put these services into the hands of people who do a really good job at it, so they can get back to the business of serving citizens.”


From Citizen Frustration to Satisfaction


Some government agencies are beginning to use digital tools to improve the way they engage citizens. One good example is the Department of Motor Vehicles. Today, many state DMV agencies are using online tools to let citizens schedule appointments, renew driver licenses and vehicle registrations, and perform other tasks. Bartels says that “by using these technologies, many DMVs have seen citizen opinion go from low to high.”


At the local level, some cities are using digital technologies to improve the way they manage water services and other utilities for residents. Bartels notes that in his hometown in New York, the city has installed electronic water meters that collect data on water usage so it doesn’t need to send trucks or people out to read meters. 


Steps to Accelerate Digital Transformation


So just how can CIOs and IT executives at public agencies begin to tackle digital transformation and the mass migration to cloud services? They can start by taking these three important steps:


  • Start small. It’s never too late to get started with digital transformation or to accelerate current efforts. As Pickens says, “it’s going to take a lot of years, and a lot of money, and a lot of concerted effort across the federal government to move all these things to the cloud.” He advises IT managers to pick a pilot project and start experimenting.

  • Improve processes. Another important step for agencies embarking on digital transformation is examining their current operations and processes and looking for ways to improve them. “First, it’s important to look at the processes you have, especially those that touch citizens,” says Bartels. “Identify any gaps, performance issues, cycle times, and results that are not meeting your expectations, and look at opportunities to improve those.”

  • Collaborate. Whether at the federal, state or local level, government agencies can share information and best practices on what is working for them. For example, the federal government created a CIO Council to share challenges and solutions across agencies, Pickens says. Eventually, it created FedRAMP to certify cloud vendors pre-approved by the government, which state and local agencies can borrow from.


By using new digital tools and migrating more services to the cloud, public agencies can get back to the business of providing services to citizens and improving their interactions with the government.


To listen to the full Leading Edge webcast, "Accelerating Digital Transformation in the Public Sector" tune into SF Live  by clicking here.