• March 18, 2016

Government Digital Transformation Needs a Holistic Vision

This article is written by Jack Story, Distinguished Technologist at Hewlett Packard Enterprise. Click here to learn how HPE can help you go further, faster, through accelerating transformation and driving innovation in your organization.

If you have had any sort of connection to the Federal or State Governments in Australia over the past several years, you will not have been able to escape being drawn into the ongoing discussion over how Digital Transformation is going to change everything.


Change driven by the next generation of innovative technologies is well-advanced in the private sector, and is benefiting customers and corporations alike, as even more efficient and effective ways of doing business are discovered on a regular basis.

And now something very like that same change is coming to Australia’s departments, agencies and authorities.

Some aspects of this change are similar.

The private sector’s primary aim is to meet the needs of its customers, with the eventual result being revenue and profit. The public sector doesn’t have the same profit incentive — instead, it works in the public interest. But it still has a key group whose needs it aims to meet: Australian residents, businesses and other organizations who use its services.

There too, many of the emerging class of tools for change — as well as the methods for implementing them — are almost exactly the same.

The ‘customers’ of a major welfare department, for example, are primarily welfare recipients, who access services through many of the same channels as they would a major bank: The department’s website, its call centre, mobile apps, and even social media.

Likewise, core IT transformation initiatives at such payments-focused departments have been compared to the core banking overhaul projects which are being carried out by Australia’s major banks.

The drivers for change, too, can be quite similar.

A common comment received by government departments is that Australians no longer want to engage with the public sector through traditional channels. In the past, it was common for paper forms to drive much of government work. But now there is an expectation that everything should be digital.

Australians are wondering why engaging with their governments can’t be more like engaging with Google, say, or Apple. They expect government services to be digital-ready, to be always available, and to work seamlessly from each of their personal devices, in a way tailored to them personally.

The internal drivers, too, are familiar.

While Government departments don’t usually aim to make a profit, they do face ongoing pressure to make sure their operations are as efficient as possible and to avoid wasting public funds. This is a driver shared with the private sector.

However, when it comes to implementing Digital Transformation in the public sector, there is often one major difference: The size of the broader ecosystem that must be taken into consideration.

The role of government is not only to provide essential services to the community, but also to work closely with a broad ecosystem of stakeholders who leverage those services and enhance the role of government.

For example, a taxation agency not only interacts with individuals on taxation, but also directly with a large community of tax professionals and financial advisors. A welfare agency works directly with countless employment and healthcare organisations.

At a state level, roads and transport authorities interact with groups ranging from vehicle manufacturers and retailers to insurers. Education departments form a closely interlinked network with universities, schools and other providers.

This level of interconnection does occur in the private sector, but usually at a reduced intensity; typically ecosystems surrounding government organisations are larger and more complex, as well as being subject to more regulatory controls.

What this means is that any Digital Transformation agenda implemented in government will also have the potential to further enhance or to cause disruption to this wider ecosystem.

With this context in mind, there are two key learnings which can be seen in successful Digital Transformation programs in Government over the past few years.

Firstly, the key aim of Digital Transformation agendas should always be to heighten the level of engagement which citizens and residents have with the government. When driving a Digital Transformation project (large or small), you can’t be afraid of disrupting other activities which are taking place around a department or agency’s core mission.

The famous Innovator’s Dilemma theory as outlined by Harvard professor Clayton Christensen is applicable to the public sector. The reality is that technology will eventually disrupt government activities and the ecosystem around them; the best way to tackle this change is to embrace it and move with it.

However, secondly it is also important that when governments accelerate change through Digital Transformation agendas, they must also enable the ecosystem around that change.

Private sector corporations have the luxury of deciding their strategy almost unilaterally because of their singular profit motive; this is not the case with governments, who are ultimately answerable to many different internal and external stakeholders, including, of course, voters!

Thus, when driving Digital Transformation, governments must carefully consider the broader ecosystem that will be affected by this change.

In this sense, governments must be both courageous, but also cautious; bold but also strategic. It’s a difficult path to walk, but ultimately to drive major Digital Transformation projects in the public sector, it is not only the energy needed for innovation that is needed, but also the insight to shape that innovation in a way that will balance out the needs of various stakeholders; and the patience to see the process through.

In short, what is needed to successfully drive Digital Transformation projects in government is a little thing called ‘wisdom’. Wisdom drawn from understanding and experience.

The good news is that HPE has a great deal of experience in working with governments on precisely this kind of change.

In the past, undergoing Digital Transformation might have felt like walking down a path which nobody has previously trodden. But although each organization breaks fresh ground, history has shown that there are common elements between different organizations undergoing this form of transformation.

As the Economist Intelligence Unit has recently explored, these common elements mean that standard frameworks can be applied to your organization’s journey, with elements ranging from exploring the end-game business model to finding an optimal IT architecture and building security into your Digital Transformation.

We can bring our experiences to bear in a true partnership, where collaboration between people can come towards with empowering technology and transformative ideas to accelerate change. Whatever stage of Digital Transformation your organization is at, there is no doubt that we can help.

Digital Transformation is not an easy journey — but it is a worthwhile one, and ultimately, a necessary one. Whether it’s leveraging big data for smart city governance, enabling a mobile workforce or improving the citizen experience of dealing with the public sector, we’ve been down all of these paths before — and we can help you walk the same way, successfully.

We understand the unique challenges that governments face — whether it be bringing a complex ecosystem with you on your Digital Transformation journey, or ensuring that security remains a core focus as underlying platforms change.

Click here for examples of how HPE has helped the public sector globally undertake the Digital Transformation journey — and to get in touch to talk about the next steps in accelerating change.