Digital transformation in government: 3 reasons THIS is your year


In this piece: 

It’s been many years since I saw my first workflow automation solution. Hating paper as I did, and facing a compliance challenge at my state agency, I immediately saw the potential of automation to answer some challenges my housing department faced.

I was an IT Director and at that time and had more faith in the power of technology than others. I had no trouble shifting my paradigm, but my peers… not so much. They humored me, but I did not mistake that for acceptance that we could “go digital.”

Jump forward to today’s modernized marketplace, we constantly hear about digital transformation many countries have “digital first” initiatives well underway, or even completed.

In the U.S., this transformation and its potential can intersect with other state IT needs like consolidation, centralization, improved security and better efficiency.

That’s the internal side, but the external side is also critical to consider.

With each of us carrying a smartphone, our customers’ expectations have never been higher. And the old phrase, “customer service,” is being replaced with a hard look at “customer experience.” In the past decade, our staffs connect with customers and make strides every day because of the technology our smartphones put into our pockets.

Today, “going digital” is widely accepted. But it may feel like an overwhelming burden, particularly if you are already understaffed and facing modernization while fighting off cyber attacks. So, while we no longer need a staff paradigm shift to go digital, we may be wary of taking on yet another far-reaching initiative or another strategic value.

Moreover, as a CIO or IT Director, there is no shortage of IT trends you’re expected to evaluate and chase. Cyber-security pokes at us, blockchain and AI are peeking around the corner and you may still be doing an inventory to figure what IoT means for you. These are important trends to watch, but here are three reasons why digital transformation needs to be at the top of your list:

3 reasons for government to embrace digital transformation

1. Persistent budget uncertainty

The volatility of state revenues is historic.  

Tax code changes and their revenue impact shift from state government to state government, not to mention from whoever holds the power from one term to the next.

We don’t know if, or when, state budgets will change, but we do know that digital transformation offers continuous staff efficiency improvement and cost reductions.

2. The indefensibility of paper-based process

Earlier, I alluded to the change in expectations driven by the devices we carry.  

States fall behind in customer experience when we don’t figure out ways to harness online and self-service options that mirror what the business community offers.

Add to this lost documents, paper storage costs, lack of disaster preparation and automation, and the issue is compounded. We all witnessed this when COVID-19 struck: unemployment payment chaos and more made it clear that manual processes and outdated websites were no match for a crisis. 

State agencies that don’t embrace a digital strategy face an indefensible reliance on paper and manual processes with the possibility of falling further behind in any effort to drive efficiency and cost savings.

3. The “next thing” problem

Every day, an IT analyst somewhere suggests the next big thing that we absolutely, positively must have. It can seem like we will never catch up. I take these pronouncements with a grain of salt, but I do believe that embracing some digital transformation trends and tools positions us for continuous improvement.

Digital transformation is one of those moments.

Your work to implement digital transformation initiatives will support existing needs to: 

  • Deliver solutions faster
  • Drive efficiency
  • Save money
  • Improve customer experience
  • Survive the volatility of budgets and political cycles

But here’s another thought: Organizations that adopt a mindset that embraces IT change as likely and beneficial set themselves up well for the future. Digital transformation, with benefits for staff and customers, is the type of technological moment that reinforces the positive aspects of change for the hard-working staff that have heard these promises before.

Making transformation work

We’ve established that digital transformation is essential for state governments.

The next challenge is determining how to invest wisely and, ideally, using tools that lighten your workload. My experience taught me some lessons I can share while you consider which tools can make digital transformation more than an analyst fantasy.

With the right tools, you can not only “transform,” but consistently deliver. Changing your ability to deliver is the way to get back on track with your goals to centralize for better budget efficiency, modernize old systems and secure your infrastructure. And, it’s a way to rebuild your relationships with the departments, divisions and teams that may not have a positive outlook on IT’s ability to deliver. 

Low-code application building

Many state governments rely on legacy systems that require custom-coded solutions. These platforms require developers who are often back-logged with numerous IT requests to write complex code and go through long development processes.  

A modern operational system should support low-code application development. These systems, which don’t require coding skills, allow for business-unit owners to conceive, configure and deploy custom applications quickly and securely. When evaluating content management platforms, be sure to evaluate how much functionality is available through configuration rather than code. This will help you better evaluate your investment with a realistic view of the work it takes to maintain and alter.

Custom code makes it very difficult to predict completion and project timelines, which is problematic for governments that need to easily adapt a solution as expectations and legal responsibilities change with each political cycle. Custom code can inflate your costs, break when updates are needed and can be difficult to upgrade to reflect new functionality like mobility or increased security.

Read more | Explainer: The low-code vs. no-code debate and how to get started 

Integration tools

The move to a content services environment recognizes that the storing of government data and the work of government staff are accomplished in dozens of solutions across the enterprise. Integration code, like custom code, can be a budget buster. But, more importantly, a bad integration or complete lack of integration can impede staff efficiency, increase the amount of required training and even create duplicative data entry and manual work. 
Digital transformation implies efficiency gains for staff. It needs systems that work together to offer external customers convenient access while supporting internal staff with seamless access to the content they need to do their job. Understanding your integration tools and preferably having some options like low-code integration, pre-built integrations and APIs with consistent upgrades and updates to these tools will help you drive efficiency. It also helps capture information across the enterprise and serve it up in a content services model that advances your digital transformation.

Case management platform

Another unique struggle we face is the sheer variety of programs, processes and data collection tasks going on across state governments. Each program, funding type, funding agency, rule and regulation contributes to the number of solutions you may support. As we have moved from customer relationship management to customer experience and sought to empower staff through better information access, we learned to use a case management approach to enhance both of these moments. 
What we really need for digital transformation is a case management platform that is low-code, built with an easy integration philosophy and (critically!) includes workflow automation tools and content access. Evaluating these qualities, looking for a case management platform and picking one that has rapid application development tools is perhaps the single most impactful step towards digital transformation. When you can deliver solutions that meet the unique challenges of state agency program delivery, do it in an agile way and be well-positioned to make changes when the political winds blow in a different direction. If you can do that, you’ll redefine “deliver” for state governments. 

Leveraging digital transformation

In many ways, the path to digital transformation can lead you to sustainability because the tools that best drive transformation also position you to respond more effectively to new requirements, responsibilities, constituent needs and leverage technology developments better.

Here are some absolute necessities that can help you sustain your progress: 

  • Buy the platform that lets you move faster
    Rapid application development is essential, enabling you to provide necessary solutions faster.
  • Invest in solutions with persistent and consistent updates and upgrades
    Being able to depend on your vendor to watch for trends and continuously add features reduces how often you need to replace large systems due to lack of functionality and support.  
  • Take care of the staff training
    Even if you outsource services and solution development, having resources to help staff understand the potential of your investments makes it easier to determine when to buy and when to develop within existing systems. When we purchase solutions we have to evaluate training, documentation and online forums as well as customer programs. This helps us see how we can sustain and update our staff’s understanding of our investments’ capabilities

Sustaining an IT department, your initiatives and your hero status is dependent on making smart IT investments and strong evaluations of the vendors that develop those solutions. To transform, deliver and sustain a great IT effort takes leadership, a little luck and a lot of good decision-making. 

You might also like: 

Terri Jones is an enterprise advisor with Hyland’s Global Services team. Before coming to Hyland, in her 10-plus years in both state and local government, she’s managed IT departments, implemented ECM strategies and written legislation and program policies. As an enterprise advisor, she uses her background in IT deployment, change management and strategic planning to lead workshops that help Hyland customers get the most from their solution investments.
Terri Jones

Terri Jones

Terri Jones is an enterprise advisor with Hyland’s Global Services team. Before coming to Hyland, in her 10-plus years in both state and local government, she’s managed IT departments, implemented... read more about: Terri Jones