Top challenges and opportunities for digital transformation in the public sector
Citizens have come to expect a certain level of digital interaction with all organisations — even public sector ones. From council tax payments to parking permits, refuse collection to street lighting, public sector organisations interact with the majority of the population in many different ways.
As digital technologies continue to permeate our daily lives, the challenges and opportunities presented by such technologies are forcing local and national bodies to adapt to this digital transformation trend.
Today, local councils are not only tasked with doing more with less money, they must also meet increasing digital demands from technology savvy constituents. Indeed the era of digital transformation offers public sector organisations the unique opportunity to implement new technologies to move services online, which will help to deliver greater operating efficiencies while meeting the demands placed upon them.
Although there are inherent challenges in digital transformation, public sector organisations can begin to make lasting changes, but this doesn’t have to be a big bang approach. This can be done in incremental steps within a larger digital transformation initiative to gain support and buy-in from other stakeholders around the organisation.
Let me give you an example. Worcestershire County Council was able to deliver its first live app within eight weeks, as part of a bigger digital transformation initiative to take its services online, which the council estimates saved around £1.6m in one year. The council hopes that by continuing on its goal of achieving 100 per cent of services being delivered online, the organisation can achieve genuine channel shift while cutting its costs and also making interaction easier for citizens.
What challenges are stifling digital transformation?
That said there are many challenges that public sector organisations face when embarking on digital transformation. These include:
Funding: Finding the necessary funding to start a new project is always a challenge. Currently, public sector organisations face a dilemma: They must do more with less while trying to meet new customer demands. That said, when budget allocations are invested in new, more efficient digital technologies, long-term costs are reduced for manual processes. While public sector budgets are challenged by a myriad of valid political pressures, the opportunity to innovate is game changing if they can get the funding to work on new digital initiatives.
Shorter time frames: Public sector budgets are tied with political cycles, which means that new projects must show results quickly for constituents. Gathering political support to invest in digital technologies is a way for public sector organisations to achieve lasting impact.
System issues: Many public sector organisations operate a range of outdated systems that need replacement. This is directly related to the first two challenges. When a public sector organisation is prepared to replace a system, digital capabilities should be included in the system refresh.
To tackle these challenges, organisations need to take a systematic approach that starts with internal approval and ends with a long-term outlook. Digital transformation requires a top-down approach. It starts with the Chief Executive and must be embraced by all the internal stakeholders. The support of these individuals is needed to gather the political approval to action change. In addition, the support and active involvement of department heads are needed to make the goals of the digital initiative and effectively migrate away from old systems and processes.
The benefits of digital transformation
Although numerous challenges can make it difficult to start a digital transformation initiative in the public sector, the opportunity for greater efficiencies and growth justifies the journey.
Here are 10 benefits of digital transformation in the public sector:
- Better ability to meet customer expectations
- Increased cross collaboration between departments
- Greater agility within IT to meet the business needs
- Improved competitive position within the market
- Higher level of innovation across the business
- Faster strategic decision making
- Increased business growth
- Faster time to productivity in core areas
- Reduced costs of doing business
- Reduced IT costs
If public sector organisations can obtain the required internal support, as well as gain the much needed funding and showcase a positive ROI, then they will be able to readily make improvements that will yield short-term operating efficiencies and lay the groundwork for long-term success. Achieving a few quick wins early on will help to gain the momentum that is needed for the long-term process of digitally transforming your public sector organisation.
This is exactly what Worcestershire County Council did and the benefits have literally transformed the way the council operates today.