Think succinct in creating a Digital Government Strategy

Consulting Lead James Robins provides five steps to creating a roadmap for digitising government operations.

©iStock.com/ismagilov 

©iStock.com/ismagilov 

Over the past several years, Australian governments have placed increasing focus on digital strategies for improving the way they communicate and work with their stakeholders – whether they’re citizens, businesses, other departments and agencies, or their own staff.

My team is now regularly engaged in helping with this transformation, and we’re often asked: “How is Digital Government different from Digital Business?”

In one very important way it’s no different. Clear communication of the strategy to get buy-in and ensure everyone is on the same page is essential. The best approach to creating (as well as communicating and getting executive approval for) a digital strategy is to keep it simple and succinct.

Digital Government in action

A Federal agency tasked with receiving regulatory reports from industry is digitising its processes and re-inventing its services with the result that:

• Publicly sourced data is being aggregated with government data to give a new view of the regulatory environment and allow the agency to offer brand new, digitally enabled services

• Industry participants will no longer need to submit manually prepared reports, easing a previously costly compliance burden and optimising business interaction with government

• Reported data is automatically compiled and low-risk processes automated, freeing agency staff to perform critical analysis that makes a real difference in meeting the agency’s legislative and community remit

Another Australian Digital Government example is leveraging data to transform the services delivered to the public, business as well as other public service agencies. NationalMap was developed by National ICT Australia (NICTA) and offers services that aggregate and visualise geo-spatial data to add value.

NationalMap is a valuable Digital Government initiative in its own right, but as more data, including crowd-sourced data, comes on line it will evolve to be an enabler of new Digital Government services. Such services will leverage the data aggregation and visualisation services provided by NationalMap to deliver brand new business value.

Digital strategy versus traditional ICT strategy

Becoming ‘digital’ is about transforming an organisation through technology and the convergence of people, business and ‘things’. While the drivers are different from those in the commercial sector, a digital strategy for a government agency or department is just as important in defining the transformation agenda on the road to digital.

Let’s be clear… A technology strategy is simply about deploying technology to enable an existing business strategy – so can be created and signed off within the ITO. However, when you’re looking to undertake transformation to digital service delivery, it requires senior business stakeholder buy-in.

Some things stay the same; as with a traditional ICT Strategy, any Government Digital Strategy must demonstrate:

  • Alignment with the organisation's purpose
  • Value for taxpayer money (the financials must stack up)
  • Consistency with Whole-of-Government initiatives
  • Security in a government context

What’s different about a Digital Government Strategy is that it’s focussed on experience. An experience-based strategy describes the vision of a future world from the point of view of key stakeholders, and how they interact with the organisation. Depending on the function of each department or agency, transforming that experience can involve:

  • Citizen interactions with government
  • Private sector organisations transacting with or reporting to government
  • Employees of (and individual contractors to) the department or agency
  • Collaboration between different government entities across multiple layers: federal, state and local

Most departments are currently experimenting with using mobile or web-based apps to enable citizen interactions – but this typically involves putting a mobile front-end on existing technology systems. These are basic 'e-government’ initiatives because they are simply bringing existing services on-line.

By contrast, Digital Government initiatives would transform the services themselves. There’s much greater potential in leveraging data and transforming processes to make government services and the overall experience more meaningful, and therefore more valuable to both sides.

A five-step plan for a successful digital strategy-on-a-page

Because it involves a number of stakeholders – including non-IT government executives, politicians, industry sectors, citizens and/or NGOs – a succinct strategy-on-a-page is essential to clearly communicate the Digital Government vision – as well as the path to achieving it. Here are the five steps we recommend:

1. Develop a vision

At this stage, your vision for Digital Government is unlikely to be able to be articulated on a single page, because it will include a lot of research and input on options. However, it’s important to test this vision from the stakeholder's perspective, gain feedback and iterate it to reach a consensus on the overall objectives.

2. Develop initiatives

Apply the vision to create specific initiatives for ‘future stage’ experiences. Determine how these will be enabled – by organisational process, cultural or technology change, or (usually) a combination.

3. Categorise and prioritise

Consider each initiative in terms of ease of implementation versus benefit and allocate them accordingly as:

  • Must haves: highly visible ‘no-brainers’
  • Quick wins: easy to do fast and will impress/encourage stakeholders
  • Low-hanging fruit: processes that cry out to be digitised to reduce operational costs
  • Don't touch: benefits not worth the investment, or too hard to do

This process should help you to…

4. Build your roadmap

Order and document execution of your initiatives and their funding sources, then create a high-level implementation schedule to realise your overall digital vision.

5. Take time to communicate succinctly

This is the hard bit! Statements along the lines of, “I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead” have been attributed to Mark Twain, Blaise Pascal, T.S.Eliot, Cicero and many others… However, it’s essential to describe your Digital Government strategy and roadmap succinctly, in business terms, on a single page.

In our experience, the best way to get buy-in from stakeholders for a digital action plan is to reduce your arguments and their basis to just one page or – if you’re called to present them –three simple, uncluttered slides:

1. The problems we’re addressing

2. Prioritised initiatives to address them

3. When we’ll do them/how we’ll fund them

Another idea is to create an engaging electronic media representation of the strategy that executives can carry on their smart device as a Digital Roadmap conversation-starter and refer to when discussing ways of ‘working smarter’.

Next, the serious bits

Hopefully, your Digital Government Strategy-on-a-page will help you secure stakeholder endorsement and funding. Of course, the devil remains in the detail – so all the research, consultation and analysis you put in before delivering your succinct strategy comes into play as you embark on fulfilling your vision.

Your next step is to establish a governance framework to drive the program and measure its success. As you progress, don't be afraid to re-visit and tweak your strategy and roadmap – because being digital is all about being agile!

Further Reading

How do you present a good IT strategy? On one page
The Digital Transformation of Government
5 critical steps to security and privacy on the path to digital government
Digital workplace study confirms what we’ve all been thinking

About the Author

James Robins is Practice Partner, Business & Technology Consulting, ANZ for CSC, leading a team of over 50 technology and business consultants. His own experience is based primarily in the Public Sector – working with smaller agencies to large Federal departments including the Department of Defence. His expertise lies in aligning IT strategy with government objectives, and he’s been instrumental in developing CSC methodology over the past decade.