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​Why digital government is not about moving services online

​Why digital government is not about moving services online

What does it mean to be fully digital?

Digital government isn’t about how many services are available online. In fact, it’s quite the opposite as the automation of services progressively leads to a decline in the use of online and mobile transactions.

For government, it’s a means to enable affordable and sustainable services and operations.

As government organisations move towards digital government, we are seeing varying levels of maturity as they take advantage of the digital data that optimises, transforms and creates services.

CIOs are well-positioned to take a leadership role in shaping and executing the digital government business strategy and assessing their organisation’s level of maturity can be a valuable tool to assist them in that effort.

In any organisation, the transition to digital government will be a multi-year journey involving uncertain negotiations among multiple independent parties, thus requiring planning for agility rather than stable, detailed goals.

The key to progress is a singular focus on the exclusive use of data— both in real-time and offline — in designing and delivering government policies and services.

It’s not to be confused with e-government, which is more focused on making traditional government services available online (and increasingly through mobile devices).

The rapid growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) – combined with the number of people who communicate and coordinate through digital networks – is creating new scenarios where the quantity, quality and source of data are dramatically different from what used to be the case with e-government.

These ‘things’ – robots, smartwatches, health and fitness monitors, environmental sensors, location aware devices and so on — will progressively become influencers, intermediaries and even users of and providers to government services.

This means data orientation is moving to displace transactional and stimulus-based interactions between government and its citizens and businesses.

What does it mean to be fully digital?

It is important to understand the key dimensions of digital government, focusing on what is different from more traditional e-government.

Then you can assess your current digital government capabilities, comparing them with emerging practices and providing a framework for assessing what needs to be done to make digital government initiatives valuable and sustainable.

By creating a roadmap for the different phases of transformation, you can better understand what activities and initiatives are most critical to ensure success.

Different organisations have legitimate and defensible reasons to take varying approaches to digital transformation, depending on their political and business priorities in conjunction with the context within which they operate.

Individual organisations may also exhibit elements and characteristics that are at different levels of maturity.

Gartner believes there are five levels of maturity in digital government transformation programs.

Level 1: Initial

At this level, digital government is not really a concern. The agency or the jurisdiction is proceeding on an e-government path, measuring success in terms of number of services online, level of service integration, constituent satisfaction and so forth. This is driven by a combination of improving compliance as well as need for greater organisational efficiency.

Level 2: Developing

Digital government becomes a concern, not so much because of initiatives triggered by senior or political leadership, but because of the perceived disruption coming from increasing availability of data. More information is available through more digital interfaces to people and things, as well as shifting use behaviours for both constituents and employees.

Level 3: Defined

At this level, the focus on data becomes predominant and the approaches piloted through open public data initiatives get transitioned to the better use of internal data.

Web APIs built around open data also start supporting access rights and checking of identity credentials, allowing non-public data to be safely managed. This level constitutes the real inflection point in a digital government transformation.

Level 4: Managed

At this level, the jurisdiction has fully recognised the importance of a data-centric approach to transformation and regularly pursues opportunities for innovation based on open data principles.

Data is leveraged more regularly across agency boundaries and from external parties and ‘things’, leading to easier interactions for constituents and a decisive shift from a pull to a push model.

This will be accomplished by focusing on data and somewhat discovering what data exchanges make possible, as opposed to pursuing service integration as with previous incarnation of e-government.

Level 5: Optimising

Digital transformation has become the norm. The organisation is able to actively pursue the identification and development of services supporting a variety of digital civic moments often underpinned by the use of smart machines.

The innovation process is predictable and repeatable. Services and interactions will take place through a variety of touchpoints and interfaces, which would make the traditional model of a government service portal obsolete, as automation progressively replaces portal transactions.

In fact, Gartner sees the key metric for success here as a decline in the use of online services. Over time, increasing acceptance of this approach will see changes to regulatory and statutory arrangements in order to give priority to data.

By examining your organisation’s level of maturity, you will be better able to assess its ability to shift from the traditional digitisation of services (which is typical of e-government) to the use of digital data.

This will involve redesigning and optimising end-to-end cross-cutting value chains, or creating new partner ecosystems facilitated by data exchange and the use and reuse of data.

Glenn Archer is a research vice president in Gartner’s public sector team, advising senior government clients globally on digital government. Prior to joining Gartner, he was the Australian Government's Chief Information Officer.

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