Why local governments must embrace digital transformation?

What is a digital transformation and why local governments need to start?


Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Introduction

It is no secret that the world is turning to digital solutions more and more, and the recent COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated that trend. When the world was forced to find alternatives for traditional business practices, digital options were the overwhelming favourite. We went from in-person meetings to virtual meetings basically overnight.

The digital transformation was thrust upon us, but what if we had time to prepare? Would we have done anything differently? Could we have done things better? The simple answer is yes. If we had been given the proper time to prepare for such a massive shift, we would have been far more successful. This is where digital transformation comes into play.

This article will explore what a digital transformation is, why it is crucial for future success, and how local governments can plan and execute a successful digital transformation.

What is a digital transformation?

Digital transformation is the process of transforming services and organization initiatives by leveraging innovative digital solutions in a way that aligns with organizational goals and objectives. Digital transformation is not simply converting something to digital, it is a complete paradigm shift. You must look at your organization through the lens of digital. It is about considering the entire ecosystem of an organization and strategically executing changes that are supported by digital and will help the organization reach its goals, mission, and vision.

Many organizations were forced to digitally transform overnight because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was the rushed nature of the transition that made much of it fall flat. Proper execution of a digital transformation takes time and careful analysis of every aspect of an organization. Your organization’s infrastructure, processes, data, people and skills, policies, and security are all areas that need to be carefully analyzed when planning a digital transformation. It is this careful analysis that will make any organization’s digital transformation successful.

Why digital transformation?

There are many answers to the question of why local governments should invest in digital transformation. We are going to examine three key reasons why local governments must embrace digital transformation and make it a priority.

1. Everything is becoming digital

The last several years have seen a technology boom like no other. Where constituents used to reach for the phone book to find local services, they now turn to Google or other online options. The popularity of smartphones has accelerated this shift even further. 2020 marked a historic milestone with more than half of all digital commerce spend globally being executed on a mobile device (Forbes, 2020), and it’s not just smartphones seeing a spike in popularity. The internet in general is now available to more people than ever before. There are roughly 4.2 billion internet users globally, accounting for about 55% of the global population (Forbes, 2020).

The days of flipping through the phone book are long behind us. Constituents are growing to expect the same online services and convenience they get from top e-commerce companies like Amazon, Airbnb, and Uber, from their local governments as well. People worldwide have seen the benefits and convenience of embracing digital technology and there are no signs of it stopping anytime soon. For local governments to stay modern and competitive, it is clear they will need to embrace the shift to digital, sooner rather than later.

2. Younger generations prioritize digital

While the aging baby boomer and gen X generations know what it’s like to not have computers, younger generations like millennials and gen Z have been raised in the digital world. That means unlike any generation before they expect things to be available at their fingertips. From information to gaming, to shopping, there is nothing these generations won’t turn to the internet for. In 2019, 48% of people age 18-29 described themselves as being online constantly (Johnson, 2021). This goes to show just how much time the younger generations are spending in the digital world.

Younger generations also heavily rely on digital forms of communication. In a report published by Notre Dame of Maryland University, they found that while at home, 65% of gen Z-ers preferred to communicate via online forms of communication such as messaging apps and email. While 83% of Millennials prefer to communicate with their boss and co-workers through online applications and email (NDMU, 2019).

The younger generation also actively seeks ways to get involved with their local governments. They are currently on track to be the most educated and most in-debt generation of all time (Deloitte, 2020). It is because of statistics like this, that gen Z-ers are eager to communicate with their local, and federal governments. They want to actively find solutions and make sure their governing body is aware of the issues their generation and future generations are facing. This desire to communicate is extremely valuable to local governments, but to effectively communicate with this generation, they will need to be ready to communicate digitally. To make that transition to digital communication successful, they will need to start their digital transformation now, so they have the time to perfect it for the future.

3. Lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic

If there is one lesson we should all take from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is how important digital technology can become in the blink of an eye. Overnight we were forced to look at our businesses and organizations from a digital lens. This brought about a lot of changes and for some organizations, the rushed transition did not deliver the experience and return they were hoping for.

The unfortunate thing about the pandemic is that experts say this is likely not the last time we will have to deal with this sort of event. Scientists say that due to increasing globalization and continued encroachment on nature, we have created “a perfect storm” for diseases from wildlife to transfer to humans and spread rapidly around the world (BBC, 2020). This news is not new to the science community. They have been monitoring diseases in humans and animals for years and the increase of diseases transferred from animals to humans has steadily increased. In the last 20 years, we have faced SARS, MERS, Ebola, avian influenza, and swine flu, all six of which were considered significant threats to humans (BBC, 2020).

This is something local governments cannot continue to ignore. Now is the time for local governments to take a step back and re-evaluate their digital transformation and complete a proper transformation to achieve their organizational goals and objectives. They must make these changes now, so they are ready for possible pandemics in the future as well as meeting the needs of their constituents. While undergoing digital transformation will not help limit these dangerous diseases, it will help local governments be more prepared to weather the storm. We saw this loud and clear during the COVID-19 pandemic. Organizations that were prepared to go online were more successful and suffered less damage overall. We need to learn from this pandemic and be more prepared to handle similar challenges in the future.

How much does digital transformation cost?

Many organizations believe that to have a successful digital transformation they must spend millions of dollars all at once. That is a myth, digital transformation is not a race to the finish. In fact, it is that rushed strategy that makes many digital transformations unsuccessful. In reality, there are many modern, cost-effective, and easily implemented systems like cloud-based and other technology options that help make digital transformation much more affordable.

It is also important for organizations to look at their legacy systems and processes. The fact of the matter is that legacy systems are often costly to manage and maintain, which causes organizations to overspend on them. A key part of a successful digital transformation is an investment strategy. This strategy will help your organization look at the current costs of managing existing digital, and non-digital systems and find areas where they can take some of those resources and channel them into their new digital transformation.

Another factor to consider is how fast technology can become obsolete. It doesn’t always make sense to go out and spend millions on the newest technology available because in one or two years that technology might be obsolete. Instead, it is better to take the time to find innovative digital solutions that can grow with you and allow you to start small and build on it little by little. This strategy will also help you avoid investing everything all at once on a product that won’t give you the return you’re looking for. At the end of the day, doing things properly and strategically helps save money and reduce the overall cost of a digital transformation.

How to conduct a successful digital transformation?

Digital transformation is a journey, not an event. This means that the goal should not be to transform overnight by spending all of your resources at once. Instead, it should be viewed as a long-term investment by local governments to help them reach their organizational goals, mission, and values. We are going to examine four essential steps that should be taken when deciding to undergo a digital transformation.

1. Establish a vision for your digital transformation

Establishing a vision for your digital transformation will happen in two steps:

Defining your organizational goals and objectives

The most important part is the have clearly defined organizational goals and objectives. Everything in your digital transformation strategy must relate back to your organizational goals and objectives. This will ensure you get the results you are looking for. For example, if one of your organizational goals is to increase engagement with your constituents, part of your digital transformation strategy must reflect that. Without clearly defined organizational goals and objectives, you will not be able to define a clear digital strategy for success.

Establish your vision

Once you have a clear understanding of what your organization wants to achieve, you can start to determine what your digital transformation will start to look like. This is your chance to imagine the possibilities. You might want to take a look at other local governments and see what digital solutions they are using and see if they might work for you. You can also look at other online businesses and organizations to see what digital solutions you might want to adopt from them. This stage is not about defining specific actions. It is instead about brainstorming and creating a vision that is in line with your overarching organizational objectives.

2. Conduct a gap analysis

A gap analysis is used to analyze how far your government needs to go from where they currently are with its systems and technology, to achieve their digital transformation vision. This step will help you identify which changes will be easier to make than others. It will also show you where your government needs the most improvement.

3. Develop a strategy

This is one of the most important parts of your digital transformation. This strategy will help you achieve your digital vision. There are two phases you must go through to make this stage successful. Stage one is to conduct a detailed analysis of the organization as a whole, and stage two is to formulate the strategy.

Conduct a detailed analysis

The most important place to start when conducting a digital transformation is to determine where your local government currently is with its digital processes and technology. Things to consider include:

                    • What digital systems you already have
                    • What are your current processes
                    • What data do you need
                    • What data do you store
                    • How is your data stored
                    • What databases do you have
                    • How do you collect data
                    • How do you use that data
                    • What are your security needs
                    • How are operational decisions made
                    • What services do you offer
                    • Who are your digital resources
                    • Who are your internal and external stakeholder

This is by no means a complete list, but it gives you an idea of how in-depth you will need to go to understand the current state of your organization. You need to evaluate every aspect of your government’s digital ecosystem. It is important to gather as much information about your current state as possible because that will later help you determine the best way to execute your digital transformation.

Create your strategy

Once you have a deep understanding of all the current processes and technology in place in your government, you are ready to develop your strategy. While you are developing your strategy, it is important to remember this is an investment. Not all the changes you want to make will be achievable right away. It is important to identify areas to invest in that will have the biggest impact on your organizational objectives.

A successful digital transformation strategy will look different for every local government. The most important thing is that every part of your strategy relates directly back to your organizational goals, mission, and values. It is also important to remember that spending more money doesn’t mean faster change. It will take constituents time to adjust to all the changes you make. It will also take time for internal members of your organization to adjust to the changes as well. That means (no comma required after the word means) it is better to make small meaningful changes over time than many large changes all at once.

4. Create a roadmap to narrow the gaps

This step is where you start to map out your digital transformation. You need to create a clear roadmap to help your government narrow the gaps you identified during your gap analysis. This roadmap should include the detailed descriptions of projects that need to happen, laid out in the order they need to happen in. During this step, it is important to include how much each project will cost, who will need to be involved to make it a success, who it will affect in the organization, and how it will affect the end-user. You will also need to identify your technology needs for completing each project. Be sure to include which organizational objective each project will help achieve.

Conclusion

Digital transformation is a long process that is more than worth it. Our world is turning to digital solutions more and more. Younger generations are being raised in front of screens and becoming used to the instant services digital technologies can provide. If that isn’t enough reason to embrace digital transformation, the recent COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted just how important being ready for digital change is. By going through the right steps, local governments can undergo digital transformations in a way that benefits them and helps them achieve their business objectives. Despite being a long journey, digital transformation can only make local governments stronger and more prepared for the future. It is a journey worth taking.

How to get started?

There are a lot of aspects that need to be considered when conducting a digital transformation. It takes a lot of expertise and confident leadership to make the process a success. Hiring professional organizations such as INVORG can help get your organization off on the right foot. They will be able to truly understand your organizational objectives and how to custom tailor your digital transformation to ensure you are achieving them. For more information or to get started, visit their website here.

About the Author(s)

Hannah Hillier is a professional content creator and writer. After graduating from the Public Relations program at Cambrian College, Hannah has gone on to start a successful freelance writing career. She is passionate about bringing words to life in a way that makes complicated topics more approachable. From website content to full articles, Hannah loves to find ways to communicate with any audience effectively. She currently lives and works in Sudbury Ontario.
Joseph
Joseph founded INVORG focusing on client-centric service delivery platform for innovating local organizations, not-for-profits, home and community support organizations and small to medium sized businesses. Joseph holds a Chief Information Officer Certification from Carnegie Melon University, USA and from the US General Services Administration. He is an IT veteran with over 20   years of leadership in technology, including four years as CTO for the City of London.

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