With the technology now available, agencies can gradually transform without prohibitive levels of effort and expense.
A few years ago, I was talking with a colleague about exercise and fitness. He’s one of those people who insist they run only if they’re being chased, but he had recently completed a 5K race using a “Couch to 5K” training program. I asked him how the race went and was struck by his response.
“Honestly, the hardest part of the whole program was getting off the couch,” he said. “The race itself was a breeze.”
Our conversation about physical fitness led me to realize that digital fitness is a more accurate description for what people mean when they refer to digital transformation.
For state and local governments, the idea of going digital can be as daunting as running a marathon after a lifetime on the couch. But by gradually strengthening digital muscles, agencies can become more flexible -- and better serve citizens.
Pandemic disruption and constituent expectations
The COVID-19 pandemic caused colossal disruption across the globe, and governments scrambled to respond. Suddenly, nearly every public agency was forced into delivering massively more services under radically different conditions. Countries around the world saw an increase in the usage of online services, such as digital ID and digital signature, because of spikes in applications for unemployment and other social benefits.
The upheaval caused a reckoning for many organizations who quickly realized that the huge shift to remote work and delivery of services made their outdated paper-based and manual procedures nearly inoperable.
The crisis also proved that many in-person services could be successfully offered online. In 2020, not only did huge numbers of people use telemedicine for the first time, switch to online grocery shopping and navigate remote schooling, but they learned to interact with their state or local governments online as well.
Most people have come to expect the same technology-enabled experiences from government that they get from businesses. In a world where citizens get so much of what they need with a few clicks, they want to access government services online, not in line.
Understanding how much more convenient digital processes and online interactions can be, citizens will continue to demand these services long after disruption from the pandemic has passed. Expanded digital government is here to stay, and organizations must step up.
Like getting off the couch to begin training, starting the process of digitalization can seem overwhelming at first. Past experience with digitalization has caused some to view it as a long, painful and expensive process. But with the technology now available, agencies can gradually build up their digital fitness with minimal effort and expense.
Just as an exercise program starts with some basic equipment, agencies can begin working toward digital fitness by focusing first on digitization — for example, eliminating manual and paper-based processes.
Take government forms. If an organization hasn’t digitized, each and every form on its website probably needs to be downloaded as a PDF, signed and then mailed or emailed in. So agencies should pick one form to start. With the latest automation tech, that form can probably be digitized in a single day, without breaking the bank. Now, they’re off the couch and ready for the next workout.
Four steps to digital fitness
As any exercise enthusiast will say, overall fitness depends on focusing on all the major muscle groups. Likewise, a comprehensive digital fitness program requires organizations to develop and maintain practices centered on a set of intersecting goals.
To strengthen their digital muscles, agencies should focus on these four steps:
Improve citizen experience. Antiquated paper-based systems have given government agencies a pretty terrible reputation for customer service. An agency that embraces digital fitness will make the majority of its services available online, satisfying constituents (and public servants) by increasing convenience and speeding processing times.
Create a strong process culture. Process culture is about supporting ongoing creation, management and improvement of business processes. A strong process culture is built on the attitudes and behaviors of employees and managers -- it’s about people, not technology. Much as individuals join an online exercise group to keep focused and accountable, organizations can benefit from a culture that collaborates to improve processes at all levels.
Strive toward operational excellence. Operational excellence means optimizing operations on an ongoing basis. In government, operational excellence is rooted in the ability to “make it happen.” It requires agencies to see and monitor the flow of services to citizens, continually improve this flow in response to constituent and employee needs and to adapt quickly in response to any breakdown of service.
Commit to ongoing innovation. Now and in the future, the most effective government agencies will be those that use innovation to continually improve processes so they can better serve the evolving needs of citizens. The world is changing, and agencies must stay lean and flexible to keep up.
Building and flexing digital muscles
Becoming digitally fit means building digital muscles, then flexing. When organizations achieve a solid level of digital fitness while streamlining workflow and improving service to citizens, they’ll be ready to react when new opportunities arise.
Once you’re off the couch, there’s no telling how far you’ll run.