digital government

Everybody wants digital government, but defining the ROI is another matter

Government employees think that making their agency more digital is important, but many say they haven’t seen measurable benefits from the IT investment they’d already made, according to a new survey of government IT professionals.

James Warrick of Beacon Technology Partners, which conducted the survey, presented the results at a Sept. 15 conference on digital government sponsored by Unisys and hosted by 1105 Media, GCN's parent company. He said he doesn’t interpret the findings as saying ROI is impossible.

“I think what they’re saying is that digital government is hard because of what it involves,” Warrick said. “It's not just the upfront cost, it’s not just having to bring along and modernize legacy systems; it’s involving policies, it’s involving IT governance, change management.”

The survey also found that agencies interested in implementing more digital services were concerned about change management and security. At agencies that had already adopted digital services, however, respondents raised concerns about the time involved with digital innovation and legacy system maintenance.

Warrick said that part of realizing ROI is investing in technology that is relevant to the citizens and government employees who will be using it. Replacing his daughter’s lost learner's permit was much more difficult than replacing a lost debit card, Warrick said. ROI is demonstrated when a service answers a clear citizen need. “It’s not top down, it’s bottom up,” he said. “It’s very different.”

“The moment of truth” is what Mark Forman, Unisys’ global head of public sector, called the point of service when citizens are looking for government to solve a problem. It can be the police responding to an emergency call or a driver registering for a license at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

However, “there is no silver bullet” for making the transition to more digital, according to Casey Coleman, the group vice president of Civilian Agencies at Unisys Federal Systems. She stressed that it's important to start with the end in mind and keep the focus on the user.

Larry Gillick, the deputy director of digital strategy at the Department of the Interior, was straightforward in his theory of how government often interacts with citizens. “Ninety-nine percent of what we do in government is a little irritating,” he said. “There is a lot of stupid in what we do.”

Digital government should lower the barrier to service, Gillick argued, making it easier for people to get what they need. Until that happens, he said, digital government hasn’t truly been realized at an agency.

Editor's note: This article was changed Sept. 19 to clarify the event sponsorship.

About the Author

Matt Leonard is a reporter/producer at GCN.

Before joining GCN, Leonard worked as a local reporter for The Smithfield Times in southeastern Virginia. In his time there he wrote about town council meetings, local crime and what to do if a beaver dam floods your back yard. Over the last few years, he has spent time at The Commonwealth Times, The Denver Post and WTVR-CBS 6. He is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, where he received the faculty award for print and online journalism.

Leonard can be contacted at or follow him on Twitter @Matt_Lnrd.

Click here for previous articles by Leonard.

inside gcn

  • blockchain (Immersion Imagery/

    DARPA eyes 'less-explored avenues' of blockchain

Reader Comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group