business meeting (Matej Kastelic/


Rethinking the human element of government IT modernization

Over the last few years, agencies have made great strides to adopt cloud technologies and improve their digital environment. However, one key reason IT modernization continues to be a struggle is the human element. An agency can plan to implement the best technology available, but if employees lack the skills to integrate it with existing systems and customers aren’t presented with the right environment for the technology to thrive, the modernization won’t succeed.  

Agencies must rethink employee experience and find ways to put staff first -- aligning roles, skills and service delivery with the agency's mission and then empowering workers with the digital technologies and solutions to provide citizen-centric services.

So where does the human element fit into an agency’s modernization strategy? There are four key challenges agencies must address:

1. Attracting and retaining talent

Attracting and retaining a multigenerational workforce has been a challenge for government agencies for some time.  As older employees retire, younger workers enter agencies with greater technology expectations, innovative ideas for a more efficient processes and expectations about benefits and perks based on what’s offered  in the private sector.

Agency leaders must create an environment that  supports employees of all ages and articulate the value of the work being done by each generation. They must also identify the right incentives to keep employees motivated and create career opportunities that keep them engaged. If all employees feel supported then they can, in turn, provide world-class service to government customers.

2. An improved employee experience

Employees'  overall experience should reflect the current workforce standards of the private sector.

For example, workers are demanding smarter solutions that enable collaboration and operational agility along with the flexibility to work from anywhere. Pressure to reduce travel and real estate costs and improve work-life balance by allowing employees to work from home is incentivizing IT agencies to enable a more mobile workforce.

Simply put, today's government office does not fully support valuable employees who must collaborate across locations, time zones and digital platforms. Agencies must start viewing the workplace as a flexible, collaborative environment driven by a seamless, automated technology experiences that have the human element in mind.

However, one crucial aspect of the employee experience remains -- redefining employee purpose. With this new multigenerational workforce, the things that used to attract employees to government -- like benefits and pensions -- are no longer a guarantee. Potential employees are looking for a new sense of purpose in government -- one that revolves around innovation a flexible work environment and making a difference in local and national communities. Agencies should consider what they can offer employees beyond the salary and benefits.

3. Workforce development and closing the skills gap

Workforce development must be seen as a business strategy that attracts employees to government jobs, makes them feel supported in those jobs and gives them opportunities to grow.

Agency leaders must pinpoint knowledge strengths and gaps for individuals, teams and departments. They must also identify next-generation leaders and train those at every level of the organization. The best place to start is mapping internal expertise to mission-critical needs and emerging priorities. Skills in areas such as security, customer service, data analytics, etc. should be considered priorities. Once that map is drawn, agencies can create a culture of continuous learning so employees want to fill their skills gaps, find new value in their work and discover new ways to demonstrate their value.

Agencies can foster this culture of learning by:

  • Leveraging digital collaboration tools that connect employees with experts and peers to develop talent at scale.
  • Providing on-demand, digital training in a variety of forms and learning management systems.
  • Deploying social learning platforms to give employees the opportunity to learn, solve problems and innovate within communities.
  • Partnering with third-party vendors to create learning environments that include vendor training programs and university programs.

4. Create a culture of performance

A key aspect to workforce development is creating a culture that defines and  inspires employee roles and job performance expectations. Employees can be the best trained workers in the world, but without clear expectations, they have no directions for meeting mission success.

Insights from business data can help define employee performance expectations, identify agency  strategy gaps and improve internal communication processes.  Agencies can use data analytics tools to examine behavioral and business statistical research to determine how best to support both employees and customers. These insights can foster an environment that lifts up the people involved in the process, rather than just the process itself.

Agencies will continue to struggle with their IT modernization efforts if they don’t start prioritizing the human element driving digital technology. Fostering an environment that supports the career aspirations of employees improves the employee experience, helps develop employee skills and defines employee roles and performance expectations. When this happens, the whole organization begins to thrive in its digital transformation.

About the Author

Shannon Leininger is U.S. public sector director at Cisco.

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