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Three steps to building digital resilience

A framework for building resiliency in cities should have three phases: respond and restore, expand and optimize, accelerate and innovate, according to IDC.

“Business continuity, disaster recovery, those are very important, but we have to be learning and adapting to the disruptions we have responded to, and we need to then enhance and invest in a wise way based on what we’ve learned,” said Ruthbea Yesner, vice president at IDC’s Government Insights, during a July 14 webinar titled “Building Resiliency in Smart Cities.”

The research organization defines digital resilience as “the ability for an organization to rapidly adapt to business disruptions by leveraging digital capabilities to not only restore business operations, but also to capitalize on the changed conditions.”

Within that context, the framework’s first phase -- respond and restore -- is about fixing immediate problems, such as service outages or, in the case of the pandemic, standing up new government services to keep residents informed. An IDC survey at the end of February found that about half of government organizations said they were still in that phase, focusing on reducing operating costs and promoting business continuity.

As 2021 continues, Yesner said she expects more entities to shift into the second phase of expansion and optimization. This is when government officials can assess where they are and what they learned in the first phase. If IT solutions were quickly deployed to support the sudden shift to remote work in the first phase, then in the second phase agencies should evaluate whether that technology was sufficient and whether it will be useful in the long term.

Eventually -- perhaps after another budget cycle, Yesner said -- agencies will move into the final resiliency phase of accelerate and innovate, where they will invest in workforce development, implementation of cloud technologies and automation.

“Digital resiliency doesn’t end just by expanding capabilities,” she said. “Why not take it to the next level and really think about what you can do?”

IDC’s Digital Resiliency Framework further breaks down into six organizational dimensions. They are:

  • Leadership and organization resiliency.
  • Trust and reputation resiliency, or how an agency manages issues like security and privacy.
  • Workforce resiliency, or the ability to enable and empower workers via flexible working environments and opportunities for career development.
  • Operational resiliency, or asset management.
  • Financial resiliency.
  • Consumer and ecosystems resilience, such as management of digital equity.

For purposes of the webinar, Yesner focused on workforce resiliency to illustrate how the framework can be applied. “This is literally one of the major things that I think a lot of government organizations are talking about right now,” she said.

The first step is to think about business priorities from citywide, countywide and statewide perspectives. “It’s not one department,” Yesner said. “These are really enterprise-level considerations.”

In the first phase, agencies typically are focused on workforce safety and planning and business continuity.  In the expand-and-optimize phase, agencies might start looking at how to support productivity, collaboration and workspace management, she said, before they turn to innovation such as robotic process automation to help free workers from mundane tasks.

Then agencies should assess the technologies needed in each phase. In the first, respond-and-restore phase of workforce resiliency, for example, the focus should be on security and talent management plus scaled communications, Yesner said. In the second phase (expand and optimize), agencies might start looking at artificial intelligence and machine learning or low- and no-code development, while the third phase -- accelerate and innovate -- would bring in cloud and blockchain, for instance.

“The time now is to take a proactive stance on digital resilience, move beyond thinking about just reaction and disaster response, and more on that enhancing and extending capabilities and this cautious investment in terms of what will help you in the future,” she said.

COVID-19 highlighted the way disruptions can affect government and its constituents. For instance, network outages increased by 64% in March 2020, compared with the prepandemic period, IDC found, and cyberattacks -- more than 60% of which are ransomware or data theft -- on government organizations have increased exponentially. The February survey found that 45% of respondents said they were not sufficiently prepared for the disruption the pandemic brought.

Still, government agencies across the board stepped up and showed that digitization works.

“Their technology is fundamental to doing the work of government properly and meeting the needs of constituents,” Yesner said. “Smart cities and communities have to be better prepared to respond and adapt quickly. There’s really no ifs, ands or buts about it.”

About the Author

Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.


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