Dec 28 2018

The Keys to Achieving Digital Transformation in Government

Agencies can deliver quick wins and work behind the scenes to get build momentum for technological change, experts say.

Undergirding the major trends of federal IT modernization is the government’s desire to move beyond legacy systems and ways of delivering services and doing business.

Yet government often struggles to achieve digital transformation, for a variety of of reasons. “The Digital Transformation Insight Report” by CDW found IT professionals face a range of hurdles on the road to change. According to the report, 31 percent of respondents say a lack of budget inhibits progress, and an equal percentage say concerns about privacy and security stymie their transformation efforts. Meanwhile, 25 percent point to change management as a sticking point 

Other obstacles include time-consuming data migration (29 percent), technology/network upgrades (28 percent) and legacy infrastructure and infrastructure complexity (30 percent).

How can agencies effectively address and overcome these barriers?

MORE FROM FEDTECH: Discover why these are the federal IT trends to watch in 2019. 

How to Overcome the Hurdles to Digital Transformation

When it comes to resource issues, some say the government CIO’s best strategy is to fire up digital transformation with a few quick wins. “You have to find the low-hanging fruit, deliver results quickly and show the value in managing IT differently,” says Dave McClure, principal director of Accenture Federal Services.

By tackling projects that offer a financial return or that markedly improve business processes, IT leaders can shift the budget needle. “If you can show that technology can make a difference, that can then free up resources going forward,” McClure says.

When it comes to privacy and security, government has cause to be concerned. Taxpayer money, personal information and vital records are all bound up in government systems, which also may be subject to regulatory constraints around privacy. 


Yet some degree of the worry is overstated, analysts say, noting that while government IT leaders should take privacy and security seriously, they should not let those concerns derail transformation efforts.

“It’s probably less of an issue than people make it out to be,” says Shawn McCarthy, Research Director of IDC Government Insights. After all, he says, agencies should know how to manage data security. “You build a highly secure system and you set your permissions for who can access information. You encrypt data at rest and data in motion. Then privacy becomes less of an issue,” he says. 

Moreover, McCarthy says, the security inherent in a next-generation IT system will almost certainly be better than the existing setup. “If your only reason for not doing something is privacy, then you have to ask whether your legacy system as private as you think.”

MORE FROM FEDTECH: Discover why cultural changes are just as important as technology in improving customer service. 

Agencies Can Deploy New Tech Without Major Disruptions

When it comes to change management and the cultural issues surrounding digital transformation, some say the best way to overcome resistance is with an indirect approach. Rather than announce transformation in a big-deal implementation, IT leaders should do the back-end work first.

“Sometimes, the CIO can make something happen behind the scenes and the end user doesn’t even have to know all about it. For example, you can shift from a local server to cloud-based tools, and that will be more or less transparent to the user,” says Kevin Cummins, vice president of technology at the Professional Services Council. “Or you can implement analytics tools to improve customer-facing operations, and all that does is make people more effective.”

By seeking out such “seamless opportunities,” he says, IT leaders can demonstrate the positive impact of digital transformation, with none of the messy process disruptions that make people shy away from change.

Other concerns can be addressed through professional diligence. Take, for instance, the common worry that data migration around a digital overhaul will be too time-consuming. It probably will be, if agencies do not take the time to do it properly.

“They really need to inventory the applications that are being used in the agency, understand what it costs to operate those applications and what business value they provide,” McClure says. That due diligence up front will save a lot of heavy lifting on the back end: You only move what you actually use.

For those at the state and local level who still find it hard to build up momentum behind digital change, Cummins suggests they draw inspiration from higher up, leveraging federal energy around transformation to help build up steam.

“There is a lot of attention on IT modernization from the White House and Congress, with the President’s Management Agenda and updates to federal cloud computing strategies and data strategies. This is an exciting time, it’s a good moment in technology,” Cummins says. “When the CIO has that kind of support from the top, when you have governmentwide policies and constructs, that helps to build momentum.”

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