Digital transformation or modernization for government agencies is about using new technologies to effectively change an agency’s ability to engage audiences and achieve its mission. Though digital tools and systems play a big role in this transformation, it’s about more than just the tools.
Some common focus areas for investments in government digital transformation might include using and optimizing data and analytics collection, updating IT infrastructures, migrating data and files to a cloud storage, and facilitating change management. Common challenges in government digital transformation pursuits include overlapping or redundant solutions and processes and siloed teams and communications. If an agency finds itself in one or more of these scenarios, it’s likely time to consider how a modernized system and approach can help improve processes and communication.
Four steps for digital transformation at your agency
1. Find your baseline
First, you will need to define exactly where you are starting from. Finding your starting point will require you to take an unbiased look at the health of your current IT portfolio and how your systems are performing.
2. Define your goals
Your strategy should be based on current and potential agency goals and requirements. Determining these in advance will help you determine appropriate prioritization and funding requirements.
3. Assemble the roadmap
Once you know what you are trying to achieve, combine disparate business cases to create an integrated and actionable roadmap that addresses both individual systems and broader digital ecosystems. As part of your roadmap, make sure you develop a clear governance framework and change management strategy.
4. Organize for success
Now you have the tools to define what staff resources you will need to be successful in digital transformation. Create a centralized team that is representative of your agency to oversee the digital transformation effort and create specialized, dedicated teams for individual projects to take.
FAQs on government digital transformation
There is a lot of information to take in when it comes to tackling government digital transformation. Here are the answers to some of the most common questions we hear from our government clients.
I’ve heard lots of stories about digital transformation or modernization efforts failing. What are some common reasons they fail?
Digital modernization or transformation efforts can fail for a lot of different reasons. Sometimes it’s a failure to truly understand end user needs by creating a system without talking to those who will be using it. Another reason digital transformation efforts can become complicated is when requirements change mid-project. These changes can range from a new administration, a government shutdown, new legislation, or receiving last-minute requests from management for new features.
Understanding potential risks early on is the best way to mitigate these common challenges. Assessing risks before getting started is a great way to head off these challenges before getting started. Conducting a pre-engagement risk assessment begins with getting key stakeholders in the room at the very beginning and asking them to imagine: “Let’s assume we are at the end of the project and things went really wrong, we went over budget, over time, things are going badly, etc.” Then ask: “What are the main reasons for why things went poorly?” If you understand these risks upfront, you can address them from the very beginning.
Has Forum One undergone a digital transformation effort that got stuck? What happened? How did you fix it?
Yes, we certainly have. There are many reasons digital transformation efforts get stuck, whether it is because of a phantom stakeholder who has come in at the end with requirements we didn’t know existed or a government shutdown delayed the schedule. The best way to avoid getting stuck in the first place is to be sure you are talking to your stakeholders and end users. Involving stakeholders from the beginning and throughout the effort is key to ensure they are on board.
What are my obligations currently regarding federal policies?
The Technology Modernization Fund — a funding mechanism that agencies can use for digital modernization and transformation efforts and was initiated along with the Modernization Government Technology Act (MGT Act) — has clear restrictions on what it can fund and what it cannot. For example, if you have an IT budget allocation for your agency and you know you need more, which is a common problem, this is not a fund to top off your existing IT budget. What they are looking for are commercial applications and concrete deliverables for using that fund. They prioritize specific approaches, like shared platforms over proprietary systems. The process involves a proposal for the funds, which you can apply for with the criteria that they have. Another great resource is the Office of the Federal Chief Information Officer, which offers templates and provides answers to frequently asked questions.
If you’re working at a government agency and want to procure IT modernization, you and your contracting officer should look at the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) regulations, which were passed in 2014. They share guidelines on how to go about contracting for these types of services. They also provide a self-assessment to gauge your agency’s readiness to take on a modernization project. You will want to have a contracting officer look at these restrictions and to enable a digital transformation effort to be funded and executed.
How long do these projects typically take?
It really depends on the project. In terms of digital transformation efforts, the planning phase can be anywhere from a few months to a year depending on the complexity of the project. We typically try to complete planning within two to six months — which includes workshops with staff, stakeholder interviews, or focus groups, and ensuring we understand the high-level features needed for success. It really depends on how many people are involved and how involved the stakeholders are. As many of us know, “it takes a village” to do something as complex as a digital transformation at a government agency.
Why digital modernization for government matters
We know there are many more questions surrounding government digital transformation, and our team regularly helps its government clients gain a better understanding of these efforts and how to get started. The impact of digital transformation at a technical level includes better and more readily-available data, improved means to measure key performance indicators (KPIs), and stronger security. At a process level, it makes it easier for agencies to do their jobs, reduces frustration with systems, and most importantly, allows government agencies to focus on their missions to serve its citizens.
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