by Byron Connolly

Digital transformation: Why governments are slipping up

Nov 20, 2015
Digital TransformationGovernmentTechnology Industry

Digital transformation initiatives across government are being hampered by CEOs who are looking to retire in their careers and are adverse to the risks associated with modernising legacy infrastructure.

This is the view of Ian Brightwell, CIO at the NSW Electoral Commission, who was part of an executive panel discussing digital transformation. The panel also included Forrester senior analyst, Tim Sheedy; and Rhipe Solutions’ Liam Davison.

Brightwell believes digital transformation is a rally call for senior management in government to do something and overcome their reluctance to alter or replace legacy systems for fear of doing the wrong thing.

Government is now being told that it’s ‘OK to fail’ and have a go, said Brightwell.

“And moreover, if we don’t then we are going to be suffering for it in the future – and strangely enough, bureaucrats have never been told that before in their lives – they are a bit stunned and bemused,” he said.

“There are any number of large systems built circa 1990s or somewhere around Y2K time that have not been touched. And they are all starting to get towards the end of their life, no-one knows how they work, what’s quite going on, and successive CEOs are trying to figure on how to get to retirement without taking on that project.”

Governments will be harshly judged if they don’t do anything about digital transformation, worse than if they do something and have some problems along the way, Brightwell said.

“That’s a mindset shift … digital disruption is about allowing senior people to make decisions … as well as the public who have to be able say, ‘maybe the shareholders lost and bit of money, maybe the government lost a bit of money but they had a go, it was a good idea on the face of it – maybe we have to remodel’, but that’s not a disaster, you don’t go and shoot people over that,” he said.

Forrester’s Sheedy agreed saying the only thing organisations can do that’s bad, that’s wrong in digital transformation, is to not do anything.

“I could be down on organisations going out there buying point products that aren’t integrated with backend systems … but it’s just people trying to do things, so I am not going to be down on that,” Sheedy said.

Sheedy said technology groups in some organisations – public and private sector – are helping make a successful transition to digital but others are leaving IT behind.

He highlighted that some organisations are starting up a ‘bolt on’ digital practice because the technology department is not responding to what they need.

“The challenge of doing digital as a bolt on is you create different experiences for the customer. How many times do you go to a store and then go to [a company’s] website? Or deal with a company’s sales person and then visit the website and have two completely conflicting experiences with the organisation?” he asked.

“In retail in Australia, the website is a catalogue – and yet they [retailers] are spending millions on creating this awesome in store experience. That’s the risk of not doing it. In this era, we notice that and get a conflicting experience.”

The NSW Electoral Commission introduced an online voting system for people outside NSW during the 2015 state election.

‘”We took 283,661 votes online and most of those were overseas. Our biggest spike in usage was on Friday night before election day between 10:00pm and 12:00am, I don’t think they were that sober, they were in the demographic of about 20 years of age to 25. But they voted and we were having trouble getting that group to vote,” Brightwell said.

“It’s an interesting transformation in terms of that is the expectation. In my business, the single dinner party question you get asked guaranteed is, ‘when will I be able to vote online? It is the absolute single question I get asked and any lagging in that is not a good look for government at large.”

Meanwhile, Rhipe Solutions’ Davison warns that any organisation not tying digital transformation projects to business objectives risks ending up with disengaged users.

“People aren’t going to want to take on the technology you are providing them if it’s not helping them out with their jobs,” he said.

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