Digital Transformation and Government Agencies

It’s no secret that the government tends to move slower than the private sector when it comes to hopping on current trends. This isn’t necessarily a good thing or a bad thing. It’s just the nature of the beast.

But with COVID-19 flipping our world upside down, a whole host of flaws have been exposed in our old system of cramming dozens of people to wait in line at the DMV or some other government office. And not all of these flaws are related to the virus. In fact, most aren’t.

Governments have had to move fast to digitize and get set up to provide more citizen services online due to the pandemic, but just like a freight train that can’t be stopped, this digital shift is likely to continue once government agencies truly recognize what digital can do for efficiency.

The digital age of governance is coming. Here’s a synopsis of a recent Digital Done Right episode where we discussed this very topic.

Welcome to 1995

Until now, we’ve all been more than willing to put up with an abysmal user experience when it comes to dealing with government services online. Yeah, their websites are awful. Their user interface is awful. The design is awful. Even major federal government portals can make you feel like you’re looking at a GeoCities page from 1995.

But it’s still better than spending half a day at City Hall so we grin and bear it. Take what we can get.

This is all about to change.

People are starting to demand better digital services from their government at all levels – but more than the squeaky wheel getting the grease, governments are beginning to see that it’s a win-win situation.

The Center for Digital Government

A ton of hurdles exist for implementing digital infrastructure in government, from good old-fashioned bureaucracy to a legitimate lack of skilled tech employees to do the work to the inherent complexity related to certain transactions. As a simple example, it’s far simpler to sell a t-shirt online than it is to, say, transfer the title for your boat. The IRS has been pretty good about working with digital signatures for a while now but most other agencies are lagging far behind.

Enter the Center for Digital Government.

Similar to the WHO but for digital initiatives, the Center for Digital Government is a central body that helps government agencies expedite the digital transformation. It’s a national research and advisory institute that just looks at information technology and policy best practices for digital governance. 

It’s great resource for government agencies at every level – but only if municipalities take advantage of the services offered.

But even if rollout is slow, the fact that this organization exists means we’re moving in the right direction and that more agencies are understanding that a digital transformation can lead to a boon in efficiency. It won’t happen overnight but it’s now much easier to lay out a roadmap to get there.

A Shift in Mentality

Coinciding with the move to go digital period, we’re also seeing agencies think more like consumer brands and less like the government. This means topics like analytics, machine learning and customer experience are starting to come up. Government entities are getting involved in digital marketing and long-term digital strategy, too. They’re also starting to hire digital talent away from the private sector, which will have a compelling effect not only on future job creation but on the types of tools the government will have the resources to create.

And as this all rolls out, the door naturally opens up for digital agencies to step in and help.

A New Business Model

The prospect of adding government agencies as a new vertical is huge for the digital marketing industry, but it’s one that comes with a distinct set of challenges that will need to be overcome to make the relationship work.

  • Due to transparency requirements and the scrutiny that comes with spending taxpayer dollars, the RFP process will become much more black and white. 
  • Bids will follow more specific guidelines with the work much more narrowly defined. Well-sold but generic proposals won’t make it through strict government contractor onboarding protocols.
  • Agencies’ cost structures will need to be redefined, shifting to outcome-based billing instead of setting a fixed price for management fees based as a service.
  • Projects will work with harder deadlines, as the expenditure of tax dollars creates different expectations compared to the private sector.
  • Funding for initiatives will be more complex than they are in the private sector. Businesses can easily advocate for digital investment by analyzing the potential increased revenue, whereas government agencies will need to show benefits to the taxpayers to drive change.

Some agencies will thrive in this new environment and others won’t, but the prospect of working with a client that isn’t allowed to drag their feet and go around and around with revisions should lead to a lot of work getting accomplished. And from the agency’s perspective, they’ll get paid for revisions and extra work that they often have to eat when working with a corporate client. With government, there’s an expectation that adding features means adding cost.

It’s not about digital agencies making all the money, though. It’s about delivering value to the municipality.

Benefits to Government

It’s plain to see how a digital transformation in governance benefits citizens. Think about the beauty of renewing your driver’s license using your smartphone! But the advantages for government agencies are equally attractive.

  • More consumers will be timely with paying car registrations, submitting tax payments, filing for permits, etc.
  • Municipalities will enjoy better cash flow and improved forecasting capabilities
  • Leveraging technology can lead to huge cost savings, for example a chatbot or live chat replacing a call center of employees answering the telephone
  • Faster, more accurate collection of customer information

Data Issues

The government going full digital isn’t all sunshine and roses. As digital platforms collect data and the government seeks to utilize this data, obvious data privacy issues come to light. Imagine if the federal government was accused of data manipulation in the same way Facebook and Google are. This is a wrinkle that will definitely need to be ironed out if you’re going to get the citizenry on board.

More on the Topic

Listen to the entire Digital Done Right Podcast to hear my thoughts on how the digital transformation in government might affect jobs over the decades to come, along with ideas for how automation could lead to opportunities for retraining and retooling. We also discuss Mesa, AZ, the winner of the Government Experience Innovation Award and dive deeper into the strides they’re taking towards digital governance and the infrastructure they’ve installed in their quest to be a Smart City.

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