Gartner: Governments want to be digital, but just can't scale it up

Quelle surprise, they also know digital skills are important but don't run training programmes...

Government digital initiatives are limping behind other industries – and the public sector is more likely to outsource for help, according to analyst firm Gartner.

Although government bods in the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, India and Singapore polled by the firm claimed that digital was high on their agendas, their ability to scale up these plans moves slowly.

Undeterred by the wrath of those that hate the term, Gartner asked respondents whether their digital ambitions lay in "digital transformation" or in using technology to optimise services.

About half plumped for a combination of the two, while a third said they were focusing only on optimisation, and 17 per cent on just transformation.

Planning prevents poor performance

Gartner drew up a five-point plan for government initiatives, ranging from wanting to be better at digital to reaping the rewards.

In analyst speak these stages are desire, designing, delivering, scaling and harvesting – and 91 per cent of the 60 officials that responded to the straw poll were still in the first three stages.

These focus on developing and introducing new services, rather than scaling up those services and seeing them supersede their non-digital counterparts.

Effectively, this means governments are better at discussing problems and thinking up plans than they are seeing them through, or ensuring they work better than the paper-based systems they replaced.

This will be of little surprise to UK government IT watchers who saw the Government Digital Service – introduced with much fanfare in 2011 – pale into insignificance in less than a decade, at just about the time when its flagship programmes should have been making Whitehall savings.

Dean Laheca, research director at Gartner, said the results indicated “a lack of effectiveness by government organisations at scaling their digital business”.

He pointed the finger at two internal barriers. The first, a misalignment between digital strategy and business priorities, pointing out that plans for tech can’t exist without buy-in from the wider business.

The second was that the organisation wasn’t ready for change, with Laheca saying that “if there is no urgency to act, or if the culture is not ready to accept change, progress will remain slow”.

Hire in professionals

Gartner also found that there was a greater reliance on third-party developers in governments than other sectors, with more than half saying they used them.

This is in contrast to 41 per cent over all the six industries surveyed, which comprised financial services, government, manufacturing, retail, healthcare and education.

Laheca said governments’ use of third parties was a positive, describing it as a “big step in the right direction” and calling for more new partnerships to be developed.

Indeed, he put government support of services built by third-party devs down to “open data, open APIs and support for civic technology”.

He did not relate it to factors Reg readers might be more familiar with, such as an ingrained obsession with outsourcers, years of lock-in to legacy systems that newbies can’t support or a lack of digitally-skilled civil servants.

This is despite the latter point being indicated elsewhere in the report; it found that, although half the respondents said that improving staff skills were critical to the success of their business, 58 per cent had no formal training programme.

Laheca advised C-suite execs in government to work with HR departments to “assess the current state of digital dexterity and develop an organisation-wide programme”

The analyst also advised governments to take develop schemes involving citizens to boost public sector digital initiatives, saying that establishing “citizen ecosystems” would up engagement and benefit society more generally. ®

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