Planning Your Elephant Feast: An Effective Digital Government Approach

When embarking on a mammoth government initiative of digital enablement – akin to eating that proverbial elephant one bite at a time – you’ll want to know where to start. Should you just grab the nearest bit? Or dive right into the middle? It surely does not make sense to nibble around the edges and see what happens!

Government clients often ask us where to start this inevitable journey. Traditional IT wisdom would suggest that governments should start by changing the infrastructure and then the applications. But, by discussing the pros and cons of various digital government approaches with my peers internationally, and collaborating on many digitalization initiatives with these clients, I’m convinced that this is the wrong place to start. Although technology is great at driving efficiency, it simply cannot drive (enough) organizational change.

Instead, the right place to start eating the digital government elephant is by driving change on the business side. Prerequisite steps for becoming a digital data-driven government involve strategically rethinking the services business model. Initial attention should be focused on how the organization can make best use of its wealth of information both internally and externally. This means thinking across department boundaries or levels of governments; this even means daring to change some laws. Once you’ve made some progress here, you can translate this into an interlocked IT roadmap and an efficient IT estate.

Following on from this, the next steps are to empower the civil servants with the right processes and tools to become a digital data-driven organization. Decisions are needed fast or even in real time to deliver the best possible services to the public, so you need to automate the processing of the vast amounts of available data via advanced analytics. Let the information come to you and make the expert decision. Use lab approaches to validate business scenarios and then make them operational in the day-to-day process. Sounds easy, but it does require a different organizational culture, moving away from someone being an administrative clerk to becoming a subject-matter expert who validates each case and provides the right advice.

The next and very important step is to protect information assets in the digital world. A new approach to security is required. Thanks to the rise of the Internet and various “As-A-Service” providers, your information will be traveling (unprotected) from one environment to another. So, we need to raise business awareness about protecting all information flows and put in place protective measures on each component.

Adopting an “As-A -Service” strategy will not happen in one day; legacy will continue to exist and will need to be transformed over time. So, the ultimate step is to transform the government IT landscape towards a hybrid infrastructure, interlinked to changing business needs. With this approach, governments won’t have to wait for IT to solve yesterday’s problems. This is also the only way for the government CIO to remain relevant and enable the total IT transformation, or the business might venture out on its own.

Starting to eat a digital government elephant is daunting. To help you plan a successful roadmap to fully digitize your services portfolio, we’ve published a 10-step approach. In my next blog, I’ll take a detailed look at the prerequisite steps – Eating That [Digital Government] Elephant: The First Five Steps.

Yves Vanderbeken is a DXC Chief Technologist and lead enterprise architect for the Flemish government and local governments (Flanders). Since 2011, Vanderbeken has been a core team member of the Flemish government’s Open Data team. He defined the technical strategy for setting up the Open Data platform and extracting, transforming, and publishing information in a consistent manner. He is the co-author of the Open Data Handbook published by the Flemish Government in February 2014. Vanderbeken coaches and advises various departments on their Open Data Master Plan and how to disclose data from their source systems to the Open Data platform, ensuring data quality and consistency across data sets.