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Will Your Data Strategy Deliver Digital Transformation? (Contributed)

CIOs face increasing pressure to deliver badly needed change on a number of fronts. Here are 10 steps on how to accelerate transformation that can meet and exceed these expectations.

The definition of digital transformation in government is evolving. Its meaning has extended beyond a shift to online services and the digitalization of physical processes. Now, it encompasses a range of citizen services, transactions and interactions that optimize digital and mobile technologies to deliver change. The 2018 National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) state CIO survey summarizes the evolution of digital transformation this way: “State leaders aspire to have seamless citizen transactions, increase engagements, provide mobile services, establish common online identities, and enable crowdsourcing and digital assistants to help navigate services.”

For state and local CIOs, delivering on this constantly expanding set of expectations is daunting. One recent Deloitte study of state and local government officials found that 73 percent felt their organization’s digital capabilities were lagging behind those in the private sector. As a former state CIO, I recognize and understand these pressures and the need to keep up as the race to digital accelerates. Citizens now expect the “Amazon experience”: seamless communication across channels, transparency and instant access to a choice of digital services, all at their convenience.

As the goalposts shift around digital transformation, states look to their CIOs to drive innovative ways to deliver citizen services, build better relationships with citizens and navigate a clear path to the future. A robust, measurable and well-executed data strategy is the foundation on which successful digital transformation is built. 

It’s All About the Data

Not all states feel they’re lagging behind with digital transformation. Some are making great strides. They are progressively driving real, sustainable, life-enhancing change for customers and citizens. These trailblazing organizations have one factor in common: they have a detailed, visionary data strategy with measurable goals. They also use data management and analytics, and they use effective data-driven decision-making and forecast accurate outcomes. Their intelligent, transparent focus on data is a catalyst for sustainable change. As a result, their digital visions to connect, protect and integrate citizens in smart environments are fast becoming reality. 

A growing number of cities are also moving towards digital transformation. Deloitte found that over 1,000 smart cities projects are underway worldwide. These cities use connected devices to collect data about a specific area and then process and analyze it to improve a city’s infrastructure. For example, if crime rates are high in one area, data may reveal reduced lighting, and the city can install new lights or replace the bulbs in those with outages. If traffic is backing up along one street, data could alert police to an accident or road hazard so that it can quickly be removed.

The Impact of Integrated, Enterprise Data Strategies

Sydney, Australia, which has set a vision for what it calls “a green, global and connected Sydney” by 2030, plans to consolidate information about all of its assets and infrastructure. The city previously had more than 60 separately maintained sources of data and has condensed them into a single, accessible, geotagged solution with simplified processes for city staff, as well as contractors and service delivery teams. The result is better planning, faster responses to customer service requests and a city that interacts with its constituents and residents who interact with each other, building a sense of community.

Brindisi, an Italian port city of nearly 90,000 residents, uses mapping technology to display information about environmental protections, zoning and permitting restrictions for government and individual properties. “Brindisi is a small city, but there are a number of issues that we have to deal with around environmental protection, landscaping and hydrology,” says Teodoro Indini, architectural official with the community of Brindisi. The city collects internal and external data and uses software to integrate it to build maps for visual analysis. For example, one map view reflects building restrictions. Some data is available to the general public, some to internal employees only, and some to city contractors such as architects, engineers and geologists.

CIOs Are Curators of Data 

From these international examples, there is one important point to note. Every state and local government procures, collates and protects data. They have access to historical records, census and population data, information on weather patterns and financial systems. By breaking down silos, every state and locality can potentially use this data to enrich the lives of their citizens; to predict and forecast outcomes; and to overcome challenges and improve the citizen experience. State and local CIOs must become curators of data, taking responsibility for the organization and integration of data collected from different sources and turning it into value. Only then can the potential of digital transformation be realized. 

10 steps state and local CIOs can implement to accelerate digital transformation:

  1. Focus on data, its quality and how it flows across the organization and to its citizens and stakeholders.
  2. Integrate real-time and historical data to become predictive, not reactive. 
  3. Align data strategy with organizational priorities and identify key areas for improvement with data — forecasting crime, pressures on infrastructure, managing environmental change, establishing demographic change. 
  4. Enable inter-agency collaboration and secure data sharing. Breaking down silos makes it possible to realize benefits that come with using data to tie assets together.  
  5. Ensure management systems are in place to interpret and optimize data.
  6. Develop processes to harness insight from citizen interactions.
  7. Make it a priority to remove barriers to progress, such as an inability to connect with stakeholders across their preferred channels.
  8. Plan and execute a clear vision for the future and communicate progress. Communicate with a sense of urgency — set milestones and deadlines, execute exceptional project management. 
  9. Invest in technologies, enabling them to scale, and partner where appropriate.
  10. Deepen worker digital skills.
With more than 20 years of experience covering state and local government, Tod previously was the editor of Public CIO, e.Republic’s award-winning publication for information technology executives in the public sector. He is now a senior editor for Government Technology and a columnist at Governing magazine.