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The Case for a Bite-Sized Approach to Digital Transformation

Rather than looking at the move to digital services as a “one and done” endeavor, incremental change over time can create systems that are agile and sustainable and effective now and in the future.

lines and binary code on a freeway illustrating digital transformation
Shutterstock/Blue Planet Studio
For public-sector operations, the pandemic clarified what worked and what didn’t. Together we learned that legacy systems often impeded our ability to serve constituents’ needs remotely. We came to a collective realization that digital transformation was necessary to move forward in delivering quality public services throughout the pandemic and beyond.

As we work to establish our new normal, we must stop for a second, take a step back, reflect on the past two years and ask ourselves, “What lessons can we take away from this time that can prepare us for future needs?”

One that stuck out bright and clear is how we think about digital transformation. Too often, digital transformation is considered a one-time event, a “big bang” that alters all processes and overhauls each system at once. In reality, the most effective instances of digital transformation are performed over time.

For digital changes to be effective in the present and adaptable in the future, digital transformation must be thought of as a journey, with incremental processes that transform services delivery in bite-sized pieces. Taking a “bite-sized” approach can help the public-sector workforce manage the change within the workforce and constituency, focus on top priorities, and build on learned successes.

Practicing bite-sized digital transformation is like buying a new phone. First, you purchase the phone and it comes with specific innate capabilities, but there is still storage space to download additional functions, whether essential or desired. Then, to tailor your new phone to your unique needs, you download apps, one at a time, to expand those capabilities.

It’s just like incremental digital transformation: You invest in cloud-first solutions that automate deployment and manageability with a modular, open platform you can customize based on the population you are serving.

Need to add an emergency rental assistance portal at record speed? Need to streamline an all-new case management system? It’s all possible and easily attainable once the foundation for a flexible digital future has been built.


These changes in service delivery start from within. Good public-service delivery stems from a well-equipped workforce. The public-sector workforce needs to be able to keep up with and adapt to the changes affecting the way they deliver their services. An incremental approach to digital transformation can help manage the speed and volume at which these changes are happening internally, so there is little to no disruption to the service delivery.


When taking an incremental approach, you have the power and responsibility to prioritize the needs of particular groups. Posing the question of “what needs to be done right now?” and choosing a starting point can create a valuable order to approach digital transformation.

You can have 15 different systems built, but prioritizing and focusing on the success of one system will make a world of difference in the way services are received by both constituents experiencing these changes and the public-sector workforce delivering them. In addition, when you focus on one system at a time, you become incrementally better and are equipped to take on the next system with greater knowledge and experience.


When you build on success, you can optimize future projects and systems by learning from mistakes, building buy-in from key stakeholders and getting feedback from customers. The public-sector workforce has a distinct responsibility to bring exceptional service to the population as public servants.

Using a bite-sized approach to digital transformation allows decision-makers to use past successes to inform future innovation. As a result, the public sector can think critically about future investments and use these experiences to get creative about building the future of digital government that serves people better.

Courtney E. Hawkins is an industry executive for the Public Sector team at Salesforce, where she works with all levels of government to implement health and human service technology tools that improve their services. Prior to taking this role in 2021, Hawkins was the director of Rhode Island’s Department of Human Services. Additionally, Hawkins was tapped by then Gov. Gina Raimondo as part of the state’s COVID-19 response leadership team.