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Building a Culture of Digital Transformation


After being hampered by legacy technologies and siloed systems while also experiencing a surge in demand for public services during the pandemic, many state and local agencies are now adopting cloud-based technologies and services to accelerate modernization.

Nearly every organization is eager to embrace digital transformation.

After being hampered by legacy technologies and siloed systems while also experiencing a surge in demand for public services during the pandemic, many state and local agencies are now adopting cloud-based technologies and services to accelerate modernization.

However, digital transformation also requires a culture shift, with new policies and new approaches. The Center for Digital Government recently interviewed IT leaders in state and local government about how they can leverage the cloud, AI, automation and other emerging technologies to support a new digital workforce, “do more with less” and still enhance constituent service delivery. Their experience provides four valuable lessons for how government organizations can bring people, processes and technology together to build a culture of digital transformation.

Lesson #1: Set the Vision

Building a culture of digital transformation must start at the top.

Leadership must work together to create a vision and map out a strategy for enterprise-wide digital transformation. Officials in Brighton County, Colo., for example, have set a vision centered around a simple motto: “work better through technology.”

“That is what we try to accomplish with everything we do,” says David Guo, the county’s IT director.

Setting a vision for digital transformation also requires government organizations to transform their view of IT from simply a technology enablement function. Chief information officers (CIOs) and IT teams will play a critical role in helping their organizations create more connected enterprises by guiding them through the adoption of new cloud technologies, helping department leaders align these technologies with their business processes and facilitating staff training to acclimate employees to new technologies.

“IT is a strategic partner, not a cost center,” says Keith Fuchser, the IT divisional manager for business relationship in Arapahoe County, Colo.

Once IT and department leaders work together to map out a transformation strategy, it’s important they codify their strategy and over-communicate their vision. The Texas Department of Information Resources has done this by creating a digital transformation guide for the state’s agencies that details a five-step process for modernization and enhancing constituent service delivery.[1] Other government organizations have created IT advisory boards composed of one liaison from each department, which ensures greater collaboration and stakeholder engagement.

Approaches like these can foster both top-down and bottom-up support for new technologies and lay the foundation for cultural transformation.

Lesson #2: Build Your Proof of Concept

When introducing new technologies, state and local governments should consider starting with one department or team to build their proof of concept. From there, they can move in a more agile and nimble way to foster more widespread adoption.

Nequelle Battle, assistant IT director for the city of Durham, N.C., does what she calls “the pallet test,” where a department can see the product they’re getting beforehand. Once they adopt it, Battle’s team uses this experience to sell others in the organization on the solution.

“I’ve learned with individuals [that] you can tell them, ‘OK, this works great,’ but until you’re able to present the data and provide the trends and that transparency there, you can’t get someone to buy in,” Battle says.

Lesson #3: Don’t Try to Boil the Ocean

Similar to Battle’s approach, government organizations need to start small and build up when it comes to digital transformation.

Trying to accomplish everything at once can overwhelm employees. IT officials in Maricopa County, Ariz., for example, said they heard employee feedback about “technology fatigue” because employees felt they were given too many new tools all at once.

To combat this, organizations instead can focus on a few key strategic initiatives to maximize value. For example, a digital workspace platform that serves as a central hub for various cloud services can provide the digital foundation governments need to support a remote workforce. Business licensing and permitting platforms also can help governments generate more ROI for their technology spend by allowing constituents to engage in these processes online. Staffers in these departments also will see the value of these technologies in the form of increased efficiency and less manual work.

By taking a platform approach, governments can reduce the learning curve for employees, help them feel less overwhelmed and accelerate engagement with new technologies since they can focus on familiarizing their staff with one central tool or user interface — rather than a collection of disparate solutions that don’t integrate or play well together.

Lesson #4: Meet People Where They Are

Many of the government officials interviewed by CDG said employees are now more open to digital technologies because they’ve seen the value these tools have provided over the last year, especially as they adapted to a new way of working.

However, several officials said ongoing resistance to change was one of the most difficult things their organizations still must overcome. To accomplish this, it’s important for government leaders to educate, empathize with and empower employees. Often this means meeting people where they are in their digital transformation journey.

William Holmes, deputy city clerk for the city of Mount Vernon, N.Y., has focused on allowing employees to work collaboratively using just the call feature on video conferencing platforms and then has gradually shown them other features on the platform they may not know about.

John Walker, IT director for the city of St. Louis, seeks to understand what employees are afraid of when they express a resistance to change and helps guide them through their fears. Walker has discovered that although people are initially resistant, after a while they embrace new tools and are eager for more new technology — and often want it much faster than his team can implement it.

Paving the Way for Digital Transformation

When it comes to digital transformation, there is no one-size-fits-all strategy. Government organizations both large and small will need to understand their own cultural dynamics to craft an effective transformation strategy.

Government workforces have undergone rapid change in the last year, so it’s understandable why people would have both technology and change fatigue. However, the pandemic may have provided an opening for government workforces to see the real and lasting value digital technologies offer. It’s up to government leaders to seize this opportunity to help their teams adapt and usher in digital transformation that will reshape and innovate how their organizations serve the public.