Digital transformation in government

Over the last 30 years or so our culture has been undergoing a digital revolution – digital technologies have become ingrained in our day-to-day life and we have been catapulted into the Information Age. Unlike the generations that have gone before them, the youth of today will have only known an on-demand digital lifestyle. This, coupled with an increasing reliance on digital technology, will have an impact on how people do business and how people will want to interact with government. To keep up with the change in culture and to help close the gap between the system and the people, it is up to governments to digitally transform the way they interact with people, deliver services and provide information.

Digital Transformation in Government

Generally speaking, digital transformation refers to the changes that occur when digital technologies are applied to all aspects of our society. From a government perspective, digital transformation is the process of whole scale change that affects governmental functions, from customer service to technology, to communications and marketing. At its most simple, digital transformation is the concept of going paperless and aims to help make communication between citizens and the government easier, more appealing and more efficient. This process of change can be especially challenging for governments as governmental systems are often rigid and bogged down by policy, procedure and tradition.

Efficiency vs Complexity

As we move toward a more digitally reliant society, tolerance for "old ways" of interacting with a government department or service provider, especially by younger generations, is decreasing. Nobody wants to waste time in queue, fill out and lodge paper forms, or spend time on hold listening to elevator music on repeat. In response to changing technologies and customer needs, governments should be able to move away from paper forms and queues and instead provide people with no fuss, streamlined digital services where their needs can be effectively, efficiently and easily met. But governments can be very complex beasts – sometimes way more so than they need to be – and this complexity can get in the way of effective and efficient interaction with people. In most cases there is a big, yawning gap between governments and their citizens.

An Imbalance of Power

Traditionally Governments hold all the information, all the knowledge and all the power. At the other end of the spectrum exists the citizen, the customer of the government, who holds very little power and is just trying to get access to the information and services they are entitled to. In some cases, where Governments have started the process of digital transformation and have come online, information and services are scattered between hundreds of different webpages and systems. This makes information hard to find, hard to access and unintentionally continues to enforce the asymmetrical relationship between people and the Government which digital transformation aims to correct. For these reasons well thought out and well planned digital systems are vital to good service provision.

A Revolution in Relationships

The digital transformation of a government's services presents an opportunity to re-balance the relationship between people and government. That is – close the gap. Richard Foy, GM for Digital Transformation DIA in the New Zealand public service, at the FWD_LIVE Government Technology Forum in Wellington this year, stated that the digital transformation in government is about "moving the public service into a much more unified team. Where we work together around delivering integrated services and provide experiences that actually make sense, are meaningful for people and work within the channels that they are used to working in, at the moments in their lives where it is most useful."

By this he means that not only should governments have good digital services, but also that there are opportunities arising for governments to work with partners, to have their digital services open, so that they can be embedded in other channels and organisations that are also meaningful. This could be in the form of services that allow people to check their passport validity or apply for visas when they book their overseas travel.

New Zealand's 3 Dimensional Model

In his address, Foy also puts forward the concept of a 3D model for digital transformation. In the NZ model three key "vision" areas were identified to help the Government provide high quality, effective and efficient digital services:

  • Customer vision – this is the idea that it should be easy to transact with the Government, so easy in fact that people will choose to do so. People are digital by choice.
  • Service vision – that digital services are designed in the right way (seamless, smart and secure). Government services are digital by design.
  • System vision – the capabilities, ways of being and ways of thinking that will make the public service digital by choice and digital by design. Government services are digital by default.

These "vision" areas aim to help the New Zealand Government better communicate and connect with those who need their information and services. As Foy notes, it is not the role of the citizen to close the gap between themselves and the government, but rather it is the role of the government. It is also the role of government to make sure left hand is talking to the right hand and to ensure that the information and services they provide are accessible to those who require them. Thus the digital transformation of government aims to create a unified, connected experience of people with the government.


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