From AI to RPA, technology is transforming the working world — and government agencies are no exception. Implemented wisely, it provides a significant opportunity to reduce costs and improve performance, while also allowing government agencies to think more creatively about how they can transform to improve the services they provide and ultimately the citizen experience.
However, while the upgrading of technology is a transformation in and of itself, to reach your ideal end goal, you need to see the bigger picture.
“We had to revamp our entire governance process, because it doesn’t matter if we just improved the technology or if we improved the culture if we don’t reshape the way that we’re governing,” Jason Gray, CIO at the U.S. Department of Education, told an EY-sponsored Federal News Network Executive Briefing on Collaboration and Transformation.
Gray understood that to maximize impact and succeed in meeting objectives, it is more effective to think of technology as a powerful tool that can enable the holistic transformation of your agency.
You want to deliver world-class public services that will improve people’s lives, so consider how technology can impact your workforce, infrastructure and business processes to set you toward success. Identifying your mission and aligning your technology strategy enables better, faster and more effective change.
Automation is commonly one of the first things that comes to mind when looking to introduce new or upgraded technology that can help you spend less and do more — and do it faster. Traditionally, time-intensive manual tasks can be done faster and more effectively, from filing and processing paperwork to using autonomous vehicles and drones to identify, for example, where highway maintenance is needed — and then carry out the repairs.
Freeing up these working hours allows you to streamline the agency and enables employees to use their time more productively. Whether that’s devising innovative ways to improve services or focusing on more valuable customer-facing activities, it benefits both citizens and employees. In technology’s highly competitive market, providing more satisfying employment is crucial for engagement and retention of talent.
Technology can also optimize back-office processes and improve operational performance. Bots can sort through huge amounts of paperwork to find relevant information; AI can analyze mountains of data and produce insights faster than people could. And when key decisions are needed, analytics helps people to make better ones more quickly.
Increasingly, using emerging technologies to manage services and assets is impacting larger projects and enabling smarter cities. Utilizing the Internet of Things (IoT) can cost-effectively speed up areas such as maintenance and traffic management. Connected systems identify faults — for instance in street lighting or heating systems — and can often also remotely fix them; instant reactions to traffic incidents such as accidents or spillages minimize gridlocks. For urban planning, the use of VR and digital twins — sophisticated simulation and modeling capabilities — allow city planners to virtually replicate structures and environments to quickly assess viability and impact and communicate that more easily to their citizens. VR is also proving invaluable for training purposes, especially in traditionally high-risk areas such as for pilots or the military.
Crucially, technology is also helping to serve citizens in a more personalized way — something that is becoming increasingly the norm for consumers, as commercial companies show how customer experiences can become richer through data-led insights. It’s thus increasingly important for public services, too, to offer multichannel citizen engagement that meets their expectations in our digital age.
Online services offer cost savings, user convenience and direct lines of communication to government services, putting access and information directly into citizens’ hands when, where and how they want it, fostering greater community engagement and satisfaction.
Making online access to civic data simpler; providing portals and mobile apps to make providing information and filing documents, such as tax returns or applying for benefits and planning permission clearer and easier; offering chatbots to quickly address queries; making information accessible via voice assistants — innovations such as these can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of public services and improve customer perceptions.
Yet, while data is fundamental to emerging technologies, many people are naturally suspicious about how their data is collected and used. Agencies must be transparent to retain a high level of trust, demonstrating that it is being used appropriately and responsibly in a lawful and ethical manner. Technologies such as blockchain and adaptive security can help to ensure that this sensitive and valuable data remains confidential, secure and protected from cyberthreats.
But technology in isolation isn’t the answer to conducting successful transformation programs — it has to be combined with a shared mission across multiple stakeholders.
A recent study of public-sector professionals by the Government Business Council, underwritten by EY, found that 51 percent of public-sector professionals identified lack of internal coordination as the biggest challenge to government transformation programs, while 73 percent thought communicating and engaging with staff and stakeholders were the most important tools in supporting these programs.
It’s clear that planning and communication and engaging the impacted workforce in the transformation process is key to success, and that transforming the culture is just as important.
“There’s a lot of power in making sure everyone recognizes their voice is being heard,” says Jeff Bristow, principal with Government and Public Sector, Ernst & Young LLP. He adds that successful transformation “[is] about making a cultural shift and a mindset shift. It’s more about the ability to adapt and respond to the needs of your constituents or your employees. That is the key.”
Bristow’s advice highlights how a successful transformation effort must keep the customer at the center.
“You will never go anywhere if you don’t align with your broader stakeholders and you don’t measure program success against the aligned goals,” says Roberta Mourão, EY Government and Public Sector (GPS) Solutions Leader.
So, what is the best way to set agencies on the customer-centric highway?
In federal, state and local government, one size does not fit all; transformation programs must be selected and tailored for the environment, managed like a project and evaluated for the benefits realized.
Yet while there is no one right transformation model, there is a right way to execute.
EY recommends designing a transformation road map that takes you from the initial vision to the destination — this will greatly assist the smooth running of the journey. Taking the time to properly identify and customize the right model for your agency is the first step toward successfully unlocking the opportunities offered by transformation.
The EY agency transformation approach can support how you navigate and prepare for now, next and beyond. Built on vast public-sector experience, industry lessons learned and deep technical knowledge, this approach — which can be explored further via the EY agency transformation site — enables systematic change to how government agencies meet objectives, setting out what is necessary to meet agency challenges, and achieve sustained mission and operational benefits.
EY knows transformation, having supported federal, commercial, and state and local transformation initiatives and collected the lessons learned for each stage of the process.
Discover more about how EY helps government agencies get results here: ey.com/public/2019/1907/1907-3207987/agency-transformation/agency-transformation.html.
The views reflected in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the global EY organization or its member firms.