Like everyone else, government departments are looking to digital transformation and emerging technologies to create new value, save costs or upgrade the citizen’s experience.

It’s true that there are a number of new technologies finally emerging and some real progress is starting to be made. I’ve seen this myself across a wide spread of industries such as defence, retail, financial services – and some pockets of the public sector.

One recent example was when we worked with a media institution on their quarterly forecasting systems and processes. Implementing an AI tool, it became clear that a team of 50 people could be reduced to just three. The rest could be redeployed to other, value-adding tasks. That’s might sound like an extreme, perhaps even once-in-a-career example – but with the right approach it’s attainable and it shows the kind of impact that technology can have on how organisations work.

However, it’s certainly not as simple as taking a piece of shiny technology out of the box, plugging it in and waiting for the digital magic to occur. 

I see five key elements that I’d advise any government or public sector team to focus on when looking to engineer new value through technology.

  1. Match the technology precisely to the problem you’re trying to solve. There are lots of eye-catching solutions out there – new pieces of AI, large language models, etc – but there has to be a really precise fit with what you’re trying to do. You have to be very specific about this. Otherwise, you could spend a lot of time and effort (and money) before coming to the conclusion that it’s not suited to your goals.
  2. Adopt ‘design thinking’ into your process. This is all about prototyping and ideation in an incremental, agile way of working. Just as if you were designing a physical object, make sure you have a clear concept of the end product and a design process mapped out, with review gates and investment stages built in. Evaluate each step along the way, adjusting and re-iterating as necessary.
  3. Include all stakeholders, including the back office. A lot of digital transformation will be focused on the front-end because that’s where the outcomes are visible – but much of the technical change is at the back-end to make it possible. So, make sure you’re involving and consulting all key constituencies all along the way – back office stakeholders and process owners as well as end-users.
  4. Focus on ‘data’ above ‘systems’. For digital transformations of key platforms like finance and procurement, there has been something of a paradigm shift in recent times. This has involved moving from a system-centric to a data-centric view. Whatever you’re trying to achieve, there will be a core data asset that runs through the whole process and is key to success. So, take the outcome you’re trying to achieve as the starting point and think about what data you’ll need to migrate, integrate or automate to make it happen. Data collaboration technologies can join up the dots and connect people to each other so that they can share data and create new insights and value. Data isn’t a barrier you’re trying to get over – usually, it’s the core problem you’re trying to solve.
  5. Don’t get caught up in ‘Missions to Mars’ – It’s easy to get over-enthusiastic about the future. Metaverse, blockchain, new digital worlds… But innovation doesn’t always look like you think it will. The fact is that much of transformation success comes from doing the pedestrian and boring things well in the here and now: data migration, process mining, user tasks. You’ll have more luck creating innovation around the thing that happens a thousand times a day that no one wants to do than the thing that everyone gets the most excited about.

So, be very clear about what you’re trying to achieve. Be precise about the technology solution(s) that can help you get there. Then map it out and take an agile approach. It’s through doing these basics well that most of the future will actually come to pass.

How to drive outcomes from new ways of working?