Digital Government: Developing the capabilities that are critical to success

Digital Government: Developing the capabilities that are critical to success


This is the third instalment in our series on digital government. You can find previous articles on preparing for transformation and five key questions on our website.

It used to be that organisations took a functional view of the world in developing capabilities: each department consisted of functions that comprised a set of activities to deliver that function. But more recently technology has transformed the delivery of activities within each function.

For example, previously HR activities such as recruitment, training, performance management and payroll each had budgets, teams and measures. Now it is more likely that HR activities are being transformed by analytics and data to drive better customer outcomes.

Technology-related capabilities need to be defined and nurtured; these are things the organisation needs to do well to succeed. This complicates the way organisations are measured and managed, but the horizontal nature of transformative technologies makes it essential.

Nous proposes 14 key capabilities for government agencies seeking success in a digital world. These capabilities are divided into four domains: Enterprise, Services, Data and ICT. Not all are relevant to each organisation and it is not necessary to achieve the same level of maturity in each.

Key capabilities for digital success

Enterprise capabilities

Agile-led organisational simplification

Use agile ways of working to flatten hierarchies, increase cross-functional collaboration and empower people.

This is inspired by technology companies’ approach to deliver working software at regular intervals instead of the traditional waterfall approach, which often had a long design phase that meant the software was outdated by the time it was implemented. Agile-led organisational simplification draws on the methods, tools and lessons from ICT projects.

Large-scale service delivery change

Radically simplify the service delivery process, thereby reducing effort for the customer and reducing complexity for the service delivery organisation.

This is often driven by the realisation that services no longer reflect the customer needs and have become less efficient and responsive. This is most acutely felt in newer customer service channels (such as online, social, livechat, messaging and contact centre channels) that are poorly supported by the organisation.

To achieve large-scale change quickly, with low risk and without reinventing the wheel, many organisations implement cloud-based technology platforms that integrate multichannel interactions and also analytics capabilities such as single view of the customer.

Services capabilities

Customer listening

Develop situational awareness of customer conversations, making sense of rapidly changing sentiments and responding through multiple channels in near real time.

Customers are giving organisations feedback through multiple channels, even without being asked. Channels include in-person contact, social media, third-party review websites, comments on the corporate website, emails to executives and even online campaigns targeting specific injustices. Often an increase in customer listening capabilities is based on using software tools and training people in corporate relations and customer service to use them.

Service performance management

Develop the ability to monitor and adjust services regularly to meet the rising expectations of customers amid fiscal pressures and the need to provide services tailored to customer cohorts.

This capability requires access to timely, relevant and granular reporting on services, which in turn requires finding data from siloed ICT systems and developing dashboards and reporting that enable speedy decision-making.

Launch and scale-up of information-heavy services

Cultivate the ability to provide easy access to government-held data – through digital platforms for customers and through application programming interfaces (APIs) for third-party software developers.

This capability is important as governments increasingly recognise that their data is a strategic asset that can improve delivery of government services, improve policy outcomes and contribute to economic growth, including through third-party applications that access that data.

Developing this capability requires investing in infrastructure and skills to support data storage, interoperability, data manipulation and analysis.

Privacy and security management

Combine a business- and people-led approach with technical excellence to deal with privacy and security challenges.

Technology’s growth has made it easy to share information but more complex to protect it. This includes sensitive information bound by privacy laws and organisationally-important information that needs protection from unauthorised access. Cyber-attacks are a real and growing threat against which digital assets need to be fortified by cybersecurity experts. Privacy and security are not exclusive to digital information, but this is the IT department’s main concern. Organisations need to take four steps.

Firstly, they need to design IT systems to support security and privacy needs. Secondly, they need to work with business leaders to recognise early, and fund action on, privacy and security. Thirdly, they need to scan the environment to keep abreast of evolving threats and regularly test systems for their ability to withstand these threats. And fourthly, the need to develop a privacy- and security-aware culture because the best technical defences may be brought down by human biases, assumptions and ignorance.

Information asset lifecycle management

Foster the ability to manage information assets well. This includes dealing with technological obsolescence, protecting from cyber and physical security threats, and maintaining asset integrity.

This capability is important as information assets are becoming mission-critical for government organisations. These assets include databases of customer or operational data, ICT applications containing the business rules on which the organisation runs and ICT infrastructure needed to keep the lights on.

ICT expertise is essential in ensuring adequate investment, modernising assets as technology changes, protecting assets from cyber and physical security threats, and maintaining the integrity of the asset through its lifecycle, from design to commission to use to retirement.

Human-centred design

Ensure human-centred design works well in the context of the specific agency through a tailored approach to building skills, resources, methodologies, training and ways of working.

Many agencies have established human-centred design groups to provide training, tools and methods. Human-centred design – used in developing products, services, work environments and interactions – keeps customer needs at the centre through a systematic-yet-creative method that discovers those needs and then delivers a better experience. Most services developed by government rely on technology. To be effective, human-centred design must work in the context of the agency.

Data capabilities

Data collection and wrangling

Make a comprehensive and diverse range of data, often held in multiple ICT systems, easy to find, understand and manipulate in a timely and secure manner.

Data is growing in volume, is being collected ever-more frequently in a wide range of formats and is subject to increasing concerns about reliability, quality, privacy and security. It is also often a challenge to extract it in a cost-effective manner from legacy ICT systems. But given the growing appetite for data there is a need to build central infrastructure such as data repositories and tools so that all or most of an organisation’s data is easily accessible and understandable.

Standards-led interoperability

Build a standards-led approach to sharing data and information within government and with external stakeholders.

Interoperability is the ability of information systems to work across organisational boundaries. A standards-led approach to interoperability reduces cost and time to connect and also ensures lower barriers for new players. As digitisation increases in government and the private sector, standards become more important, for three reasons.

Firstly, they promote an inclusive approach to procuring products and services as they allow emerging companies to participate by lowering their costs of providing data-related products and services. Secondly, they ensure low-cost and speedy access by consumers and businesses to data held in government, with appropriate safeguards. And thirdly, they are needed to cost-effectively develop policies and services that use data held in different departments.

Business value from data identification

Maximise the business value from data through insights that enhance decision making.

Use of standards can solve the data collection and wrangling issues and allow low-cost exchange of data. But business value from data is ultimately realised through insights that enhance decision making.

To achieve this, there are three important steps. Firstly, it is necessary to identify structured thinking and problem-solving frameworks suited to users given their analytical maturity, the decisions they make and their ways of working. Secondly, it is essential to enable collaborative decisions across departments by using datasets integrated across multiple domains. Thirdly, it is beneficial to support evidence-based decision-making through tools that allow users to customise reports to their circumstances while operating on a consistent dataset.

ICT capabilities

Cloud application management

Move ICT teams from being a developer and operator to being an enabler of application management.

Governments are moving toward cloud applications, driven by their pay-per-use pricing, faster implementation, the ability to avoid having to upgrade conventional software and increasing comfort with security and data sovereignty. With the cloud vendor developing and operating these applications, ICT teams need to transform from being a doer (a developer or an operator) to being an enabler (helping the business achieve its objectives). It can do this by identifying the best solutions, preventing multiple isolated clouds and increasing throughput.

Agile development

Embed agile into wider organisational planning, governance and decision making, beyond individual projects.

Government organisations are turning to agile methods to deliver ICT systems. The benefits of the agile approach are more frequent delivery and flexibility in what is delivered and when. For an agile approach to succeed in a government environment, ICT departments need to do several things.

They need transparency on deliverables, budgets and risks that meets legislative and departmental requirements. They need to adapt governance forums and rules while ensuring they fit departmental structures. They need to balance internal and external stakeholders and balance a wide range of outcomes. And they need to manage risk, deliver on policy objectives and withstand scrutiny from external stakeholders, as well as meeting targets for cost, customer satisfaction and revenue.

Cloud infrastructure management

Move the ICT function from infrastructure operator to strategic advisor and commercial manager

State and federal governments have certified cloud infrastructure platforms. These platforms provide storage and computing resources on demand on a pay-per-use basis, supplanting the need to procure, establish and operate in-house server and storage infrastructure. The business benefits are lower costs, greater agility, the avoidance of capital expenditure and better security.

This means a new role for the ICT function. It needs to move from operating infrastructure to advising on infrastructure architecture and strategy. It also needs to lead commercial management, which is a challenge because easy access and pay-per-use pricing often drives up usage volumes and spending. Furthermore, billing for cloud infrastructure is more complex, making it harder to manage demand. Business units can directly source cloud platforms.

The ICT function needs to ensure security, commercial competitiveness and the achievement of scale through one or few cloud infrastructure platforms rather than an uncoordinated sprawl.

This is the final instalment in our series on digital government.

Get in touch to discuss how we can help your agency develop its digital capabilities.