6 steps for helping governments embrace digital transformation

Governments worldwide are struggling to digitise their processes and IT systems. Progress remains elusive because of a legacy of old, complex IT systems and bureaucracies that have built up over 30 and 40 years. More developed countries such as the US and the UK that were early adopters of IT now find themselves needing to migrate from out-of-date technology, such as mainframes running old COBOL apps and application servers running Windows XP.

At DXC Technology, we like to talk about the three pillars of digital transformation. The first pillar rests on moving the IT department off legacy infrastructure and applications and embracing digital — everything from more agile DevOps to smartphone apps. Second, governments need to find digital ways for citizens to consume public services versus the old paper-based methods. Instead of filling out paper forms and mailing them to the central tax office, citizens want digital forms they can file electronically. Third, once a government revamps IT and starts delivering more services digitally, people will take notice that the business culture has changed and they can start attracting new companies to set up shop locally.

Governments want to learn from the successes of Amazon, Uber and Airbnb to deliver services in new, innovative ways. I’m like most people in that I don’t want to wait in long, interminable lines. The goal: leverage IT as a strategic tool that delivers services at a fraction of the time and cost.

Making that happen requires governments to understand six basic elements of digital transformation:

  1. Embrace digital approaches to change. In the past, large, centrally controlled organisations would launch big projects that were next to impossible to change course. They were like supertankers as opposed to speedboats. More often than not, once the project was launched, technology and/or requirements would change and the project became outdated. Today’s digital organisations are more like start-ups that assign small teams to take on a project and scale out over time.
  2. Take small steps to deliver early business benefits. In the supertanker world, the team would start off with consultants and each piece of the project would get handed off to a design team that only saw the finished product at the end, often when it was too late to make changes. When an organisation goes digital, smaller teams roll out new products in four to six weeks. The idea: find an operational problem, assign a small, multiskilled team, get some data and build a solution. Sometimes the team may just be testing out if an idea will work. For example, a large prison service (a client of DXC) was looking to introduce technology into prison cells to test whether this can reduce prisoner violence. As a first step, a basic app was built with very simple services (e.g. ordering of books, meals). The app was tested directly with some prisoners who acted as a user group. The feedback was positive and subsequent iterations added functionality.
  3. Rapidly implement and scale new services using digital frameworks. Large central IT organisations used huge plans, thinking carefully through every step of the process. At digital organisations, once we have the first solution, we start to iterate rapidly. The idea is to work with a general roadmap: send a team off in a certain direction and let it solve problems as the product evolves.
  4. Run operations that can cope with daily change and simultaneously improve quality. Large, centralised organisations try to manage hundreds, even thousands of people. An organisation that large becomes impossible to control. To survive, large organisations resist change. Smaller, more flexible digital organisations can get business done much faster with little or no paperwork. Think of how paper-based traditional banks are. I’ve found that opening an account can take me several days or weeks as different departments check paperwork and fulfill regulatory requirements. Digital challenger banks have digitised the process down to less than five minutes where I use a simple app to send all information (e.g. photo of my driver’s license). The app then becomes the whole focus of my relationship with the bank, providing services such as real-time statements, instant authorisations, electronic transfers and immediate freezing of lost cards. Such banks are scaling to over 1 million consumers, but with a workforce less than 1 percent of traditional banks – and these concepts can also be applied to government agencies.
  5. Adopt and scale new technologies via small, multiskilled teams. Older IT organisations used to have teams of specialists. There was a large staff for networking, security, storage, and programming and development. In the digital world, teams are typically seven or fewer people and the teams consist of people with different skills and even multiple skills. For example, the networking person may also have security certificates as well as some programming and storage skills. The people on these teams are focused on solving problems. They use the latest technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning to discover something new and disruptive.
  6. Apply digital principles to manage traditional IT environments. It’s much easier to apply these principles on a greenfield, start-up environment with no legacy technology or internal bureaucracy. Think of that digital bank. The large, legacy bank must compete with the disruption from the digital challenger bank but gets held back by legacy IT systems, bureaucracy and large, cumbersome organisations. Such organisations must adopt digital principles to manage both the new services and the modernisation of the legacy IT. Rapid progress can be made by avoiding supertanker-based plans and approaches and replacing them with techniques such as deploying innovative multi-skilled teams, quickly testing ideas and iterating and using adaptable roadmaps to steer progress.

The government agencies that succeed with digital transformation will have the ability to develop new, digital applications and integrate them into their legacy IT environments. Organisations can’t transform overnight. Some governments may take the better part of a decade to wean off IT infrastructures of 20-plus years, and I’ve found that it requires as much of a cultural shift as it does the ability to deploy and leverage new technologies. But governments can get there.


Nick-De-le-Bedoyere-headshotNick de la Bedoyere is DXC Technology’s VP for Digital Transformation where he is responsible for helping DXC clients accelerate their digital transformation journeys. Nick has spent the last 18 months building fully operational working models of the six transformational principles at DXC locations around the world.

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