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Notes From the Field: Digital Transformation in Government

The Revolution is here, and this time it’s digital. Digital transformation is not only reshaping the private sector, but impacting the lives of all citizens as government agencies at the local, state and federal levels seek to meet changing constituent expectations towards technology.

Today’s constituent expects the same caliber of digital experience from the public sector that they receive from brand leaders like Amazon, Netflix and Uber. Delivering an exceptional experience is at the top of any forward-thinking government agency leader’s priority list.

Acquia receives a substantial number of Requests for Information (RFIs) and Requests for Proposal (RFPs) from government entities looking to move as many applications and other technologies to the cloud as possible. Chief Information Officers and central information technology professionals within these organizations are essentially serving as technology “brokers,” working to develop a portfolio of solutions comprised of in-house, SaaS (Software as a Service) and PaaS (Platform as a Service) offerings.

Digital transformation in government is focused on improving constituent services, boosting access to information and increasing efficiency and effectiveness at all levels of government.

Maintaining trust and security

The ability to ensure the integrity of sensitive information of all types is paramount for government agencies. Substantial concerns for how best to protect citizen data and guard information from potential cyber attacks often has the effect of slowing down digital adoption efforts.

Many of the cutting-edge technologies that are being widely adopted in the private sector, such as smart assistants like Alexa, present unique security challenges for government use.  Government agencies also face challenges when it comes to technologies such as body cameras and drones used by law enforcement. Each of these technology types requires policy and statute changes to allow governments to use them effectively at scale.

Governments will have to look at changing statutes and laws to take advantage of new emerging technologies. Let’s look at drones as an example. Officials have begun to use drones to gather intelligence during rapidly evolving public safety situations. Some suggested use cases are flying drones above fires to get better information on how to put them out or using them for delivering medical devices like defibrillators to people having heart attacks.

Theoretically, the government could get major benefits by using drones to perform these activities. However, the current Federal Aviation Administration’s regulations make them impractical and, in some cases, impossible. Operators can’t fly drones above groups of people, at night or beyond their line of sight without getting waivers that can take months to receive.

Rising to the challenge

Today, government agencies at all levels are investing in resources that can help secure and protect their technological infrastructure and boost data security. They’re also tasked with attracting a new generation of IT professionals willing to work in the public sector. Those individuals will be challenged with developing new ideas and fresh solutions to existing problems that align with the needs and meet the restrictions and regulations applicable to government agencies.

Additionally, government agencies are seeking technologies that will better engage and provide services to constituents and other stakeholders at the time and place they choose and boost their overall capabilities for doing business digitally.

Setting digital priorities

When speaking specifically to prospective government clients, we have repeatedly seen an interest in flexibility, a need for a technology stack with a projected long life and the desire to avoid vendor lock-in.

Government agencies are also interested in methods and technologies that will enable them to provide a “front door” to government information that is accessible, usable and effective. They seek to enable the constituent to accomplish their goals, whether that means tracking tax payments, obtaining business licensing information or simply checking on a recycling pick-up schedule.

We consistently see the most investment in:

  • Security tools and processes

  • Customer experience improvement

  • DevOps (shortening the development life cycle while delivering features, fixes, and updates frequently and in alignment with objectives and regulations)

  • Data and analytics

  • Artificial intelligence

The unique challenge of government

Government agencies looking to reach digital maturity often encounter limitations from the laws, policies, procurement processes and political environment in which they operate. Strict regulations and the need to adhere to high standards of compliance mean that government agencies can be slower to adopt new technology systems. Even a great idea certain to deliver substantial benefit may not be procured and implemented due to one or all of these factors.

The potential is nearly unlimited.

Despite these constraints, transforming the digital experience in government offers an amazing opportunity to change the way constituents interact with, participate in and leverage the benefits offered by their government.

Digital governments could provide a streamlined process to help a young entrepreneur start a business or help a single parent apply for and receive all the proper social services benefits. Governments could also leverage a connected system like the Internet of Things to smooth traffic flow on city streets.

Well-run government needs to be able to implement effective change and improve the lives of the people. When it comes to utilizing technology to transform the depth and reach of what government can offer, digital transformation in government can and will change the way we all live.

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