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Digital Transformation in two Countries, What went wrong? What can we learn?

Digital Transformation in two Countries

Since 1990, both the UK and Australia has been trying to use technology to reform and modernise their public service. Spending billions of pounds or dollars during that time with little change or improvement to their public service. The question is – why? And what can we learn?

In the first decade of the 21st Century, governments have spent an estimate of US$3 trillion on information systems. Between 60 and 80 percent of these projects have failed. This has resulted in a massive waste of financial, human and political resources, and an inability to deliver any benefits of e-government within the public service.

Business Transformation

Business has seen technology redefine their entire way of life. Businesses like Uber, AirBnB and Spotify have all been disruptive, redefining the rules of engagement with the customer, and business in general. These businesses have re-created and reinvented industries. Businesses like Cirque du Soleil, who reinvented the Circus, Yellow tail wines, redefining the customers of wine, mini-mills within the steel industry and the Personal Computer and the mainframe industry. The citizen is now redefining how they want to interact with government. They are using smart devices to run most of their lives now, so why not with government.

Citizen Needs not met

Over the past 20 years the needs of Citizens’ have not been met. The on-line and e-government strategies have failed in transforming their services. Government have only automated existing processes, worst of all they locked in existing practices to pre-internet inefficiencies. In many cases government has replicating in efficient practices, predominantly on traditional paper based form approach. Addressing underlying inefficiencies are usually not addressed. There has been a lack of a long-term vision and strategy for the future of the public service in a digital age. Technology can only reflect the practices it represents. All that technology can do, is provide faster and repeatable processes, good or bad, expanding the benefits or pain. A digital environment provides the opportunity to reassess and streamline, review fundamental processes and practices to remove waste. But it is in understanding what the system if for. Fundamentally most systems are to enable a decision, based on all available data at a point in time. The process of capturing and managing data is secondary. But mostly systems have been designed to reflect in efficient and outdated processes.

Between 2000-2013, the Australian government defined an agency focused approach to their on-line strategy. There was no reference to engaging the citizen and understanding their needs. The systems identified were common services such as payments that could be automated. Many times keeping and repeating processes of the past within the new digital solutions. Common among governments around Australia, is the practice of printing, filing hardcopy documents, then managing the digital records. Adding a further layer of complexity to what is usually a complex process in the first place. Many projects did not carry out true reform, but continued the paper trail. Paper processes are inherently sequential, in a digital enabled business, these processes can usually run in parallel.

Goal of Government

The goal of governments is to drive down costs while improving front-line services. By not mirroring forms digitally, but capture and manipulating the data while on its journey. True transformational change will need redesigning services, lessening and removing unnecessary transactions, streamlining data that will join-up with other departments and the removal of waste. In today’s digital environment, the paper forms and manual processes and the clerical roles supporting them will inevitably disappear from government services.

Using technology merely to put existing forms and transactions on-line has never been a good idea. It continues the failed and socially divisive model. Repeating information and perpetuating paper-based inefficiency. The citizen continually provided the effort with the same information time after time. This is simply because of the lack of business process engineering and the for ever old statement that "this is the way we have always done it". Forms are a clumsy means for capturing data, it then has to be reinterpreted and entered back into a computer and then the form itself needs filing. So where is the efficiencies? How do we change? What is needed?

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