The Future of Digital Government
Going Digital means more than just using new technology to deliver services to people. It involves solving problems in new and different ways. It means changing how people work and enhancing operations in a myriad of ways. NASA has done this by deploying Virtual Reality as a data visualization tool, and the Department of Veterans Affairs has used it to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It will no longer be business as usual when the government fully embraces new technology. The changes will impact every federal agency and every federal employee.
The Emerging Landscape of the Digital Government
The changes in how government work happens through digital technology are changing every year, progressively, in many ways.
Digital Government 1.0
This is basic e-government. Paper transactions were replaced with online transactions. The workflow itself remained more or less the same. Only the medium changed. Agencies began the process of investing in new infrastructure and modernizing their systems at a fundamental level.
Digital Government 2.0
This was advanced e-government. Agencies worked with technology to make transactions within the government more secure. Citizens began to be able to apply for things like benefits and permits electronically. These services have been offered in independent, detached departments that deliver services to people but do not integrate to improve the overall quality of services. While digitizing citizen services, the government simultaneously sought to develop shared services for back-office operations like HR and Finance.
Digital Government 3.0
This is the current state of government, for the most part. New, collaborative technologies like Social Media created multiple ways for citizens and businesses to communicate with the governments. Mobile apps and open networks created opportunities for the government to deliver services to the people, to regulate businesses, and to manage the government’s processes. These new technologies rely on cloud computing.
It is now more common for multiple agencies to co-create and co-produce policies and programs. Leveraging open source and agile development, technology platforms facilitate the formation of communities from the public and private sectors. These communities create new systems that deliver a better user experience. By delivering services through central portals, it is possible to provide a lean government. A lean government is more effective and more efficient.
Digital Government 4.0
This is where we are going next. A digital reinvention of government is not just about changing service delivery. It also demands that those who are served by government take charge of the process. Only by putting the beneficiaries first can the full speed and scale of digital technologies be realized.
A citizen-driven government adapts itself to the needs and expectations of citizens, businesses, non-profits, and other partners. It creates interactions that are personalized, interactive, and easy to access. Cognitive technologies can enable systems to understand, reason, and learn over time. This allows the government to interact with the broad public in real time without compromising cybersecurity. Agencies can leverage digital approaches to transform how government engages with the public across the full range of mission and mission support activities.
Bringing IT up to Speed and Realizing the Benefits of Digital Government
According to a recent IBM Center report called Digital Service Teams: Challenges and Recommendations for Government, an essential driver to rethinking government approaches to digital service delivery is the so-called “legacy IT” problem. This problem stems from the fact that many countries started digitizing their operations decades ago using technologies now “aging in place.” GAO reported that about 75 percent of record-high spending on government IT in 2016 went to the operation and maintenance (O&M) of legacy systems that are becoming obsolete. OMB has estimated that $3 billion worth of federal IT equipment will reach end-of-life status in the next three years.
Private sector experience has demonstrated that strategic investments in technology can produce long-term cost reductions and bring a significant positive return. As noted in the Technology CEO Council (TCC) report The Government We Need, duplicative and obsolete legacy systems can be replaced with modern technologies on more cost-efficient platforms. A 2015 report by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation suggests that every $1 increase in new IT spending led to as much as a $3.50 reduction in overall government expenditures. This means that the Federal Government can potentially save billions of dollars while becoming more productive. Building for the future requires agencies to transform legacy systems using cloud services and shared solutions that will result in substantial cost savings, allowing agencies to optimize spending and reinvest in critical mission needs and leverage modern technologies such as mobile and the Internet of Things. The government’s recently released IT modernization strategy provides a roadmap for agencies in achieving these objectives.
Implementing Digital Government
Driving change in the federal government requires more than new policies or the infusion of new technology; it requires a sustained focus on implementation to achieve positive and significant results. Agencies must find ways to invest in modern technologies to support secure and scalable applications. Identifying and prioritizing efforts for investment, integrating these priorities into the agency and federal budget planning cycles, and applying appropriate measures to track the success of key efforts will drive solutions based on modern, cloud-enabled IT infrastructure, mobile services, and IT security. Critical to effective investment in digital modernization is understanding the existing barriers to capture savings over time from those investments and identifying means to overcome these barriers. Defining pathways to invest in emerging technologies that can help government will inform where and how private sector entities may most effectively support digital transformation in ways that improve performance and reduce costs.
For example, changes in IT contracting practices also involve government leaders identifying new approaches to procure commercial technologies and recognize the return on investment (ROI) over time. Current procurement rules limit agencies’ ability to buy technology “as a service” and pay for it over a 5–10-year period. With private sector funding, agencies can approach IT modernization as a service they buy over time, not limited to whether they have funds for a multi-year investment in the current year’s budget. The government can work with private sector partners and acquire modern technology to provide cost-effective services for American taxpayers.
Digital government empowers citizens and an increasingly mobile federal workforce to access high-quality information securely, data and services anywhere, anytime, on any device. As government adjusts to this new digital world, agencies must work together to build the modern infrastructure needed to support digital government efforts and leverage the federal government’s buying power to reduce costs.
The digital government of the future will not merely automate previously manual processes. Instead, citizens will help drive agencies to modernize, and agencies will work together to integrate systems and applications across platforms. As the 21st century evolves, the digital government will drive efficiency, effectiveness, and performance improvements. It will harness the power of technology to meet the challenges of today while seizing the opportunities for tomorrow.