Gartner panel explores how citizen needs impact digital strategies

How digital should your organization be? It was a simple question posed to a group of senior government IT executives in a roundtable discussion held earlier this month at the Verity Club in downtown Toronto, but one in which the correct answer involves embarking on a series of incredibly complex steps.

The session was organized by Gartner Canada and led by Hung LeHong, a distinguished VP analyst with the research firm.

Digital leadership, Gartner noted, is the “duty of government executives and elected officials to optimize, evolve and transform the organizations they lead by serving as champions to increase digital capabilities and policy competencies in the public sector.

“Digital government offers opportunities to optimize existing citizen services and transform how the value of government is measured and delivered. Governments need digital leadership at every level of their organization and across related government silos.”

LeHong said in his opening comments that Gartner clients, both in the private and public sectors, are spending a “lot of money on becoming digital,” and that means they must be able to answer the question about how digital their organization should be, not with a response that is vague, such as ‘digital means different things to different people’, but something far more concrete.

“Your whole organization should understand what it means for you to be digital, and that’s what we are actually going to go through today.”

What digital should mean from a municipal perspective could be seen in a slide from the Department of Transport of the state of Victoria in Australia that he showed as an example of digital in action. In this case, the use of AI and image recognition have improved the speed with which the need for road repairs is recognized and catalogued, and ultimately performed.

“They used to drive around in a truck with clipboards and someone had to recognize that little arrow needs to be repainted, or this sign is broken,” said LeHong, adding that with a new digital initiative in place, tasks that once took weeks and months to complete can now be completed in days, and even in hours.

This is just one small example of what is happening in Victoria. The state’s digital strategy, a document that establishes the current government’s vision for a successful digital transformation, says that three key outcomes underpin it: better, fairer, more accessible services, a digital-ready public sector, a thriving digital economy.

“In delivering on these outcomes, we will improve the experience individuals, communities, businesses and the Victorian public sector have with government,” the document states.

LeHong, who, according to Gartner, “focuses on CEOs and other C-level executives to help them anticipate changes to business models and customer trends caused by digital business,” said much can be learned from what is happening in Victoria, in that going digital involves far more than simply adopting advanced technologies.

A municipality becoming more digital, he said, should revolve around conducting business operations in a more efficient manner.

“We call it digital business optimization, simply because it’s not that you are changing your products and services to whoever you are serving, you are not changing your business model – your public mandate, your mission remains the same, but boy, can you do things faster, cheaper and have a better customer experience with digital.”

Another example of digital business optimization, said LeHong, is taking place in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil’s most southern state, which borders Argentina and Uruguay. Last year, the state’s 23 municipalities, he said, “integrated 20 databases representing the public safety ecosystem, including law enforcement, the prison system, courts, education, health, finance and traffic systems, supporting public safety and justice across the state.”

The result was a sharp reduction in violent crimes compared to 2021 and, in fact, the lowest number recorded since 2012.

“They all work together to catch the bad guys,” he said. “And the point is, they were not mandated to work together.”

Source: Gartner. © 2022 Gartner, Inc. and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved. Gartner is a registered trademark of Gartner, Inc. and its affiliates.

Throughout his presentation, there was discussion around one particular chart (see above) that had three components in different colours: In green was the Technology and Operating Model, in which modern technologies and approaches are used and form the base point of a digital transformation journey. Just above it to the left, and in orange lies Optimization; in which a municipality, having evolved their IT operating model conducts business more digitally, and right beside it in blue is the Transformation component, in which a whole new digital business model is created.

An assortment of Gartner benchmarks used during the 90-minute presentation revealed that not every municipality or every private enterprise will land on green, orange, and blue at the same time.

Dr. Peter Bak, chief information officer (CIO) at Humber River Hospital, said that all of LeHong’s insights and benchmarks were “extremely important, but the hard bit is how do you get the action going, and that would be a good follow-on topic to have.”

He said the way the “tech world is shifting does present an opportunity for us to rethink how healthcare is delivered, but that’s a very hard concept for people to grasp, because they believe you can’t change this – you treat people the way you treat them.

“It actually requires incredibly out-of-the-box thinking, which does not exist in healthcare. I don’t know how well it exists in other public sector environments, but I believe there are moments in time when opportunity presents itself to actually do a blue.”

In an interview with IT World Canada, Bak was asked if public service departments can learn from private enterprise when it comes to digital transformation, and his answer was “absolutely”. As proof, he referenced a recent executive hiring by the world famous Mayo Clinic, located in Rochester, Minn.

“(They) hired a chief digital officer who came from Best Buy, and it caught my attention. She had also worked in healthcare before, but I thought that was really fascinating. Why? Because they are trying to move to a much more online, engaged world with their patients, and healthcare is terrible at that because that’s not how healthcare functions.

“But which industry functions extremely well at that? It’s the consumer world, so why don’t we learn from them how they did it? It is not about the tech so much. It is about the engagement, change management, strategy, mindset, thinking. So yes, you can learn from other industries, and we should.”

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Paul Barker
Paul Barker
Paul Barker is the founder of PBC Communications, an independent writing firm that specializes in freelance journalism. His work has appeared in a number of technology magazines and online with the subject matter ranging from cybersecurity issues and the evolving world of edge computing to information management and artificial intelligence advances.

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