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Digital Transformation Strategies for the Modern Agency

IT modernization is taking the government by storm, but if agencies limit their efforts to replacing or upgrading outdated legacy systems, they will only make limited gains in terms of performance and security. Additionally, they could set themselves up for more costly modernization efforts in the years ahead. Instead of only focusing on modernizing systems, agencies should undergo an agencywide digital transformation.

In a recent FCW event Face to Face Digital Services, government experts explained how they implement strategic technological modernization efforts while addressing changes in leadership and agency culture. Speakers included:

  • Joseph Klimavicz, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Chief Information Officer, Justice Department
  • Stephen Holden, Associate CIO IT Policy & Oversight, Department of Transportation
  • Joan Lillich, Digital Change Management Practice Lead, CGI Federal
  • Bridget Roddy, Project Manager, State Department
  • Nora Dempsey, Senior Advisor for Innovations, State Department

While digital transformation is key, Klimavicz said that agencies face a lot of barriers to implementing the processes.

Cyberattacks are more common than ever and budgets are constrained,” he said. “But expectations from customers are very high.” In the face of these expectations, Klimavicz emphasized the importance of continuous improvement in service delivery, especially when it comes to the most basic, citizen services.

“We must figure out ways to work together to make sure we’re working on highest priorities and being as efficient as possible,” Klimavicz said. “We need to figure out how to provide common services that are tailored to the individual’s needs.”

While agencies need to consider how modernizing citizen services will affect the end user, digital transformation also means changes for agency employees.

Preparing for the People Side of Change  

A recent CGI federal report found that 80 percent of agencies experience culture change management challenges when implementing digital transformation to meet citizen expectations. “The people side of digital transformation happens at every level,” Lillich explained. “If you’re not thinking about a cultural change within your agency when you’re implementing new IT, what is this going to mean for your organization?”

According to Lillich, there are four things agencies should keep in mind in order to properly execute a leadership and culture shift in the midst of digital transformation:

1. Align leaders by holding workshops to break down communication silos and improve team performance. Agencies should also build a success model that outlines the project’s goals and includes a system for monitoring effectiveness.

2. Establish a change network of agency employees and leaders within who want to lead modernization and inspire change.

3. Engage stakeholders by building a case about the modernization project’s importance and potential impact. Informed stakeholders are more likely to accept change, so agencies should encourage two-way communication.

4. Measure the effectiveness of efforts with data. There are advances in data science that allow us to “measure human behavior”

Additionally, Lillich emphasized the importance of incorporating citizens’ voices into the service delivery modernization process. “If you think you know what your citizens are thinking, engage them anyway,” she advised.

Embracing and Implementing New Tech

Holden says that now is a better time than ever to move toward modern IT. Citizen expectations have changed and services need to improve. “We need a technology revolution because we don’t have time for evolution,” Holden said. “We have so many things we want to do with IT that we’re failing to accomplish because of the centralization of old technology and attachment to legacy systems.”

Before implementing the new technology, Holden suggests agencies maintain a few values: “Think about the big picture and mission, act with courage, move together, have fun and, remember, that the time is now,” he said.

Presenters agreed with Holden’s last sentiment that when it comes to digital transformation, there is no time like the present. In fact, Dempsey and Roddy implemented the Virtual Student Federal Service (VSFS) program by taking initiative and immediate action.

The program allows college students to intern for U.S. government agencies virtually and help governments move from analog to digital. The virtual internships were originally offered through the State Department. Now, VSFS is at 60 agencies.

VSFS gained traction as a shared service, an element that Roddy said is crucial to the digitization effort. “The reason why the program works so well is because when other agencies say they want to set up something similar, we let them join our program,” Roddy explained.

Initiating VSFS as a shared service gave Roddy and Dempsey the support they needed to have a successful, well-run program. They were met with little to no resistance from the agency. “Because it was a shared service, it made sense. It was moving the government from analog to digital and it was so obviously needed, that the people involved didn’t need to get a security clearance.”

While VSFS is a model for how digital services can improve government, it took Dempsey and Roddy 10 years to move the program. “Beauracracies have to be careful,” Dempsey explained. “There have to be rules, limits and barriers when we innovate.” But instead of worrying about possible obstacles, Roddy and Dempsey chose to push forward. “Our motto is we can’t default to no,'” Dempsey said. “Because when keeping an open mind, open ears and imagination, the sky is the limit.”


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