The Time for Digital Innovation is Now

In the second installment of Back to the Future, the widely acclaimed cult hit from Steven Spielberg, the protagonist, Marty McFly, finds himself in 2015 – a shock for his 1985-self. Amidst the many plot twists McFly also encounters the imagined technologies – flying cars, anyone? He also, discovered a government bureaucracy that continued to hold progress back for the future.

Well, it’s 2015 now, and while we might not yet have traffic jams as a result of flying cars, the future of digital transformation in government is here. But still it’s still a poses a bit of a battle. While many executives and industry leaders are excited by the opportunity to implement the latest technological advancement into their workplace, the power of digital transformation strategies for organizations lies in strategy.

Jerry Kane, Associate Professor of Information Studies at Boston College and Guest Editor for Social Business at the MIT Sloan Management Review, recently sat down with Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program to discuss digital transformation, strategy and the future of government.

When it comes to digital transformation, Kane believes that we have to look at “how we make use of a wide variety of tools – whether you’re talking about social, mobile, analytics, or cloud.” It is not simply about getting the latest technology, “it’s how it allows us to execute our organization missions differently. The transformation is really about how technology helps us do what we do better, whether it be more efficiently or effectively.” While transformation is a constant force, government has been slow to adapt. Although that began to shift in 2012, when a move to help citizens more easily and quickly obtain government services and information began.

No Better Time than the Present

Government agencies can no longer afford to remain behind on the times, says Kane. “You can go back 30 years and look at the transformation of the Internet and digital technologies, and it’s been a constantly moving battle. It’s not going to ever settle.”

Secondly, he notes, what is also challenging in this new era of digital tools is that “customers and citizens can adopt these tools whether or not government wants them to. The question remains do you want to be part of that conversation? Do you want to be where they are? Because they’re moving things along regardless of your organization.”

The reaction many in the government space have is a discomfort with the possibility of misusing information and digital tools. Yet the reality is, as Kane puts it, that the fear is “not unique to government. Big organizations really struggle with this fear, because it’s inertia. Yet digital innovation and implementation is primarily about strategy and culture – not about technology. Our most recent research backs this claim up, because we found there to be a much bigger gap between early digital companies and maturing digital organizations, including government organizations.”

Digitally Mature Organizations Set the Trends

Amidst the journey to strategically implement digital technology, organizations – and those within them – must recognize they are not necessarily alone. Kane explains the operations behind digitally mature organizations as “involving an understanding of how you’re trying to use these digital tools for business purposes. A lot of organizations decide to adopt certain technologies because everybody else is doing it. That’s a recipe for disaster.”

Instead of simply trying to follow the hottest trends, organizations and agencies need to ask the question, how can I use the current technological environment to do my mission more effectively? “Transformation oftentimes involves completely changing the ways we do business. For example, take a look at Airbnb. While it’s a small startup company, it has disrupted an entire industry by saying, ‘I have a better way to solve the problem of finding people a room.’ Entire industries are being upended by relatively small, nimble startups.”

How to Step Up Organizational Game

Deciding to implement digital technology strategies is no flighty decision. Although some organizations might feel that creating a strategy might not be the best use of time, Kane disagrees. “The first thing these organizations need to do is to start listening. Unless we start thinking about how these tools are changing our society, organizations and agencies, we’ll never truly get the message. Open your mind to the possibility, and think about small steps to take in the right direction.” It’s with that sort of careful tenacity and ear to the floor that agencies can take their mission squarely alongside an adherence to the future. “Small steps lead to larger steps, which leads to a full out sprint towards the future.”

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