The role of digital transformation in fostering innovation in public administrations

While the world is catching up to the latest versions of digital transformations, one sector that appears to have jumped on the bandwagon is the public sector. While there is an increased focus on going ‘digital’ and ‘paperless’ in the government sector, the benchmark for successful transformations has to be much higher in the present day. While operational efficiency and cost optimization are commonly accepted goals of any digitization efforts, consumer expectations stretch beyond the basics into aspects such as user engagement and expanded reach of the services being digitized. With ubiquity of data access across the length and breadth of the country, these expectations are well within the reach of progressive and forward thinking public administrative organizations.

The Digitisation buzz
In recent years, no business, industry, or organization has been immune to the impact of the digital revolution.  Not only have business models been upended, consumers expectations of how companies engage and interact with them has undergone a sea change. Furthermore, with the copious amounts of data produced in the new digital world, businesses are becoming aware of the potential of big data and artificial intelligence (AI) as they continue to build on their digital roadmaps. The public sector has so far been a slow mover on digital transformation initiatives for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that there are numerous stakeholders in the decision making process. Nonetheless, the potential for a dramatic transformation of government – citizen engagement can be realized with innovative digital solutions.

The journey from ‘digital’ to ‘intelligent’    

Over the years, there have been some initiatives involving digitization of administrative processes in the public sector. These have been mostly driven by the objective of improving process  efficiency and were focused on digitization of back-office processes. The interface to the consumer saw only rudimentary improvements in the form of websites for providing information and intake of service requests.

Public sector digitization initiatives usually driven by individual departments result in siloed approaches which address process inefficiencies with a limited scope. Consumers are expected to connect the dots between services required from multiple departments by shuffling paper or re-entering data across systems. The larger promise of a more intelligent solution can be achieved when data can be shared across departments resulting in a more comprehensive, one-stop service to the end consumer. Services can also be personalized when digital solutions can be programmed to learn consumer characteristics and preferences.

The new-age citizen: The digital revolution has fostered a smartphone culture that thrives on consuming information and engaging with services on its finger tips. Imagine the impact smart governance initiatives can have if they are designed with the new-age citizen in mind. For example, public interaction platforms can drive greater public participation and empowerment in policy making and community programs as compared to the traditional physical forums that give voice to the vocal few. Another example is that of comprehensive service delivery platforms which handles the complete process from order intake to user guidance and management throughout the end-to-end service delivery process. This would go well beyond the basic order intake portals that are most commonly provided in the public sector today.

Breaking away from legacy technology: Legacy digitization solutions have focussed on records management and workflow automation as those were the priorities of the public service administrators to drive process efficiencies. As public administration leaders look to the future they will need to leap-frog into digital solutions that drive user engagement, personalization and extended reach to ensure the success of their digital transformation initiatives. Innovative technologies from the world of social media, collaboration platforms and retail commerce portals can be adapted to the needs of the public sector. AI concepts and techniques can be harnessed to make purpose-built solutions for public administration needs.

Moving the needle

As the digital transformation wave has firmly entrenched its impact on the everyday lives of people, the public sector being an important component in the societal structure cannot be far behind. The infrastructure for delivering public sector services on digital platforms is also well established across the length and breadth of the country. Therefore, it is time for an accelerated roadmap of innovative digital solutions to power the delivery of public administration services. Metrics of success for such solutions should be on dimensions of citizen engagement and reach to ensure that investments achieve the desired impact.

What lies ahead

In the coming years, we can expect governments to reshape the way they deliver services owing to the ubiquitous presence of digital technologies in our everyday life. Challenges to the adoption of transformation initiatives will be overcome despite disruptions to the traditional models of governance. Citizen engagement and participation in smart governance powered by cloud technologies, social media and collaboration platforms and data driven insights has the potential to become a virtuous cycle with ever growing influence and traction.

(The author Ranga Shetty, General Manager, Granicus, India and the views expressed in this article are his own)