01 November 2023

It’s a speed thing: digital transformation in local government

It’s a speed thing: digital transformation in local government image
Image: TippaPatt / Shutterstock.com

Adrian Trickett, Vice President of Sales and General Manager of EMEA at Boomi, discusses why digital transformation projects in local government fail.

Digital transformation within local government is a notoriously slow and challenging process. Exacerbated by a lack of funding, many struggle to even maintain legacy IT infrastructures, let alone upgrade them. Add varying citizen expectations, departmental silos, and excessive bureaucracy into the mix, and it soon becomes clear why local governments lag behind their peers on all things digital.

In some guise or another, digital transformation has been a recurring theme within local government for decades. However, partly too because of the nature of civic work, there are typically multiple stakeholders involved, and agreements on how best to proceed with digital initiatives are not easily or quickly arrived at.

As a result, local government workers and the citizens they serve become frustrated by the sluggish progress made with the adoption of new technologies, such as cloud computing.

Why Local Government Digital Transformation Projects Fail

Though often cited as key, budgetary constraints are only one of many reasons why local government digital transformation projects fall flat.

Indeed, others are arguably far more impactful.

They include but are not limited to:

Lack of clear vision and leadership. With local government digital transformation, there's more at stake than simply improving internal efficiencies or productivity. Successful projects must be guided by a clear strategy that aligns with central government priorities and the needs of citizens. This means that projects require strong executive oversight and leadership from the top down.

However, in practice, this oversight and leadership typically involves too many players. Coupled with bureaucratic demands, even procurement frameworks for new technology become labyrinthine in their scope and accessibility.

Fear of the unknown. Given that much of it is private and sensitive, local government leaders are understandably anxiously protective over the data they hold.

The problem is that this protectiveness can deter leaders from exploring the likes of cloud migrations for fear of security breaches or how to digitise procedures that, for so long, have remained manual.

Speed. There’s no measured way of putting it; traditional digital transformation methodologies are slow. Throw a slow process into a slow-moving sector, and it’s easy to see how frustrations reach boiling point.

Like their private sector peers, local governments need technology that delivers quick time to value and a level of usability employers and end-users can access. If neither is forthcoming, enthusiasm for the process rapidly slumps.

Legacy tech. As it is so embedded in everyday processes, local government leaders are reluctant to make large-scale changes to their legacy tech, its many limitations notwithstanding.

This is partly because local governments must derive maximum value from their legacy systems while upgrading to new technologies. Where an upgrade takes too long or expert support is lacking, legacy tech ensures the door to digital transformation remains locked.

End consumer value. Local governments are under constant pressure to prove that they allocate taxpayer money in a way that is for the broader benefit of the citizen. Although digital transformation projects undoubtedly lead to efficiencies that benefit citizens, while they are ongoing, these efficiencies are harder to evidence.

Where a local government is faced with the prospect of a digital transformation initiative that may take many months, resistance often follows.

Rediscovering The Pandemic Momentum

The Covid-19 pandemic taught us many lessons about the nature of work and our capacity for change. In few areas was this evidenced more than with the rapid and wholesale transfer to digital across sectors of every type – including local government.

However, as Covid’s momentum slowed, so too did local government digital transformation initiatives. To reignite the impetus, leaders must rediscover the urgency that saw internal politics and bureaucracy give way to the rampant digitisation that brought many closer to a future-proof status.

Key to this is educating local government leaders on approaches to digital transformation that can be completed in a fraction of the time more traditional methods have been known to take. It also depends on a degree of acceptance as to where the direction of travel is headed.

Final Thought

The world is becoming more digitised with each passing day, and preserving manual, paper-based systems to cater for a minority of citizens is preventing the transition to faster, more responsive, and more efficient systems.

Accordingly, investing time into bringing all demographics up to speed with changing processes will prove a superior use of resources than maintaining those out-dated systems that so stubbornly prevent local governments from achieving true digital transformation and better services for all.

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