Five steps to federal digital transformation

Weeks into the pandemic, as working remotely becomes the new normal, it should be clear which organizations have successfully undergone digital transformation – and which have work to do. If you’re stuck, slowed, or immobilized, use our current crisis as a catalyst. Now is the time to get started. Here are five steps to help.

Many federal organizations have resisted fully transforming despite having ample opportunities to do so. I get it. Change is hard and transformation takes time, attention and resources. Changing now means overcoming two hurtles: culture (we’ve been doing it this way for a long time) and complex processes (like rules that make signing in to a new system painful). While many tend to exaggerate digital transformation as a massive overhaul, it’s actually helpful to think of it instead as an inevitable evolution, requiring only manageable chunks of innovation to begin to improve citizen outcomes and deliver productivity.

As the dust settles on the pandemic, expect to see delays, waste and poor service called out. Those that haven’t or won’t change may find themselves in hot water. So, how can federal agencies make progress right now? By taking a deep breath and getting started.

1) Lead your organization. Leaders, the buck stops with you. Take a good look at your digital transformation progress thus far. Assess yourself. Or ask your people. Or ask your consultants. This doesn’t need to be a multi-month process, but instead an afternoon of inquiry. What’s working and what’s not. Then step up and communicate about transformation to your people and explain why ‘going digital’ is critical to your mission.

2) Start with fast fixes. Identify the areas where you can use current technologies to close gaps. Or where a change in policy can help things work better. Start with the easy stuff. Technology transformation doesn’t require big leaps. There are some brilliant apps and cloud-based technologies that solve common business problems. Get started with easy fixes — immediately. Maybe you’re reading this and thinking that now is no time for major changes. To that, I ask, when will it matter more?

3) Embrace the hard part. You might think that digital transformation is all about technology, but the hard part isn’t computers—it’s people. You’ll need to educate your workforce and drive cultural change. This will require a take-no-prisoners attitude to deal with folks who circumvent digital processes or sabotage transformation. Every organization has that one person who asks their admin to print out the digital file, summarize it and leave it on their desk for a signature. End that now and have everyone wholly lean into learning new processes and embracing change. A half-baked digital culture just won’t cut it. Keep that in mind as you hire.

4) Prioritize your operations. Make your transformation your number one focus and dedicate the funds to make sure it happens. COVID-19 has exposed our vulnerabilities—and shown us how imperative it is to operate digitally. Think of your efforts as future-proofing your organization. Go completely digital now, and you’ll be ready for whatever comes your way, including the common micro-incidents, like snowstorms, hurricanes, or flu season, that impact efficiency over and over.

5) Never look back. In the coming weeks, as we move from survival mode to maintenance mode, resist returning to the ‘old’ ways of doing things. This requires commitment and motivation—tools our government leaders have in spades. Remind yourself and others that there is a bigger purpose behind transformation: These efforts boost efficiency and productivity that massively benefits our country.

What will your pandemic story be? We’ll hear of agencies thrown into chaos and unable to work, processes that hit major snags, and ’breaks‘ in systems caused by individuals who refused to adapt. We’ll also hear stories about incredible personal efforts, truly smart solutions, and transformations that started out as necessity but became the new normal. Choose which story is told about your agency in this time by continuing digital transformation.

Edward Tuorinsky, a service-disabled veteran, brings nearly two decades of experience to DTS in areas of leadership, management consulting and information technology services.

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