Digital transformation is not just about technology

Transformation, after all, isn't all about technology, Grant Thornton's Rob Buhrman says in this Op-Ed.
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Digital transformation is a popular buzz phrase in government these days, especially with everyone working remotely during the past few months. COVID-19 has caused incredible disruption to everyone’s lives, both at home and work. Government organizations have very quickly transitioned to new technologies such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and WebEx to help employees connect with one another and the consumers of their products or services.

While the value of these technologies has surely been proven, it is important to understand that the desperate need to work remotely is what sped their fast adoption. Before COVID-19, many government organizations had telework programs, but some were considering rolling back these programs in order to have employees return to the office. In other words, it wasn’t the remote working technology that drove the fast adoption in the government, but the business need.

There are similar examples in the commercial space. Today’s great disrupters like Netflix, Uber and Airbnb are all heavily invested in technology, but that technology was implemented to support a new business model that solved a consumer need that wasn’t being met by traditional means. The technology itself, while innovative, had to be part of a new strategy and business model as well as provide a unique customer experience for its value to be realized.

What is digital transformation and why is it important?


The meaning of digital transformation is still often confused with emerging technology, cloud computing, or IT modernization. Even the research experts have trouble agreeing on a definition. In a recent report, Digital Rewrites the Rules of Business, Forrester Research states “the reality is that digital transformation has become so widely misused it’s now synonymous with any technology-driven business improvement.”

While all the aforementioned digital technology is critical to enabling transformation, at the end of the day, it’s really about creating value for the taxpayer. To the government, this means providing speed through agility, higher quality and cost-optimized services — faster, better, cheaper — with the least amount of friction for the consumer of the service.

Strategies for digital transformation success

In order to deliver real, pragmatic digital transformation, government organizations must deliver measurable mission outcomes, reduce the time to achieve impact, and mitigate the risk of transformation to the organization. Agencies should consider the following five strategies to help enable successful digital transformation:

  1. Align digital strategy and key value propositions to the agency’s mission and strategy – Digital transformation is all about mission value. In order to get buy-in and funding from agency leadership, it is important to develop a digital strategy that highlights customer understanding, aligns to the agency’s strategic plan, and supports the key value streams of the mission.
  2. Understand and engage customers to prioritize transformational value – Quantitative and qualitative customer research provides a clear understanding of the “moments that matter” and pain points in the customer journey. Focusing digital transformation on improving the customer experience will help enhance the quality, speed and transparency of government services as well as break down organizational silos and optimize the “cost to serve.”
  3. Prove the value of the digital transformation with metrics focused on mission outcomes – Many government CIOs struggle to demonstrate the business value of IT and digital initiatives. Design a digital transformation measurement framework that highlights incremental progress with quick wins that strategically align to improved mission outcomes. Key performance indicators should reflect the impact on the strategic goals and organizational priorities described in the agency’s strategic plan.
  4. Carefully manage the impact of transformation on employees – While transformation should be designed to have a long-term, positive impact on the mission, employees are often subjected to immediate, negative impacts of change. Enact robust change management and communication programs to help employees and other stakeholders understand the benefits of digital transformation and prepare them to adopt and support new digital solutions once implemented.
  5. Leverage a trusted advisor who is not vested in the technology selection – The intention of digital transformation should be to drive the highest value with the lowest risk to the organization. If a vendor is supporting the transformation, they should be invested in the same noble intention. Choose a trusted advisor who does not have a vested interest in the outcome of the effort. This is especially important if the goal is to have the vendor support the acquisition of a new digital technology and implementation services.

These five recommendations should help focus digital transformation on mission value first, which will lead to better customer experiences, streamlined operation and selection of the right digital technology.

Rob Buhrman is a principal with Grant Thornton’s Enterprise Technology Strategy & Innovation business line. He leads the IT Service Management service line. He also leads Grant Thornton’s public sector Commerce Account and is a client advisor and practitioner of Grant Thornton’s Digital Services solution offering.

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