Technology and social change: How government CIOs can improve outcomes for citizens and society

Gartner’s 2019-2020 report on tech trends in government suggests that agility, analytics, augmented intelligence and more can make a difference in the public sector.

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Tackling current issues such as social instability, austerity, populism, generational gaps or sustainability requires governments across the world to invest more in technology solutions, according to Gartner. 

Looking at the most pressing goals for public organisations, the research agency has identified a set of technology-focused trends that could be the key to delivering more efficient policies.

Rick Howard, research VP at Gartner, said that technology now underpins any public service delivered at scale. "If the success of these business projects is compromised by poor implementation of technology," he said, "then the political objectives are compromised too."

Howard highlighted the example of the health insurance exchange website Healthcare.gov, which launched in 2013 in the US and was quick to crash following serious technological issues.

"This gave critics of healthcare reform a rationale to further undermine the legislation," said Howard. "It's when it first became clear that if technology doesn't enable legislation, it can completely jeopardise reform."

Gartner's Technology Trends in Government, 2019-2020 report identifies various ways to avoid such outcomes.

Use technology to engage with citizens

One key solution is to modernise the ways that governments engage with citizens. With 50% of government web traffic coming from mobile phones, public services should multiply the channels that citizens can choose from to communicate – whether that's in person, by phone, or even via smart speakers.

By creating centralised and secure digital IDs for citizens, technology can also make access to public services smoother. This would allow citizens to manage tax returns, healthcare, electoral lists and other administrative tasks with a single logon – and at the same time remove excuses to postpone them.

Update management structures for the digital age

Public organisations need to modernise their structure. The first way to do that, according to Gartner, is to replace a 'waterfall' project management approach with digital product management (DPM).

DPM means that managers oversee the entire lifecycle of a product or service – and therefore deliver on all aspects, from developing an offer to revising customer satisfaction. Ultimately, this means faster and more sustainable results.

SEE: Digital transformation: A CXO's guide (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

That's not to say that they shouldn't delegate – in fact, quite the contrary. According to Gartner, managers should also focus on efficient shared services, ranging from security to business analytics. Additionally, they should invest in Anything as a Service (XaaS).

This means prioritising the products, tools and technologies that can now be delivered as services over a network instead of on-site, thereby cutting IT infrastructure costs. On that front, public services are on the right track: in its 2019 CIO Survey, Gartner found that 39% of government CIOs are planning to spend the greatest amount of new funding in cloud services.   

All of these new tools should be monitored closely by data analytics, which can deliver information about efficiency that Gartner notes is still lacking in governments.

Flexibility as a new mantra 

Gartner's report highlights the need for more flexibility. "Governments are not using technology effectively to be agile and more responsive to changing needs," said Howard.

Agility is a crucial and recurring theme in the report, along with the need for digital government to be adaptive – especially when it comes to security solutions, which should constantly evolve in response to the ever-changing nature of cybersecurity threats.

Guide employees through technological change

New technology solutions shouldn't scare employees off. "People get caught up in the implications of a word like artificial intelligence," said Howard, "so it is important to remind them that it is not about replacing humans, but about offloading the workflows that occupy too much government time in a wasteful way."

This is why the report recommends that government CIOs rephrase 'artificial intelligence' as 'augmented intelligence'. This seemingly small change could go a long way towards boosting workers' confidence in new tools.

The report also notes that public services lag behind when it comes to training personnel for the digital age. A digitally-empowered workforce is key to ensuring that employees remain engaged and deliver work productively. As a result, says Gartner, organisations should invest in digital transformation initiatives that will give workers more autonomy.