Ivan Beraha

Ivan Beraha

Business Development Director, U.S. IP Solutions

Watching the famous Becket's play Waiting for Godot is painful, not in the craftsmanship of the prose or theatrical merits, but in the knowledge that Didi and Gogo (the main characters) are on their own, and the fictional Godot will never show up. In the two acts, the characters vocalize numerous perspectives, yet there is minimal transformation in the end. 

Attempts at change in the public sector feel like this sometimes. The expectation is for us to be able to leverage digital technology in a transformational way in just a few months, only to find the constraints (of policy, process, and people) to turn that vision into a multi-year project destined not to meet expectations. In this blog, I want to help government executives figure out how to stop waiting and start doing by examining three types of constraints before they embark on their digital transformation journey: fixed, fixable, and fictitious.

Fixed constraints for digital transformation in government

Laws govern governments at all levels by mandate, their behavior directed by policy, and their actions monitored and scrutinized by the legislature and the public. Striving for an ever-more effective and efficient government operation has its boundaries – the most effective way to accomplish a task may be the one not allowed by the legislation. Other approaches are politically untenable or simply wrong. For example, a government tries to renegotiate its obligations with its firefighters or police department because a new digital system cannot process benefits or overtime pay in a matter described by the union MOU. This may mean renegotiating the benefits intended to reward and protect the people who stood up and shielded us from the pandemic – our first responders.

Being a successful digital transformer requires one to be a well-informed consumer. Challenge your team not only to adopt but also to embrace change, up to a point. Realistically, understanding legal and political boundaries is essential for successful government transformation. Be cautious of workarounds and, if necessary, adopt, seek to understand and quantify their actual long-term cost for your team and the ramifications of their potential operational failures. A new digital system meant to bring government efficiency but requires additional personnel to process workarounds twice a month manually fails to achieve the overall objective.

Fixable constraints we can overcome with government digital transformation

All digital transformations have their analog component – their people.

The silver tsunami of retirees eligible to leave governments nationwide will likely create a large knowledge vacuum in their wake. At the same time, adopting new digital resources, while exciting, may require additional learning and upskilling – something the employees would have to do while they are expected to continue to perform their day jobs.

Work with your vendors to better understand, quantify, and qualify the demands digital transformation will place on your government. Consider:

  • Is your organization willing and able to dedicate 50 full-time employees over the next two years for this modernization? Digital transformations require your best people. And, in most cases, for the very reasons that likely make them your best people, they too will want to be a part of it. 
  • Can you adequately backfill them with others within the organization, providing them the training and support they need to remain successful without jeopardizing the mission and their tasks? 
  • Does the speed of your hiring process allow you to hire the right individuals and make them productive in time to adequately staff your operations and the new initiative?

The good news is that you can overcome these barriers by being prepared and realistic and working with your government's digital transformation partner. While a vendor may tell you the people they need, a partner will work with your team to help absorb the ebbs and flows of an implementation.

By all means, encourage your teams to embrace their inner-four-year-old: ask "why"? Sometimes thrice. The only way to truly transform is to challenge the status quo by confirming the real constraints. If none are found after a thoughtful inspection, don't accept "that's how we've always done it" as an acceptable answer. This is how teams come together: by members politely challenging each other and creating a group change mentality.

We can all gain knowledge through training, but wisdom only comes with experience. So, ask your trusted partner to share what they know works well. They certainly haven't seen it all, but they have seen and learned a lot. If digital transformation is all they do, and they have been at it for a while, encourage them to share it and be willing to try it out.

Use the fact that you do not compete with your peer government. Their best practice is not their competitive market edge over you, and chances are they are very willing to share them. So, look for a partner who will embrace and encourage this communication across their client base, seek your peers, and motivate your team members to do the same. You all share the same mission – to provide your constituents with the best and most effective service, not gain the market share.

Fictitious barriers to government transformation

Since new digital tools are so much easier to configure and use than the tools of the past, there is a tendency to underestimate, sometimes by a lot, how much time it takes to complete a digital transformation in government. As we said earlier, all digital transformations have an analog component. While getting tangible, verifiable benefits early in the project and enjoying them often, be mindful of overpromises. At least, do your best to vary them with a comparable peer client. The fiction of the overpromise can be very deflating to the overall mission, and many times, it may come with real financial consequences.

We implement digital transformations differently, using an agile approach: we iterate, experiment early and often, and adapt – all excellent practices for visualizing and measuring progress. These practices allow us to be more effective at creating the end product and, if done right, shorten delivery by promoting tangible solution elements sooner.

Sometimes, asking a question differently or exploring a new forum for team discussions results in a better outcome. Embracing design thinking is an integral part of this process change. Start by discussing the business need that drives the process, facilitated by the digital solution. Adopting this approach can be an eye-opening experience for an organization; voices that aren't often heard participate, share their knowledge, and build a common mindset. By reframing challenges in human terms rather than system terms, one can discover different solutions that may lead to surprisingly effective outcomes.

Stop waiting. Start doing

Public sector digital transformations are what CGI does. Our teams have the understanding, the experience, and the excitement to drive transformation in government. We have a shared vision and the same values as our clients.

Learn more about our state and local government services and how CGI is helping government clients transform with digital.

About this author

Ivan Beraha

Ivan Beraha

Business Development Director, U.S. IP Solutions

With more than 20 years leading client digital transformations, Ivan is a Lead Solution Architect in CGI's Strategy and Operations team public sector practice, working on with some of CGI's largest, most strategic and complex public sector opportunities. ...