Despite digital ambitions, governments fail to scale initiatives, survey shows

A research firm's recent government survey reveals a mismatch between what government wants and what it's able to do.
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Digital initiatives are a top priority for state government, yet agencies continue to lag behind the private sector in their attempts to scale those initiatives, according a survey released this week by research and advisory firm Gartner.

A report released Wednesday reveals that chief information officers and other government technology leaders in the U.S., the U.K., Australia, Singapore, Canada and India are rarely able to deliver their digital businesses at scale, despite a strong policy emphasis and ambition for digital government.

The survey included 372 IT leaders, with 72 percent of respondents coming from state or local levels.

Dean Lacheca, the Gartner analyst who wrote the report, said there are two possible barriers government organizations are facing as they attempt to scale their digital businesses — “misalignment between digital strategy and business priorities, and lack of urgency and readiness for change.”


These challenges persist in spite of an ambition uncovered by the survey to advance digital government initiatives. Eighty-three percent of IT leaders said they are seeking digital initiatives to optimize their organizations, a phrase that means improving employee productivity, increasing revenue, and creating a better customer or citizen experience.

Sixty-seven percent said they like digital initiatives for their transformative properties, the ability to deliver new products and services, and to create new business models and revenue streams.

Half of respondents named both optimization and transformation as motivating factors.

A desire to advance digital initiatives, as shown in these survey results, is mirrored by priorities put forth by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers. The group places digital government as the fourth-most important priority for state IT organizations in 2018, behind cybersecurity, cloud services, and IT consolidation and optimization.

The motivations of IT leaders are balanced with perceived risks to their organizations’ existing operating models, explaining in part government’s relatively slow progress. Half of respondents said new market entrants represent a “significant risk” to disrupting their businesses.


Though this disruption is perceived as a risk, it’s also a motivating factor for pursuit of new digital government initiatives.

“In our conversations with government clients, rising citizen expectations of government services based on citizens’ experiences in adjacent industries is one motivation,” the report reads.

In interviews with StateScoop, state and local government IT leaders frequently cite leading private companies like Amazon as proffering the new standard for customer engagement and ease-of-use that they seek to replicate in their own organizations. In July, North Dakota hired a former Amazon and Hewlett Packard user experience designer, Julie Cabinaw, as its first “chief reinvention officer,” with the idea of bringing some of that private-sector thinking into government.

Gartner’s survey shows that governments are striving to keep their workforces updated with the latest digital skills so as to support scaling of their digital initiatives. Forty-eight percent said “digital dexterity,” Gartner’s term, is critical to the success of their digital business. And yet 58 percent said they have no formal program to ensure their workforces have those digital skills.

To that end, Lacheca writes: “Government CIOs should work with HR to assess the current state of digital dexterity and develop an organizationwide program.”


A key recommendation of the report is for CIOs and other technology leaders to work closely with key executives to build “transparent and pragmatic” digital strategies that factor in an organization’s urgent need to advance digital initiatives.

“If strategy and ambition are aligned to business priorities but progress remains elusive, then consideration should be centered around the urgency and readiness of the organization for change,” Lacheca writes. “If there is no urgency to act, then progress will remain slow.”

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