A new report by market intelligence firm International Data Corporation (IDC) found that digital transformation (DX) within public sector agencies has been significantly impaired by security challenges, disconnected inter-departmental systems, and staffing concerns.
The research was conducted on behalf of Gatineau, Quebec-based cyber firm Portage CyberTech.
Nearly all (92 per cent) government agencies recognize that the pandemic has shifted business priorities and highlighted the need for a digital first strategy, but despite that, only 33 per cent are actively moving to it.
Mark Matheson, managing partner for the Canadian Federal Sector at IT infrastructure services provider Kyndryl, explained that the government needs to take a broader view, commit to a consolidated, full project approach with appropriate performance gates along the way, rather than chunking engagements down in a spate of smaller projects.
He added, “there are the usual challenges with security, regulatory policy, inter-departmental mandates, prioritization of budgets, but I think the biggest one right now is ‘risk tolerance’. While we need to learn from our mistakes, we also need to be bold and take on big projects, especially if Canada is going to be the digital leader that our citizens want us to be.”
Accelerating delivery services is about people, IDC said, about improving social and economic access, ensuring a seamless user experience, and keeping up with the need for delivery of remote services.
But the government recognizes that citizens want better digital services, with over 40 per cent of respondents acknowledging that people are getting lost in the multiplicity and complexity of digital channels.
Matheson, commenting on the recent launch of StatCan’s new portal, said that accessibility of information “enables citizens to transform data into fit-for-purpose insights, which support better outcomes and decision making.”
There are clear benefits to DX within the government, but the challenges are palpable. Government agencies cite cybersecurity risks (75 per cent), vulnerabilities related to remote work (48 per cent) and the need for business continuity and disaster recovery (44 per cent) as the most pressing concerns when considering digital first strategies.
But these risks can only be mitigated by a responsible DX strategy, IDC stressed. In fact, the key business outcomes of DX investments are improved trust and privacy of constituents, as well as organizational and regulatory compliance.
Further, while key investments are necessary, it is also essential for government leaders to fully comprehend the DX process and what technologies are involved, and find the right talent accordingly.
“We need to move past the days of thinking automation will fix everything to a genuine understanding of what the technologies can actually do,” Matheson stated. “Government officials should be versed on the potential, the capabilities, and the limitations of the various automation approaches. In the end, that is how they can better leverage automation to remove manual, repetitive toil from service delivery.”
Over 40 per cent of Canada’s public sector struggle to combine new generation and older technology systems, which, in turn, generate technical debt and stifle DX progress.
Forty-one per cent of business executives are also disconnected from the DX journey and fail to understand how these new initiatives will truly support business resiliency. Others just lack the budget or the resources to deal with increasing operational complexity.
Meanwhile, HR is also struggling to find the talent that could adequately support DX. The IT/technology department accounts for the biggest talent shortage, IDC revealed, adding that the difficulty of recruiting IT personnel is 11 per cent higher in the public sector, compared to the private sector.
The IDC report cites the example of Singapore, along with Denver and Finland, where the government, “strikes a delicate, dynamic balance between innovation and risk aversion.”
Reportedly, in Singapore civil servants are training AI chatbots to conduct research and draft speeches and reports.
Denver takes it a step further, and is looking to deploy advanced chat capabilities that instead of just helping citizens locate, for instance, where to fill out an application for a license or permit, digitally completes the process by issuing the permit.
Regarding AI, Matheson said, the potential should be recognized alongside the risks.
“‘AI’ stands for both ‘Artificial Intelligence’ as well as ‘Actionable Insights’,” he said. “Both definitions rely on there being adequate and accurate data on which AI can find and offer insights or take actions. We want AI to detect anomalies or predict outcomes, but AI should also push “Actionable Insights” to guide delivery teams (or automation) on what can be done proactively and help create data driven change.”
He added, “the data model should be focused on collecting information about operational reality, and on the usage habits of the Canadian consumers of government services.”