Digital transformation of government has become mission critical priority in the Covid-19 era

Digital transformation of government has become mission critical priority in the Covid-19 era
Andrea Di Maio
27 May, 2020

The global pandemic started by the Covid-19 outbreak in China at the end of 2019 has had unprecedented impact on economies across the globe. Government organizations have been severely impacted by this health emergency as they try to mitigate risk to human life and public safety. Major disruptions have been seen on education, public transportation, tourism and economic development in the affected countries and will continue for the rest of the year.

While it is important to have a long term strategy to deal with this crisis, it is also critical to evaluate the practicality of immediate remediation initiatives. 

It is important that governments develop a list of strategic options that are not currently available -- but may be revisited in the future -- to justify a more agile, transformed and strategic set of capabilities.

Uptick in demand for online services

A ban on congregation of citizens was one of the first reactions of all governments across the globe. This led to sudden closure of all public spaces including closure of schools, museums, theaters and sport events. Many employees, including government organizations recommended their employees to work from home and not use public transport to commute to workplaces. This shift implied a surge in demand for online services for all industries as the physical movement of people halted. 

In such cases, it is important for government CIOs to ensure continuity of services. One of the ways this can be done is by amplifying the capacity of remote services, such as call centers with citizen-facing video capability. They need to closely work with HR and finance to provide call center agents working from home with access to such capability.

CIOs can support remote working by ramping up VPN capabilities and planning for a significant increase in help desk calls from newly remote workers, while considering the impact on the help desk itself of call volume and staff rostering.

Reprioritization of digital strategy execution

IT spending for the year is bleak across all segments. CIOs are cautious about where the spending happens and as a result many digital projects have been paused or stopped altogether, depending on the urgency of these projects and the impact they can have on citizens. 

Government CIOs must first focus on stabilizing, securing and scaling the existing functionality of the digital government technology platform by assessing its contribution to continued delivery of value. They need to reprioritize their digital strategies given the changed priorities of digital initiatives and cancel/postpone further developments.

They also need to provide guidance to ensure that the adoption of technology shortcuts is limited to tactical responses. This can be done by creating an exit plan that engages the IT organization in either incorporating the new solution into its digital roadmap or replacing it with an equivalent corporate solution.

Increase in need for transparency and ethical usage of data

The availability of accurate data is critical to face the virus outbreak. Be in contact tracing, managing critical resources, providing important information to healthcare providers and government officials, availability of data is crucial. 

While the impact is most evident in the area of health and human services (with particular reference to vulnerable and elderly people), other agencies can equally benefit from data. For example, public safety agencies can capture masses of data from surveillance cameras, drones and officers who patrol quarantined areas to track and prevent movement at their borders.

CIOs can leverage the urgency created by the virus outbreak to accelerate the development of data-centric transformation initiatives. They need to create and maintain a special section of the open data website devoted to the virus outbreak and ensure that all data provided by different agencies is anonymized and does not lead to the identification of individuals.

Digital government transformation is one of the mission-critical priorities. The global pandemic will impact that in several ways ranging from changing priorities and fund reallocation, to the need to accelerate certain developments to face the threats. In this situation, government CIOs can drive the entire machinery at hand by creating and maintaining an efficient technology backbone.

Andrea Di Maio

Andrea Di Maio

Andrea Di Maio is managing vice president at Gartner. The views in this article are his own.