Across the country – from New York to Arizona and from Ohio to California – state and local governments are investing in the technology and solutions to deliver the next generation of services to constituents. However, delivering on the promise of digital transformation requires more than just new technology and solutions; it also requires a shift in organizational culture.
While state and local government agencies were among the leaders embracing new technology during the earliest days of the pandemic, as we emerge from that unique moment, there’s a certain amount of frustration for agency leaders and workers. “Given the intensity of the digital shift during the first months of the pandemic to ensure continuity in work and the delivery of services and benefits, modernization was a one-and-done activity,” explained Herb Wilson, Director of Health, Human and Social Services at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), and longtime health and human services technology director in the State of Colorado. “However, what this really marked was the beginning of a long-term – if not permanent – cycle of digital transformation.”
The process of continuous change and adaptation necessitates a parallel cultural shift for agency workers. “For the generation of workers that is reaching retirement age now, their entire careers have been spent using variations of the same kinds of technology,” shared Wilson. “Now, in the last few years, the rate of change has accelerated at ever-increasing speeds, and our refresh cycles are getting shorter and shorter. That’s disorienting not just for the older generation of workers, but even for Millennials.”
For agencies looking to capitalize on their digital transformation investments, Wilson has some important advice. “To make the technology investment worthwhile and deliver value to constituents in the form of superior customer experiences, agency leaders must set the tone,” Wilson continued. “Staff often feel uneasy or threatened as technology is integrated into their job functions. Automation solutions could be seen as driving job losses, although automation helps to free up people’s time to deliver higher value and better quality services to constituents. It’s incumbent on agency leaders to assure teams that automation will help them serve the community better and assist with increasing workloads.”
Wilson, who has worked extensively with state departments of Health and Human Services during periods of tech adoption and culture change, recommends that leaders acknowledge stakeholder concerns and foster transparency. “Every group, be they agency workers or the constituents who will eventually use the services, is going to experience some level of discomfort with digital transformation because with anything new there may be uncertainty and doubt,” shared Wilson. “However, if you acknowledge the concerns and seek inputs and feedback throughout the change process, then you’re going to be more successful at driving not just the initial period of transformation, but each subsequent iteration.”
Communication of the strategic vision is essential. “Tailoring the vision to each of the stakeholder groups – management, workers, and constituents – is vital, as is creating a timeline, identifying milestones, and building a feedback loop,” Wilson explained. “Agency leadership should also take advantage of the insights that are generated by new technologies like chatbots, and natural language processing models. Data and sentiment analysis can be used to identify pain points, assess challenges, and shed light on successes. This information can help to remediate challenges before they become bigger problems, demonstrate to stakeholders that their worst fears have not been realized, and most importantly, celebrate positive outcomes.”
As state and local governments strive to deliver on more complex missions more efficiently and effectively, they need to embrace both digital and cultural transformation to be successful. Without cultural transformation, technology solutions will likely never be optimized and will fail to deliver the exceptional user experiences, and true transformation, that workers and constituents expect and deserve.