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How to use a crisis to move towards digital government

Glenn Archer | Nov. 5, 2014
Agencies continue to view IT as a cost centre.

Developing plans to leverage the opportunity provided by a crisis is different. It's about being prepared to change rather than to return to the way things were.

It pitches IT's ideas for delivering the best outcome for the agency in the long term. This could involve using game theory, scenario planning, or Gartner's 'civic moments' concept to quickly address digital government opportunities.

Arguments should be structured toward promoting radical options rather than incremental change. In fact, there may well be significant value in including some explicit counterarguments to incremental change.

Any plan will need to include a compelling argument of how technology is a key source of efficiency, innovation, and productivity that underpins new business models. It should also clearly state how IT could be ruthlessly applied to obtain the required benefits.

Ideally, structure the plan as a short executive summary in a format and language appropriate for the executive team or CEO. During a crisis, the organisation's leadership may have little time to assess or understand complex or detailed proposals.

For example, prior to taking office in 2010, British Conservative Party member, Francis Maude, outlined a plan for the UK to respond to the GFC that saw ICT as a key enabler of new services. These services were built by an in-house development team and at a low cost.

Maude convinced the government to divert resources from other areas to establish a new online platform -- -- to provide simpler, clearer, faster access to government services and information.

Achieving efficiencies elsewhere in government operations and IT sourcing practices, the UK government established the Government Digital Service (GDS) to lead the digital transformation of government services.

This new approach enabled the government to explicitly choose not to pursue the common efficiency dividend model to achieve savings. Maude referred to this as the 'low road of salami slicing.'

Central to the success of Maude's plan was the rapid deployment of new applications and the wholesale adoption of an agile development methodology.

Perhaps more important was choosing to redesign government services from a citizen rather than a bureaucratic perspective. This decision drove user interface design, architecture, legacy system consideration, and even access and identity issues.

Refine and promote the plan
Once you have put your proposal forward, use the time it takes to make a decision to refine the plan around the specific nature of the crisis together with the actual response required.

Specifically, research what practices and technologies might best be deployed to respond. Don't limit yourself to existing technologies or practices used within your agency. Critically examine new practices, innovative approaches, sourcing options and platforms that can be used to respond to the crisis.


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