Why Digital Transformation in the Public Sector Remains a Major Focus this Year – Part 2, Strategic Approach and Challenges

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Chad Davis
Published December 08, 2022

This is part two of a two-part series covering digital transformation in the public sector. In part one, I covered why digital transformation remains a major focus in the public sector and which priorities are leading the way. In this blog, I’ll cover the strategic approach of digital transformation in government and some of its biggest challenges.

Digital Transformation Strategy and Execution Leaders in Government

Arguably, the most important element of digital transformation strategy is who’s ultimately responsible for driving the initiatives. According to the Forrester infographic, The State of Digital Transformation in Government, 2021 (SDTG), global government employee survey recipients indicated business leaders and IT leaders are taking on ownership of this key initiative, with 53% of CIO/CTO listed as digital transformation strategy leaders and 43% of CEOs, respectively.

When it comes to digital transformation execution leaders, the SDTG presents a more skewed position toward IT leaders, with 48% of CIO/CTO listed as digital transformation execution leaders and only 28% listing CEOs as such. “This shouldn't be surprising,” says Lori MacVittie, Distinguished Engineer from F5’s Office of the CTO. She continues, “If half of digital transformation is about business, the other half is about technology. Actually, I'd prefer to see the strategy more evenly distributed between CIO/CTO and CEO and execution. In a fully digital business, IT and the business are partners, which means equal responsibility. This shows a shift too far in one direction.”

Greatest Challenges Associated with Executing Digital Transformation in Government

With all the greatness digital transformation initiatives can bring, they also come with considerable challenges—especially in the public sector where change can often face resistance from key employees. This has slowed adoption of many modern investments over the years, but new directives from the highest ranks are reversing this trend. Look no further than the NIS2 Directive in Europe or a new White House executive order in the U.S., titled Transforming Federal Customer Experience and Service Delivery to Rebuild Trust in Government, on improving citizen experience.

The SDTG validates what most reading this article would guess are the biggest challenges tied to digital transformation in government, with lack of budget leading the list with 37%, and agency culture (28%) and availability of employees devoted to digital transformation (27%) coming in at second and third, respectively.

This three-punch-combo is enough to daze the toughest heavyweights in the sector, and even establishing the perfect strategy wouldn’t be enough on its own to overcome it. The unavoidable truth is that culture overwhelms strategy most of the time. And if you don't have funding you have to rely on employees—who aren't available because the culture doesn't reward going after strategy, it rewards doing the things they've always done. It’s important to solve all these challenges simultaneously if agencies hope to make their desired digital transformation progress.

Tech Talent Shortage Fuels Challenges of Digital Transformation

The availability of tech talent can be particularly difficult, as the competition for such talent reaches far outside the public sector bubble. Consider changing entry level IT job posting requirements to make the positions more attainable for candidates with limited experience, which would open your candidate pool substantially. While this approach can help fill some of your much needed IT job openings, it does come with some important caveats.

Unfortunately, first year out of college applicants commonly have unreasonable expectations for what they will be doing. If expectations are not carefully managed around entry level IT job responsibilities, these new employees can quickly become dissatisfied and subsequently leave for another opportunity.

The good news is colleges, accelerators, and mentorship programs have jumped at the high demand for IT talent opportunity and are funneling more “purpose-built” talent into the market than ever before. This should help ease the stress put on fresh out of school IT talent by better preparing them for their real-world positions. It should also provide a relief to a stretched IT talent pool.

This concludes a two-part blog series focused on the strategic approach of digital transformation in government and some of its biggest challenges. If you missed part one, which covers why digital transformation remains a major focus in the public sector and which priorities are leading the way you can check that out here.


Learn more insights on this critical topic by watching the on-demand webinar, Top Public Sector App Modernization Strategy Trends and Priorities.