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Senior leaders must agree a course to ensure successful transformation in the public sector

from  November 14, 2023 | 3 min read

Our most recent State of the Digital Nation report paints a picture of a Public Sector still experiencing the aftershocks of 2020 – with digital transformation projects delayed or stagnated and beset by many obstacles. One of the most important challenges – which is perhaps an exacerbation of all the others – is that senior leaders are struggling to agree on a coherent forward course, with around a third or organizations reporting that their leadership teams are actively resistant to transformation. 

In this article, we’ll explore the reasons for this division, and how leadership can unite in order to overcome challenges of transformation and continuing uncertainty.

Virtually all the public sector organizations we’ve surveyed in 2023 have experienced challenges over the past two years. Given the reduced budgets that these organizations are working with and the need to delivery efficiency savings, they need to be changing and improving how they work. But right now, a mess of constantly changing priorities are putting a stop to this. Significantly, many respondents state that leadership teams are very likely to resist change – in some regions they’re actually more likely to resist change than any other level of the organization. 

Sweden particularly struggles with leadership recalcitrance, with 46% stating that their leadership team is the most likely part of the organization to resist change. This goes some way to explaining why they also find it difficult to plan for change: organizations which lack any kind of top-down directive will struggle to implement any kind of strategy.

Differing priorities across departments – a snapshot

When asked what they would prioritize if they could start processes from scratch, different departments give very different answers. Finance wants to focus on predictive analytics (29%), HR on better oversight of expenditure, income, and budget (33%) and IT on the ability to share and connect data (29%). You’ve probably noticed that these are relatively low percentage figures – which is itself further proof of the level of division in priorities. This lack of alignment is bound to cause large-scale projects to stall – and it’s something organizations will need to overcome if they are to have any hope of successfully implementing the changes necessary to deliver better services and reduce costs and complexity.

But there is one thing everyone can agree on…

When it comes to digital transformation, confidence has increased compared to 2021 on all fronts, with one exception – data interoperability levels. Compared to 2021, organizations are more confident that they will transform back-office systems on time (a necessary first step to transforming other systems, and also to improving organizational alignment.) They are also slightly more confident it will be done within budget. 

However, they are less confident that it will happen with the levels of interoperability they expected or that they need. Given that data compatibility continues to be an issue, its obviously an area that organizations struggle with and now feel less confident that it will actually happen. 

IT decision makers are the least confident in each of these areas, however they are also less optimistic on how long it will take for their organizations digital transformation strategy to be fully implemented/rolled out across all areas of the organization. This isn’t necessarily a surprise. After all, they’re likely the department making these changes, their levels of confidence, much like the time timeframes quoted, will be based on reality and prior experience, rather than expectations or committee agreed milestones.



As for data compatibility 

IT decision makers, in line with this hard-won realism, focus on data compatibility more than any other line of business. Probably because they’ve already been burned by promises of integration that have failed to materialize and feel the pain of having to plug the gap with their own time and resources.

It is the ITDMs who are more likely to report that data is manually keyed/entered by someone from paper to software systems (49%) (HRDM: 24%; Finance DM: 37% - Q4) and much less likely to report that data is compatible across all applications without duplication of data entry or transfer in any cases (3%) (HRDM: 12%; Finance DM: 10%.) If IT are indeed plugging the gaps where data isnt automatically compatible with another system, it might appear to the other DMs that it is compatible but in reality, IT might have a manual workaround in place.

Where does this leave you?

The obvious focus for organizations struggling to make headway on strategic alignment – whether over service priorities, transformation, or operations – is to prioritize tools that boost data interoperability. This doesn’t just mean adopting more data management tools. It means retiring legacy back-office systems and preparing the whole organization with a better foundation for data management. In fact, it may not be possible for an organization to determine what options it has to prioritize from if it hasn’t yet nailed down the challenge of data interoperability. It’s difficult to score without a goal – but it’s hard to find a goal without a pitch.

Want to learn more?

For a full appraisal of everything covered in this article – including how leadership can unite around common goals to further digital transformation and improved service delivery – download our full 2023 public sector State of the Digital Nation Report here.

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