The digital future: Trends and tech for public sector digital transformation

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Written by Michaela Medveďová

For government agencies and public organizations, inviting technology into their workflows and breaking down silos might seem daunting. But adopting digital trends can bring them (and their constituents) a lot of benefits.

Let’s dive into what embracing some of the biggest trends can bring - and take a look at the tech that will help the public sector think of their digital transformation as a thrill, not a thriller!

Former president of the United States Ronald Reagan once said: "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government, and I'm here to help."

But what scares the government agencies and other public sector organizations? Only two words:

Digital transformation.

All joking (and politics aside), it’s understandable why achieving digital transformation would seem like a daunting task, specifically to institutions in the public sector landscape.


So what is digital transformation - and why is it intimidating?

According to the Observatory of Public Sector Innovation (OPSI), digital transformation: 

“refers to a process of adoption of digital tools and methods by an organization, typically those that have either not been including the digital factor as part of their core activities or have not kept up with the pace of change in digital technologies.”

Making a sometimes drastic technological change can seem like an awful lot of work - especially if the benefits of your effort are not so easily visible.

When private businesses optimize their websites and workflows to match current digital trends, the benefits of the shift will subsequently show up in black and white numbers: their revenue and returns, their profits and percentages.

But when it comes to public sector websites, the true success is something as abstract as citizen satisfaction with the services provided.

It’s then understandable why, without clear and countable end goals in mind, achieving digital transformation would seem like a daunting task that’s, well, not exactly something they’d jump at the chance to do.

But public sector organizations might not have a choice in that matter - digital transformation is simply inevitable.


How does public sector digital transformation look in 2022?

In their annual report on trends that are pushing the government transformation forwards, Deloitte’s pick of the ten most prominent tendencies within the landscape makes it very clear that the transformation - and the future of government institutions - is more digital than ever.

Especially two of the trends largely go hand in hand: a linked-up government and a data-fueled government.

Here’s what they are about, how picking the right technology can help public sector institutions achieve them, and how following and embracing them will not only help the constituents; it will also open up new levels of efficiency for the organizations.


Interconnected, data-fueled governments - what are they about?

Not a single government agency or public institution can solve all their constituents’ needs - healthcare and schooling, employment and housing, these affairs are normally handled by different bodies or at least different departments of a single institution.

Citizen needs are often interconnected or depend on each other. But due to public sector institutions working in silos, the agencies that address these needs do not work in such an interconnected manner.

The trends in 2022 aim to change this, pushing governments and other agencies to break free from the silos and start connecting, collaborating, and sharing information.

This is achievable when they work based on the principle of interoperability, one of the digital government principles OPSI highlights, or “maintaining an ability to share data and functions across systems” - with data being the key expression here.

It’s data that helps government agencies and other public sector institutions optimize their decision- and policy-making processes. So the more data they have available thanks to interoperability, and the more transparently, the faster they can arrive at optimized decisions or services.

After all, if one is trying to assemble a puzzle set, they do it quicker if all the pieces are in the box, not scattered around the room, needing to be collected.


How do the constituents benefit from this?

In one word: greatly.

Gone could be the days of submitting the same form to three different agencies (or the same information in three different user interfaces of varying digitalization levels). A linked-up government would open the path toward the once-only policy or principle (OOP).

This is a practice when users are only expected to submit their data once when dealing with public administration as the separate institutions work on the basis of interoperability and share the information between them - even across borders.

It can be the basis for a much-improved (and consistently digital) user experience - in terms of time that citizens save, and, let’s face it, also the frustration they face when navigating an often complex environment of public and government institutions.


How do the organizations benefit from this?

It’s all in the name; as a public sector organization, the main purpose is to serve the public. But that doesn’t mean it’s only them who will have their happiness increased.

It is more efficient for institutions and departments to ask for information that’s already been collected from the citizens and stored than ask for the same information again, resulting in optimized workflows and internal processes. Instead of the workload doubling or tripling, different parts of the ecosystem that need to work together can already have the intelligence available, therefore offer better services more effectively.

Governments can become more efficient, transparent, and digitized. Plus, circling back to user centricity, with an interconnected network of agencies, institutions, and departments, the public sector can take a step closer to remaking the customer experience they offer from purely reactionary to anticipatory.

For example, Deloitte highlights the case of Estonia where, thanks to the once-only policy and the principle of interoperability, they were able to transform their service delivery. In practice, it works this: once you have a new baby, the birth certificate arrives without a request. Provided the government has the data readily available, it can truly predict its citizens’ needs.


How can the right tech help?

Since it’s digital transformation we’re seeking, the natural place to begin is, well, with the right technology that will allow you to be more agile and secure.

And the best start? Choosing the right content management system (CMS) for you - and making sure you use it in the best possible setup: establishing a SaaS (Software as a Service) platform.

Just like when you’re using Umbraco CMS (the world’s leading open-source .NET CMS) in the best place where you can work with it - Umbraco Cloud.

Working with a Cloud setup can help you connect different parts of the system and make data sharing in the virtual space easier. It also comes with added security and automatic updates and patches - so you can be sure you’re working on the best available framework by default and without much additional effort on your part.

Scaling the practice of collecting and sharing data, often of sensitive nature, is not to be taken lightly. In addition to choosing the most secure setup, it would be a good idea to look towards a bit of internal gatekeeping. And a good CMS in the right home can help you with that, too.

With Umbraco Cloud’s tool Cloud Portal, for example, you can easily (single-click, actually!) manage permissions and user settings, meaning that different users can have flexible roles and access to different amounts of content or data. This way, you’ll get a firmer grip on who can maintain what information, and to what extent.


But while it’s at the core of your setup, a CMS is not the only thing necessary to drive your digital transformation. For example, if you need additional security - or are already using some external security tools - it’s important to choose a CMS that will not force you to leave them behind or use a lot of time and resources switching to alternatives.

Having a setup that will allow for easy integrations with your custom applications or the 3rd party tools you prefer will also be indispensable when it comes to collecting, processing, and sharing data more efficiently. If your interconnected setup works together seamlessly, it will be easier for you to pull all collected data in, process it, and customize the way you’re using it.


What about some implementation examples?

The benefits of keeping up with the digital trends - both for the users and for the institutions - are clear.

But if it still feels like a big undertaking, let’s take a look at how two U.S. public sector institutions transformed their digital presence to better accommodate the citizens (and their own workflows).

Cherokee Nation

When Cherokee Nation, the sovereign government of the Cherokee people in the United States, made the decision to redesign their website with the Umbraco CMS, the primary focus on their minds was user centricity and experience - to make sure their visitors were easily able to find all the information and services the website provides.


The organization solved this with easy, clean navigation and a strong search function - and the new website has been met with success:

“We’ve received positive comments from the public on our new website. It’s much more organized. During the redesign, we restructured the entire content. Users can now navigate the website better and find the information they’re looking for using the search function.”

Alexandria Hefner, Multimedia Developer & Angelica Avila, Website Technician at Cherokee Nation

An example of the custom applications the development team of Cherokee Nation created for the new website to meet the needs of their users - and even go the extra mile and anticipate them - was an app for their tag office. They were able to smoothly integrate it with their website and easily pull the data in:

“When people are checked in, we’re able to take that information and give estimates on how many lines are currently open and what the expected wait is - so people can find that information on our website before driving into the tag office. Being able to pull the data right in and customize this was really beneficial to our users."

Alexandria Hefner, Multimedia Developer & Angelica Avila, Website Technician at Cherokee Nation

Interactive city plan website for Minneapolis

It is not uncommon for big cities to publish comprehensive plans for their future development. But when the city of Minneapolis, Minnesota, decided to switch from a plain document (which did not give the resident community a lot of intuitive options to provide their feedback) to a new format, they got off into their future on the very best foot.

The city’s leaders decided to go with an interactive city plan website, a first-of-its-kind digital solution built on Umbraco CMS by our Gold Solution Partner Emergent Software, that would ensure smooth collaboration between them and their community. The digitization of the city plan encouraged engagement and feedback on specific parts of the plan from Minneapolis residents by improving their user experience. And they were encouraged, indeed - the new format brought in thousands of comments and a significant traffic increase.

The interactive nature of the plan also allowed the city leadership to take in the feedback collected through a custom plugin, and modify the plan accordingly, with a change tracking feature transparently indicating what parts of the plan were changed based on public feedback.



What's next?

We’ve only just scratched the surface of public sector digital transformation. Want to dive deeper into the software that can help you follow the trends?

Take a look at our guide to choosing the right CMS for public sector websites!

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