Everybody wants digital government, but doubts remain about ROI

Shutterstock image.

Government employees think that making their agency more digital is important, but many say they haven't seen measurable benefits from the IT investment they'd already made, according to a new survey of government IT professionals.

James Warrick of Beacon Technology Partners, which conducted the survey, presented the results at a Sept. 15 conference on digital government sponsored by 1105 Media, GCN's parent company. He said he doesn't interpret the findings as saying ROI is impossible.

"I think what they're saying is that digital government is hard because of what it involves," Warrick said. "It's not just the upfront cost, it's not just having to bring along and modernize legacy systems; it's involving policies, it's involving IT governance, change management."

The survey also found that agencies interested in implementing more digital services were concerned about change management and security. At agencies that had already adopted digital services, however, respondents raised concerns about the time involved with digital innovation and legacy system maintenance.

Warrick said that part of realizing ROI is investing in technology that is relevant to the citizens and government employees who will be using it. Replacing his daughter's lost learner's permit was much more difficult than replacing a lost debit card, Warrick said. ROI is demonstrated when a service answers a clear citizen need. "It's not top down, it's bottom up," he said. "It's very different."

"The moment of truth" is what Mark Forman, Unisys' global head of public sector, called the point of service when citizens are looking for government to solve a problem. According to Forman, who was the federal government's first administrator of the Office of E-Government and Information Technology, it can be the police responding to an emergency call or a driver registering for a license at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

However, "there is no silver bullet" for making the transition to more digital, according to former General Services Administration CIO Casey Coleman, who is now the group vice president of civilian agencies at Unisys Federal Systems. She stressed that it's important to start with the end in mind and keep the focus on the user.

Larry Gillick, the deputy director of digital strategy at the Department of the Interior, was straightforward in his theory of how government often interacts with citizens. "Ninety-nine percent of what we do in government is a little irritating," he said. "There is a lot of stupid in what we do."

Digital government should lower the barrier to service, Gillick argued, making it easier for people to get what they need. Until that happens, he said, digital government hasn't truly been realized at an agency.

A version of this article first appeared on GCN, and sister site to FCW.

About the Author

Matt Leonard is a reporter/producer at GCN.

Before joining GCN, Leonard worked as a local reporter for The Smithfield Times in southeastern Virginia. In his time there he wrote about town council meetings, local crime and what to do if a beaver dam floods your back yard. Over the last few years, he has spent time at The Commonwealth Times, The Denver Post and WTVR-CBS 6. He is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, where he received the faculty award for print and online journalism.

Leonard can be contacted at or follow him on Twitter @Matt_Lnrd.

Click here for previous articles by Leonard.


  • Cybersecurity

    DHS floats 'collective defense' model for cybersecurity

    Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen wants her department to have a more direct role in defending the private sector and critical infrastructure entities from cyberthreats.

  • Defense
    Defense Secretary James Mattis testifies at an April 12 hearing of the House Armed Services Committee.

    Mattis: Cloud deal not tailored for Amazon

    On Capitol Hill, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis sought to quell "rumors" that the Pentagon's planned single-award cloud acquisition was designed with Amazon Web Services in mind.

  • Census
    shutterstock image

    2020 Census to include citizenship question

    The Department of Commerce is breaking with recent practice and restoring a question about respondent citizenship last used in 1950, despite being urged not to by former Census directors and outside experts.

Stay Connected

FCW Update

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.