Research Report: The Virtual Public Sector

Digital Government: The Road Ahead

Government agencies are clearly on board with expanding their array of digital services. Funding to support digital services is on the rise. According to a survey of federal and state IT leaders by the 1105 Public Sector Media Group, more than half of agencies have seen budgets increase for customer-facing services.

While budget is an important part of making digital government a reality, though, it can’t happen to the extent necessary without the right cultural shifts, the right processes and technology, and skilled personnel. The shift from manual or semi-automated processes to digital services is significant. It requires changes in mindset, processes, technology and ways of evaluating success. In other words, it’s not just about transitioning infrastructure from legacy to the cloud. It’s about changing the way government works so it becomes more like the private sector.

People-related cultural shifts include spending more time understanding customer and citizen needs and pain points, and using that information to determine how they will interact with digital services. Process- and technology-related cultural shifts include moving toward commodity hardware, open source software and the cloud, and adopting and following agile and flexible application design and development processes.

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Although a necessity, these changes can be disruptive. A 2015 global digital government survey by Deloitte found more than 85 percent of government organizations find culture to be a challenging aspect of managing the digital transition. The survey also found organizations with a clear and coherent digital strategy are more likely to have a culture that fosters innovation and collaboration.

“Changing the culture starts with government employees, and you have to attack it on different levels, because different generations of workers have different levels of digital proficiency,” says Ray Wang, principal analyst and founder of Constellation Research. “It’s about finding a way to both get people comfortable with the new way of doing things and then developing a framework to help them make the transformation.”

Another important shift that will make digital government more effective is moving toward commodity hardware and open source software solutions. Using open source software helps ensure that agencies won’t be locked into proprietary solutions or formats, making it much easier to adapt to changing needs without starting over. It also makes customization easier, tends to be more secure, is reusable, and is much less expensive than proprietary solutions.

Government agencies are increasingly using open source software. This is partly in response to recommendations in many government policies and memorandums. For example, the White House in 2014 issued the Digital Services Playbook, which encourages agencies to use modern technology stacks such as open source, cloud-based, commodity solutions. Along the same lines, the GSA created 18F, also known as Digital Services Delivery. The 18F group is a government-owned digital delivery team that bases its work on free and open source software.

Skills Shortage

Digital government can’t reach its potential without the breadth of skills necessary to rework the infrastructure and manage it on an ongoing basis. Yet many agencies don’t have the skill set to accomplish that goal. In fact, the 1105 Public Sector Media Group survey found lack of qualified staffers is one of the main reasons government departments don’t offer digital services. The Deloitte survey found much the same thing. Only 34 percent say their organization has sufficient skills to execute its digital strategy.

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That’s probably the reason so many agencies plan to increase use of third-party service providers to develop and deliver digital services to constituents, either completely or as a way to supplement in-house IT staff resources. When engaging a third party, though, Wang warns agencies to seek a balance and have a solid services contract. “The best SLAs aren’t just cost-driven,” he says, “but have an innovation component.”

Methodology and survey demographics

Between January 21, 2016 through February 11, 2016, 108 subscribers of FCW and GCN responded to an e-mail survey about digital services trends. Survey respondents were screened for involvement with, or interest in, customer-facing digital services offered on behalf of their department or agency. Beacon Technology Partners developed the methodology, fielded the survey and compiled the results.

Approximately 73% of respondents were technology decision-makers (CIOs or other IT managers or professionals), while 27 percent were senior managers, program managers or other business decision-makers. Approximately 51 percent came from the federal government (37 percent civilian, 14 percent defense) and 40 percent from state or local government agencies. Nine percent of respondents represented a systems integrator that offers services to government agencies.

About this Report

This report was commissioned by the custom publishing unit, an independent editorial arm of 1105 Public Sector Media Group. Specific topics are chosen in response to interest from the vendor community; however, sponsors are not guaranteed content contribution or review of content before publication. For more information about 1105 Public Sector Media Group's custom publishing, please email us at [email protected]