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Covid-19 Gives Governments Unexpected Digital Wake-Up Call

Over the last several years, governments have been forced to embrace digital transformation. The pandemic is driving new needs for online services, and governments are poised to take a digital leap.

Digital transformation is a slow and arduous process. Governments have experienced this first-hand as they’ve slowly begun to modernize their systems. The ongoing pandemic has accelerated their plans, forcing a sudden and colossal upheaval of the economic and social fabric of communities everywhere. Whether citizens are applying for unemployment benefits or seeking guidance on social distancing measures, the public wants and expects fast and efficient online experiences. Governments have to step up to the challenge.

With the right technology in hand, these governments are not just capable, but also poised to take a digital leap.

Innovating for the Future

The current pandemic has revealed the need for governments to build resilience for future threats. By bolstering digital capabilities, governments can push the boundaries of people’s expectations and provide better (maybe even life-saving) services. 

While digital transformation looks different at every organization, successful efforts often share fundamental characteristics. 

1) Cloud-Based Infrastructure

One of the biggest challenges holding digital transformation back is an outdated infrastructure. Governments, like private companies, require rapid and flexible access to computing, storage, and networking resources that can meet the needs of modern cloud innovations. Instead, they have gotten used to making due an aging IT infrastructure with stale or siloed information stored across multiple data warehouses, often basing decisions and policies on an incomplete, piecemeal picture. 

To make better-informed decisions, they need the cloud to build a resilient IT infrastructure that can be updated seamlessly, especially during a crisis to support broad digital needs and meet a huge surge in demand.

And in order to achieve greater elasticity and faster delivery times, organizations also require fast and secure access to data in its entirety in order to fully experience the benefits of using cloud-based applications, platforms, and services. Instead of data residing in complex private data servers, cloud technologies enable uniform access to data to support critical initiatives such as microservices. That’s not only cash and time savings for organizations, but also a necessity for operating digital services at scale. 

Dubai is a prime model of how cities are beginning to transform into “smart cities” by using the cloud. By shifting its infrastructure from paper and on-premise networks to the cloud, Dubai is on the path to making the government entirely paperless by 2021. So far, this has led to more than 250 government services being upgraded and the saving of millions of pounds of paper and cash.

2) Data Platform for Digital Transformation 

Governments today are saddled with a vast array of data types—from handwritten deeds to photocopied birth certificates—scattered across sprawling, multigenerational terrain. Many of these records need to be digitized, but that’s only the first step. 

In order to meet the needs of everyday citizens, governments need to boost their software development efforts using practices, like DevOps, in order to deliver their services within a shorter time span and with superior quality. 

How data is leveraged becomes key to rapidly and securely building those applications that power a transformative initiative. To do this, organizations are turning to the emergent practice of DataOps to manage data with the same speed and simplicity as developers manage code

DataOps is a data-first approach to process, culture, and technology—where organizations can put an end to software bottlenecks of waiting for data. Without it, time is wasted as software teams stand by days, even weeks, to get access to data. Once data entanglements are removed, DataOps organizations can move faster and with more efficiency, and embrace transformative new technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning. 

Two years ago, the city of Austin embarked on a journey to build living digital services for its community. Learning from its thriving tech scene, the city made massive investments into improving its IT infrastructure and adopting agile and DevOps software development practices. In less than 18 months, the city launched three new government service platforms, including rebuilding the City of Austin’s website to improve resident access to municipal services. This would not have been possible without first addressing their outdated data infrastructure data that often bottlenecks software development, especially at the government level. 

3) Data Risk Management 

“Whatever the motive, it’s clear that governments are the highest-value targets for hackers today,” writes Willaim Eggers, executive director at Deloitte’s Center for Government Insight. “Thus, it’s critical that agencies invest in strong cyber defenses—stronger, if anything, than those found in the private sector.”

Just as consumer trust is the currency in business, citizen confidence in government institutions also depends on trust. Governments hold sensitive information about everything from critical infrastructure, public safety, birth certificates, credit information, and more. Governments in particular, need to automate data security to protect sensitive information before it’s ever shared or used. 

Protecting privacy also needs to top of mind as entire projects run the risk of being stopped in their tracks. Take Sidewalk Labs for example, which set out to create a sustainable, digital city in an area of Toronto. The project would include a giant awning system to shield pedestrians from the elements, and even pathways that melt snow. Sensors and artificial intelligence would be used to optimize traffic and make buildings sustainable and efficient. There were even plans for robots to clean up trash and an underground freight delivery system to ferry packages to residents. However, privacy concerns around data collection forced organizers to water down their ideas—and now it’s been decided the once-promising project will not go on at all.

Necessity Breeds Innovation

While governments have edged toward becoming more digital, much of the hard work remains to be done. Their ability to respond to major challenges with digital solutions will be determined on continuous innovation. Now’s the time for governments to invest in digital infrastructure—migrating to the cloud, adopting a DataOps platform, and automating data security—and create seamless, digital services that help them better reach, inform and engage their constituents.  

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