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Digital transformation—the use of emerging digital tools to solve business challenges—may typically conjure up images of cloud computing, AI and software development, but at its core, digital transformation is about empowering people to work better. 

Though the need for digital transformation is greater than ever, as some industries embrace it head on, others are a bit further behind the curve. Government, for example, has historically been slower to transform, but that’s starting to change as more agencies and organizations begin to embrace the human side of digital transformation. According to a recent report from EY, digital transformation is now a public sector imperative.

After all, going digital will not only make government operations more efficient, but it will also enable the public sector to better serve its citizens. To make digital transformation a reality in this notoriously laggard industry, HR must step in and lead the critical transition, leveraging technology to shake up the status quo.

HR Must Lead the Path Toward Change

While digital transformation initiatives are led by an IT director or CTO, the responsibility of execution increasingly falls to HR. But at many public sector organizations, there’s a lack of accountability around these responsibilities. According to a Deloitte Digital global survey, public sector executives expect HR functions to adapt and embrace digital solutions to tackle workforce management challenges, but only 40 percent of HR departments report transformation of processes as a strategic objective and less than 30 percent cite innovation as a strategic objective.

To successfully embrace a digital transformation, HR departments must prioritize objectives such as digital fluency, skills development and adoption of new technology. For example, an automated recruiting tool enables HR staff to save time and resources by simplifying scheduling, pre-screening candidates and recruiting on the go using a mobile app. Not only do automated tools improve the candidate experience by providing applicants a positive first impression of how your organization operates, but they also significantly speed up processes. That means hiring and onboarding happen faster, which gives workers more time to focus on their main roles as government employees—listening and responding to the needs of citizens.

Similarly, if you’ve invested in a digital learning and upskilling solution that delivers content to employees as they need it, they’ll be better suited to serve citizens as well. There’s nothing more challenging than dealing with a frustrated customer as a front-end employee at a government agency and not knowing how to use the technology needed to solve their problem. On-demand access to a learning tool can prevent such situations, offering training or refresher courses as workers need them. 

And finally, digital solutions for governments can also provide them with a direct line to citizens, giving them better insight into what their needs and expectations are. Crowdsourcing progressive and innovative ideas through focus groups, competitions, hackathons, user-centered design and co-creation are just a few ways to get citizens involved in how their leaders govern, and many of these initiatives would be impossible without digital technologies and apps. 

The Digital Transformation Will Require an Organizational Revolution

A successful digital transformation doesn’t just require a shift in technology; it also demands a full overhaul of the way people think about the technology they use and the potential impact it could have.

The challenge, of course, is that many of these digital transformation initiatives fail before they even have an opportunity to succeed. That’s because a majority of public sector organizations grapple with the cultural elements of digital transformation: More than 85 percent of agencies cite culture as a challenging aspect of managing the transition.

That means that before your organization can embrace the digital transformation, you need to introduce a cultural transformation. Successful innovation calls for changing organizational structures, business processes and overall attitudes about work. Exercising emotional intelligence and an openness to change is the first step toward any successful transformation. And receiving executive buy-in is an integral part of the process—creating a culture of trust and transparency begins at the top and trickles down, so HR musn’t be afraid to have the tough conversations with the C-suite about the importance of technology.

A Lasting Impact

The key to doing transformation right is to be patient. You may not see results immediately, and that’s okay. Instead, your HR department can take small steps that will set your organization up for future success. Effective digital transformation in government is by the people, for the people, and that means you’ll need to put your employees—and the citizens they serve—first.

To learn more about how HR can lead a successful digital transformation in the public sector, read our e-book, “By the People, For the People: A Government Agency’s Guide to Embracing Digital Transformation,” here.