Digital First

Despite the desires for digital first programs by citizens governments have been either slow to respond or have had limited success in implementing digital transformation projects. In some cases, this is a symptom of IT project issues that are often encountered by a government (e.g. project spending overruns, poor outcomes); however, it is important to note that four areas are key to achieving the desired outcomes;

Project Process

When going digital first, ensuring project success is critical to the outcome and the continued move towards digital.  Digital projects benefit from a more agile and flexible approach which may include the use of Agile methodologies such as scrum, but more importantly require user-centred approaches which consider form and function, rather than function and efficiency in isolation.

Technology Options

Often digital platforms that are suited to the defined problem or situation are not considered due to not being in government’s standard suite. An open-minded consideration of products and platforms is required when moving towards digital first.


Waterfall hierarchical governance approaches don’t encourage dynamic digital activity. Rather an engaged governance approach is required where key stakeholders are involved and committed to the process.


Digital first success requires partnering with the “right” companies rather than the “big” companies. This is due to the fact that success depends on partnering with a vendor that is dynamic and flexible enough to work with you to achieve changing digital objectives. Responding to a predefined statement of work with a fixed price will often not produce optimal results due to the discovery that occurs during digital projects and the changing context. Organizations need to assess and mitigate risk rather than being risk averse.

Levers to drive digital transformation

Digital transformation requires a cultural change within organizations. However, unlike many organizational change initiatives, a successful digital first program has to be citizen-focused – looking outside an organization rather than inward. The nature of digital projects inherits many of the challenges of enterprise-wide IT projects coupled with the organizational change dynamic.

The levers below are critical to the success of digital transformation projects. These levers are things for a project to consider and may help successfully implement digital transformation programs.

  1. Agility

Many organisations, especially those where technology plays a significant role, have agility as an aim; however, the understanding of what being agile actually means is often unclear. While Agile methods may be a key component in becoming more agile, this is often seen as being risky for government agencies where more traditional phase-based approaches are more prevalent. The use of Agile methodologies in government is rare. Hybrid methodologies that ensure good governance whilst capitalizing on the benefits of Agile methods should be utilized to mitigate and manage risk.

  1. Behaviours

Government agencies don’t necessarily have to adopt the approaches utilized by private sector corporations but what is critical to any organizational change is an acknowledgement that regardless of the objective focus on systems and processes, people are involved. Ensuring that the benefits of digital first or digital transformation are communicated to staff; that they are engaged, and can see how they will share in the benefits will increase the likelihood of success. It is important that staff also know what is expected of them during and post the change to mitigate any misunderstandings and therefore conjecture about the digital transformation agenda.

  1. Leadership

Digital transformation projects need engaged champions to succeed. This includes exemplifying leadership within and external to the organization. A culture of pride coupled with an empowered project team enables the inevitable obstacles that arise to be overcome. Transparency is also important – Firstly, to enable the wider organization to be part of the journey to digital transformation, and secondly to show the community a better way to engage with stakeholders while demonstrating the benefits of digital initiatives.

  1. Innovation

Government digital first strategies should explicitly state innovation as an aim. This is a reflection on the need to improve on the past performance of government IT projects. Innovation within the government sector does not mean disregarding the past – rather the learnings of the past 20 years of delivering IT projects for Government should be applied to new technologies and approaches. A focus on willingness and measures of innovation should be taken.

  1. Collaboration

Digital first projects require elevated levels of collaboration, especially with vendors. The focus on a shared outcome requires the sometimes-difficult relationship between client and vendor be put aside. Procurement models need to be reviewed to ensure that collaborative rather than servant/master relationships exist between vendors and agencies.

  1. Simplicity & Technology

These two levers are highly important when implementing digital first or digital transformation projects. These factors are the most important as they are the factors that differentiate digital transformation projects from other IT or organizational change projects.

  • Simplicity – Digital projects succeed when they are simple. Simple in terms of reduced or managed technical complexity and simple where the business rules and processes are simplified. Organizations should take a “Lego approach”: Utilize pre-built components and assemble them together. Rather than making investments in customizing components, re-engineer business processes to maximize the value of digital investments. Also, organizations should partner with organizations with recognized skills in application integration. The integration of systems allows significant value to be extracted from existing systems especially in terms of process efficiency and business intelligence, with data quality and auto-completion of forms a benefit for end-users.
  • Technology – While obviously critical to digital first projects, it is important to see technology as a response to a business problem. Too often projects are initiated for which the objective is the implementation of a technology product or system. The selection of technology serves the other levers already discussed.  Organizations should continue the prevailing trend of selecting Platforms and Commercial-off-the-shelf components and plug them together to achieve the required outcomes. This approach stresses the importance of application integration and enables a more rapid, less costly project with reduced risk.

Partnering for Success

Project success depends on a variety of factors, some of which have been introduced in this paper. Utilization of the ‘Lego approach’ as discussed enables the flexibility and agility required for successful digital transformation projects while mitigating many of the risks associated with IT projects.

Selection of a vendor to partner with is critical. Ensure that the vendor(s) you choose has the following:

  • Significant and recognized application integration experience.
  • Is nimble and flexible enough to work with your organization.
  • Has a project management approach suited to digital transformation projects.
  • Can support your strategy rather than just being an implementer.
  • Has cloud, on-premise and hybrid infrastructure, application and integration expertise
  • Has a digital first track record, working with governments to improve service delivery.

Making a considered vendor choice will give your project the best opportunity for success.

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