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Covid-19 Accelerating Digital Transformation in the Public Sector

Jonathan Behnke, CIO, City of San Diego
Jonathan Behnke, CIO, City of San Diego

Jonathan Behnke, CIO, City of San Diego

COVID-19 has driven fundamental changes across the private and public sectors. Organizations are accelerating remote work capabilities to provide continuity of operations and provide services. New solutions have been created to replace traditional walk-up services and innovative approaches have been required to eliminate touch-points to protect customers and employees. The private sector organizations that have demonstrated agility in these areas are flourishing and gaining new market share while other organizations that have struggled to adapt have moved toward bankruptcy since the COVID-19 crisis began. Customers of public sector organizations have the same expectations for accelerated digital transformation in the services that they receive.

The Rapid Adoption of Collaboration and File-Sharing Tools Is Changing the Way Organizations Do Business

Many IT organizations had been promoting the use of collaboration and file-sharing tools like Microsoft Teams, OneDrive, Slack, and Zoom but adoption across the organization was slow. The COVID-19 pandemic initiated a rapid adoption of these tools across many organizations and is changing the way they do business. Printing and copying costs have gone down with a shift to digital documents, file-sharing, and workflows. The adoption of digital signatures has accelerated and replaced slower manual routing and signature processes. The domino effect of these changes is leading to accelerated digital records management and an overall reduction in paper files. Virtual meetings are reducing lost time and travel costs that were associated with onsite meetings. Without the boundaries of a physical office, employees are expanding the groups of people they collaborate with and changing how they do business.

Opportunities to Innovate and Improve the Customer Experience

Operating models had to change almost overnight when public health orders required public sector organizations to reduce public access to facilities and walk-up services. A shift to expand online services replacing walk-up services is creating efficiencies for organizations and their customers while improving the customer experience. Online payments and permits are accelerating and some organizations have moved to virtual building inspections through video conferencing tools. The paradigm shift to touchless digital services is forcing different business functions to rethink how services will be provided in the future and driving innovation into processes and services. Organizational structures may need to change to adapt to new processes and services as business functions are consolidated into new digital channels and end to end processes.

 A shift to expand online services replacing walk-up services is creating efficiencies for organizations and their customers while improving the customer experience  

Cybersecurity Controls Need to Evolve in Parallel With the Remote Workforce and Digital Transformation

The abrupt shift to a remote workforce and expanded digital services has led organizations to enhance their cyber security awareness training and adopt secure remote access solutions. The home networks of teleworking staff provide new challenges to securing access and practicing good cyber hygiene across the workforce. Phishing campaigns continue to accelerate to harvest credentials and attack networks. Strong cybersecurity controls will maintain a crucial role in digital transformation.

Digital Equity

While the COVID-19 pandemic pushed organizations and educational institutions into expanded digital services, it also caused new challenges to the households that were part of the digital divide. Schools moved to online classes and many libraries closed or reduced capacity for patrons who used libraries for internet access.Some students are forced to do assignments and online learning from smartphones or travel to a school parking lot to access the Wi-Fi. Many communities and internet providers developed short-term programs to expand no-cost or low-cost internet access to help students and residents obtain internet services, but digital equity will be more important than ever in the post-COVID era with a permanent shift to more digital services.

Permanent Changes to Operating Models

COVID-19 has accelerated digital transformation across the world and operating models are undergoing permanent shifts to provide more digital services, reduce touchpoints with customers, and support a larger remote workforce.

Some organizations have already shifted part of their workforce to a permanent remote model and are reducing real estate investments and costs. The change is driving rental and housing vacancies in large cities and disrupting traditional downtown business models. A new work-from-anywhere model is driving growth in lower-cost locations, reducing traffic congestion in cities, impacting public transportation usage, and driving large investment increases in remote collaboration tools. While some organizations may return to traditional office settings again after COVID-19, others have already adopted the current remote workforce strategy as permanent. Traditional onsite employers may experience challenges competing with employers who have a larger remote workforce and offer more flexibility and work/life balance.

As the public sector accelerates new digital services to adapt to the COVID-19 world, they’re also changing their operating models to better align digital services with business functions and end-to-end processes. While it will take time for organizational transformation to this new world, the next wave of the digital revolution has begun in the public sector.

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