How Can The Public Sector Boost Innovation?

Judy Cubiss and Ginger Shimp

Government agencies face great pressure to offer services in a more consumer-oriented way. For example, Amazon makes ordering products quick and easy on Amazon—why can’t we obtain government services just as efficiently?

As businesses pave the way for digital transformation, citizens are increasingly demanding that government agencies follow suit. Users want a similar digital experience, whether they are working with a government agency or a business, and while leading businesses make it easy for consumers to use mobile devices, engaging government services online and/or through mobile remains challenging at best. To meet citizens’ demand for a frictionless user experience, the public sector needs to adopt new methods and capabilities.

1 trillion dollars saved annually through government digitalization

Why is government so far behind the commercial sector when it comes to digital trends—and how can it better meet the needs of constituents?

Recently, Brian Fanzo and Daniel Newman, co-hosts of the popular S.M.A.C. Talk (social, mobile, analytics, cloud) technology podcast, caught up with Laura Grant, head of digital innovation for public sector at SAP, on an episode of an extraordinary series entitled Digital Industries, which examines how digital transformation is affecting 16 different industries.  Listen to a short sound byte here:

SMAC podcast

Government challenges

Specific constraints on government agencies can slow technology adoption. For instance, governmental regulations can limit or otherwise control the capabilities of public sector websites. The public sector often lacks resources to create change or the talent needed to achieve top results. In addition, some government agency employees don’t fully understand technology trends, and they may be limited by regulations and compliance mandates.

“Most people that work for government agencies are risk-averse personality types,” Grant notes. “They also have a passion for the mission [of] whatever agency they’re working for.”

Resistance to change clearly makes it difficult for agencies to move forward with industry trends. At some agencies, that change-averse culture acts as a barrier to progress through innovation.

Another problem is that new technology does not always work with the legacy systems used in government agencies. For example, the Department of Defense was unable to use cutting-edge cyber security tools due to the limits of its legacy system. In such cases, these legacy systems must be updated before innovative new technology can be implemented. In addition, these agencies often work with older policies that have not been updated to reflect current needs.

Change is disruptive, but failure to keep up with—or surpass—current needs is equally disruptive and exasperating for agencies and constituents alike.

Frustration with government websites has inspired some people to create new systems that work around government systems. Grant offers the example of a young woman who created her own website for finding jobs within the government because she found the existing job search site ineffective. Grant predicts that this trend will increase as government websites fall further behind the expectations of today’s users.

What changes are happening now?

To be fair, the public sector is not completely stagnant when it comes to digital transformation. It is making some efforts to catch up with public demands and follow industry trends—for example, the Department of Defense is now using Facebook Live.

In addition, the government is making significant investments in cyber protection, with an emphasis on protecting the most critical systems. Government is also spending on Big Data, where the focus is on collecting and using the data that exists within the government. As the public sector moves forward with technology initiatives, it is learning to follow the progress of the commercial sector.

How can the public sector move forward?

Grant observes that there’s no lack of talent coming into the government space:

when you're fresh out of college passion drives you

Although the government sector attracts a lot of educated young talent, too often these employees tire of the change resistance and move on to more innovative opportunities. According to Grant, the government needs to work on retaining this young talent by encouraging and fostering their innovative ideas while also teaching them.  She believes that the passion that comes from young talent can help drive change within government agencies.

most people who work for government agencies are risk averse

Currently, the government spends nearly 70 percent of its budget on support and maintenance of legacy systems. A pending bill proposes to redirect these resources toward new systems. If the bill passes, it could dramatically improve technology in the public sector by replacing legacy systems with technology that enables and supports up-to-date business processes that better meet the needs of citizens.

Grant anticipates that blockchain technology will be the next trend in the public sector, citing many government applications. For example, the Department of Defense could use it to safely keep track of its supply chain. Research is already happening, she adds, on questions from how to create a trusted supply chain to reducing risk and eliminating counterfeit parts.

The public sector may lag the commercial sector in terms of keeping up with digital trends—but progress is being made.

To listen to this episode of Digital Industries for the public sector, co-produced by SAP and S.M.A.C. Talk Technology podcast, click here.

Transforming into a truly digital business is so much more than just implementing new technology to meet the demands of a digital age. It’s more than keeping up with the deluge of transformation happening all around us. Digital transformation is about understanding how to harness these changes and incorporate them into your business strategy. It’s about driving agility, connectivity, analytics, and collaboration to run a Live Business. A digital core empowers you with real-time visibility into all mission critical business processes inside your four walls, and in your interactions with customers, suppliers, workforce, Big Data, and the Internet of Things.

For more on how SAP can help you drive your own digital transformation in the public sector, visit us online.

1“Public-sector digitization: The trillion-dollar challenge”, McKinsey & Company, December 2014

Judy Cubiss

About Judy Cubiss

Judy Cubiss is Global Marketing Lead for Industrial Machinery and Components and Automotive at SAP. She has worked in the software industry for over 20 years in a variety of roles, including consulting, product management, solution management, and content marketing in both Europe and the United States.

About Ginger Shimp

With more than 20 years’ experience in marketing, Ginger Shimp has been with SAP since 2004. She has won numerous awards and honors at SAP, including being designated “Top Talent” for two consecutive years. Not only is she a Professional Certified Marketer with the American Marketing Association, but she's also earned her Connoisseur's Certificate in California Reds from the Chicago Wine School. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of San Francisco, and an MBA in marketing and managerial economics from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University. Personally, Ginger is the proud mother of a precocious son and happy wife of one of YouTube's 10 EDU Gurus, Ed Shimp.