Insight by Noblis

Potential of Digital Transformation for Government: Four Use Cases

Everybody, it seems, is talking about digital transformation. But what exactly is digital transformation?

The question elicits a fast, matter-of-fact response from Jim Soltys, the senior fellow for federal civilian solutions at Noblis: “If you look at it from a government standpoint, it’s really about trying to improve efficiencies with citizens and helping them gain access to information they need to work with the government.” He adds that by digitizing existing processes, an agency can...

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Digital Transformation Overview

If you look at it, from a government standpoint, it's really about trying to improve efficiencies with citizens and helping them gain access to information that they need to work with the government. — Jim Soltys, senior fellow for federal civilian solutions, Noblis

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Use Cases and Examples

Digital transformative solutions look at collecting data and automating the development of trends that can then assist analysts as they're looking at what's going to happen down the road. — Jim Soltys, senior fellow for federal civilian solutions, Noblis

Everybody, it seems, is talking about digital transformation. But what exactly is digital transformation?

The question elicits a fast, matter-of-fact response from Jim Soltys, the senior fellow for federal civilian solutions at Noblis: “If you look at it from a government standpoint, it’s really about trying to improve efficiencies with citizens and helping them gain access to information they need to work with the government.” He adds that by digitizing existing processes, an agency can also streamline workflows, reduce costs and improve that all-important customer experience.

Soltys expands the potential of digital transformation to government-to-government and government-to-business activities.

Thus, questions to the IRS, which were previously confined to postal mail or telephone calls, now encompass multiple channels including email and chatbots. Taxpayers get an improved experience, and the IRS gains greater efficiencies and better performance metrics.

Soltys cited four domains or use cases in which digital transformation strategies have proven useful.

Two are procurement and grant making. He noted, they’re specifically called out for improvement in the President’s Management Agenda (PMA).

“The most frequent way businesses interact with the government,” Soltys said, “is through the federal acquisition process. And many agencies today, do it manually with spreadsheets and email. Information sharing between government and contractors, compliance exercises, and many elements of bid evaluation are ripe for digitizing, with source selection accomplished faster and with fewer protests,” Soltys said.

A third domain is situation analysis in the intelligence community (IC). It requires the synthesis of large amounts of data from multiple sources, to help detect trends and predict where a cyber or physical attack might occur.

“So [an analyst’s] job is trying to predict the future,” Soltys said. “And instead of manually performing that function, the digital transformative solution can collect data and automate the development of trends that can then assist the analyst as they’re looking at what’s going to happen down the road.”

“Automation is especially important here as the IC brings in growing numbers of open data sources such as social media posts,” he added.

A fourth digital transformation use case Soltys cited is cyber assurance, and he noted that greater cybersecurity is also a pillar of the PMA. In cyber, digital transformation can automate continuous monitoring, many of the processes required for authority to operate, and ongoing telemetry to ensure commercial cloud service providers are living up to their security agreements.

Technical underpinnings

To achieve their digital modernization goals, agencies do need IT infrastructures that can support them. “Chief among these,” Soltys said, “is a strategy for data.” Within the data realm, agencies need to find faster ways of establishing data-sharing agreements because effective digital services often require multiple agencies’ data.

He said a recent report from the Chief Data Officer Council recommended agencies “figure out how to expedite the data-use agreement process between agencies.” Therefore, the often-long process of simply establishing interagency memoranda of understanding is itself ripe for digital transformation.

“Data awareness and transparency also matter,” Soltys said. “How does one agency know what another agency has? Or, how do citizens even know what data is being shared out there about themselves, or about information that might be useful to them?”

Data reliability and trust is another characteristic of a solid data strategy. It means knowing a given data source is authoritative and legitimate.

“Identity management, so crucial to zero trust, is also crucial to digital transformation. It applies to agencies’ own employees, who are increasingly remote or mobile, and to citizens interacting with federal digital services,” Soltys said. “For the latter,” he said, “Can we really validate or verify that this person is who they say they are? So, the government really has to focus on, from a citizen standpoint, whether it’s easy to use. Does it work? Is it user friendly?”

Just as digital transformation seeks to improve the experience citizens have when working with the government, so too does it improve the experience of the federal workforce. Soltys said that ties transformation to still another PMA pillar, namely improvement of the workforce and of the government as an employer of millions of people.

“So, what’s really great about digital transformation,” Soltys said, “is not taking away people’s jobs, it’s contributing towards helping them do their job better.”