Ensuring Healthy and Resilient Societies:
Digital Transformation in the Government Sector
February 25, 2021
All government agencies are experiencing the need to respond to the impact of Covid 19 with unprecedented speed and agility. Every aspect of government service – healthcare, unemployment, housing, veterans’ services, among others – has required new ways of engaging citizens and working across organizations and with the private sector. The swift implementation of innovations in technology and processes has allowed organizations to facilitate the delivery of services and to continue striving to share information in a safe and secure manner.
This virtual roundtable convened a cross-section of government agency leaders to share how technology is helping advance and otherwise improve their ability to be more impactful in executing their missions – and what’s next. The discussion was led by Anurag Rana, Senior Technology Analyst, Bloomberg Intelligence.
Amanda Crawford, Executive Director and State Chief Information Officer, Texas Department of Information Resources
Dominic Cussatt, Acting Assistant Secretary for Information and Technology, and Chief Information Officer, Veterans Affairs
Hillary Hartley, Chief Digital and Data Officer, Deputy Minister, Province of Ontario
Marko Mijic, Deputy Secretary, Program and Fiscal Affairs, California Health and Human Services Agency
Beth Noveck, Chief Innovation Officer, State of New Jersey
Tim Paydos, Vice President and Global General Manager, Government Industry, IBM
Amy Tong, State Chief Information Officer, Director, Department of Technology, State of California
Tarek Tomes, Commissioner and Chief Information Officer, State of Minnesota
Sarah Wilkinson, Chief Executive Officer, NHS Digital
Anurag Rana, Senior Technology Analyst, Bloomberg Intelligence
Click here to view the video of the full discussion.
Here’s what they had to say:
The participants all worked to accelerate their digital transformation in order to respond swiftly to the needs of their constituents due to the Covid 19 pandemic. Various challenges and learnings were shared. We also heard inspiring stories of what agencies were able to achieve in short order and examples of agencies working together to break down information silos and provide coordinated services.
Government agencies discovered new ways to work, some of which will continue in the future. Beth Noveck, Chief Innovation Officer, State of New Jersey, gave an example “We stood up what’s come to be known as our Covid information hub in three days. And we did that by doing things, again, differently than the ways typically government works. We partnered with a private sector tech company to actually stand up secure infrastructure, to make sure that we had a place where we could provision that information. But I think almost more unusually, we not only collaborated across government agencies, but to ensure that that information was accessible to people.” The result, “in a state of fewer than nine million people, this site covid19.nj.gov has been visited nearly 70 million times since it launched.”
Hillary Hartley, Chief Digital and Data Officer, Deputy Minister, Province of Ontario, also discussed the need to get information to the public quickly, “one of the things that really emerged quickly was data and not necessarily the lack of good data, but how to get at it and how to get it in one place.” Hartley shared how she had the support at the highest levels of every agency and every ministry in gathering data to create the dashboards that provided a holistic picture of what was happening. “And so the team has been firing all cylinders…And the data piece, I think, has been just as crucial as the digital transformation piece,” she said.
Amanda Crawford, Executive Director and State Chief Information Officer, Texas Department of Information Resources, shared that to “pull the data from all the different sources into one usable format that we could actually make good solid data-driven decisions was so important.” The goal was not just to gather information for government use but for the public. Crawford shared, “So we had been developing a digital assistant. It’s known as ‘Texas by Texas,’ which is this ‘My Government, My Way concept.’ And it’s allowing Texans to interact with their government in a secure mobile, easy to understand way.”
Tarek Tomes, Commissioner and Chief Information Officer, State of Minnesota, acknowledged the benefits of technology innovations such as robotic process automation or chat bots or data visualization capabilities. He said, “it’s really important to keep people at the center of the solutions that we create and to make sure that our what’s next is driven by areas where there’s the most impact.” He added, “You have to, I think, stay away from the inward focus related to the tech debt that certainly any and all large organizations have, and make sure that the what’s next is driven by areas that will provide the most impact that are most closely aligned and most closely tied to the values of your administration, whether it’s work related to children or education or other areas.”
Amy Tong, State Chief Information Officer, Director, Department of Technology, State of California, discussed the organizational changes that were needed as well as the digital transformation, “We were very quickly needing to form a multi-disciplined team.” Tong added, “The usual departmental org chart immediately had to be broken apart, and it’s the one team, one fight with the common goal, and pretty much everybody’s expertise kicked in to compliment each other.” She emphasized that, “The human element on this, it was very, very critical.”
Marko Mijic, Deputy Secretary, Program and Fiscal Affairs, California Health and Human Services Agency, offered up California’s contact tracing program as an example of a new way of working. As he said, the challenge was “how do we build a contact tracing, 21st century contact tracing system in less than a couple of weeks that was robust enough that enabled us to deploy to large jurisdictions like Los Angeles County and small jurisdictions like Humboldt in order for us to really be able to leverage the technology for us to do the public health intervention?” Mijic described working with local agencies to help them move from Excel spreadsheets to digital platforms, and deploy other newer technologies, and the transformation is ongoing, “We’ve iterated on that. The version we deployed at the very beginning looks very different from the version that we have now. And in fact, we have a virtual agent that’s part of our contact tracing program.”
Dominic Cussatt, Acting Assistant Secretary for Information and Technology, and Chief Information Officer, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, discussed the telehealth system as an example of a positive outcome from the digital approach required by the pandemic. “We were trying to get tele-health out there, but there was some resistance there, some apprehension,” he said, “because people didn’t really wanna move away from that face-to-face, that really rich encounter between a physician and a patient, but Covid forced our hand. And fortunately, one of the good things out of this is clinicians and patients are seeing the power of this in that it can be a very robust and a very rich experience to do some follow-up examinations, and even some diagnosing.”
Sarah Wilkinson, Chief Executive Officer, NHS Digital (U.K.), noted that her government now has “the ability to suddenly service vastly higher loads on all sorts of different systems”. She added, “That’s one of the things we certainly will be focusing on, true elasticity. There have been a number of things that scaled beautifully. So there’s a lot of things that have come out of the experiences over the last year that I think will carry with us into the future.”
Tim Paydos, Vice President and Global General Manager, Government Industry, IBM, summed up the conversation with the observation that, “Digital transformation is no longer like a nice to do. It’s accelerating, it’s a necessity, and it’s here to stay. So everything that we’re doing now is really setting a new sort of foundation for the government into the next decade.”
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