CTG Report Examines Digital Transformation and Public Value

Washington DC at night using a slow shutter speed with the Capitol visible in the distance.

By Michael Parker

ALBANY, N.Y. (Feb 15, 2022) – Digital transformation is the use of digital technologies to innovate and change how organizations create value and prepare for the future. It’s increasingly recognized as central to the efforts of government leaders to meet their obligations to society.

UAlbany’s Center for Technology in Government (CTG UAlbany), along with its Global Advisory Board has crafted a primer providing guidance for government leaders as they seek to create public value through new investments in digital transformation.

“As federal, state, and local governments receive newly available funding there may be a push to make quick investment decisions and skip upfront efforts to build understanding of an issue or opportunity” said co-author Theresa A. Pardo, associate vice president for research at UAlbany and senior fellow with CTG UAlbany. “In this primer, we present a set of tried and proven ideas and analytical tools for use by government leaders as they work to build critical understanding of context and the capabilities required to effect sustainable change within that context.”

The report identifies “context” as central to the success of all digital transformation initiatives and lays out four essential ideas for building public value through digital transformation in context:

  • Digital transformation requires policy, management and technology innovation
  • Capability for innovation is a function of both internal and external context and is complementary and multidimensional
  • Understanding the characteristics of an envisioned digital transformation and the transformation context are precursors to judgements about whether relevant capability exists
  • Creating public value through digital transformation requires leadership commitment to an iterative process of systematic analysis of context and context-specific decision making

“Attention to context is more critical than ever as governments around the world face unprecedented complex and dynamic crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic and extreme weather events associated with climate change among others,” said Teri Takai, Vice President, Center for Digital Government, eRepublic and CTG UAlbany global advisory board member. “Digital transformation can contribute to solving these problems, but the success of the solutions is often informed by knowledge of a government’s organizational, technical and policy environment.”

One of the key elements to building an understanding of context and to leveraging that knowledge into action is to accept that “one size doesn’t fit all.”  Many communities, for example, are investing in smart technologies to improve government services and better inform those who live and work in those communities.  

“As municipal leaders have begun to focus on what it means for their government to modernize and leverage emerging technologies, we also need to recognize that the challenge is to understand how a digital transformation might create value within our own specific communities” said Greg Potter, Director of Information Technology Services, Tompkins County, New York. “A strategy for a heavily concentrated city with a strong commercial tax base, most likely will not work in a rural community, and so on. It’s critical that government leaders take the time to examine their own context with respect to specific strategies so they can make investments that bring meaningful change and generate the most value for their communities.”

The primer outlines four tools that can used to build public value and trust in digital transformation:

  • An Enabler-Based Digital Government Maturity Framework and Assessment Process
  • An Information Sharing Capability Assessment Toolkit
  • Public Value Assessment Tool
  • Making Smart IT Choices

Some government leaders believe that technology and technical expertise is the cornerstone of digital transformation and then soon find out it is much more complicated. “Whether its national or local governments or state institutions, it’s critical that government officials assess the range of policy and management capabilities that are required for success. said Moses Kamya, PhD, Deputy Commissioner of Shared Services, NYS Office of General Services. “Technology is only a component and studying an organization’s context, specifically, policy and management capabilities is necessary for sustained change.

“Government leaders are uniquely positioned to ensure that digital transformation investment decision-making is informed by an understanding of their specific context,” said co-author Meghan E. Cook, program director at CTG UAlbany and an adjunct professor of public administration and policy at the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy. “Those who understand the importance of their context, meaning their environments, processes, and nuances have shown they are prepared to adapt quickly and can many times translate preparation into efforts that bring the most value to them and their stakeholders.”