Breaking down data silos: unleashing the potential of digital transformation in government

Daniel Pell, VP and country manager for UK and Ireland at Workday discusses why government leaders are saying that data silos are hampering digital transformation.

Posted 3 August 2023 by Christine Horton

It’s fair to say that digital transformation in the public sector is perceived to be a slow process. However, over recent years forward-thinking government departments have taken advantage of and embraced the potential of emerging technologies. For example, the UK unveiled its 2022 to 2025 roadmap for digital and data, which estimates that it could help provide savings of more than £1 billion through digital transformation of services, by eliminating the unnecessary costs of paper-based services and processes – amongst other benefits.

However, the transformation momentum that was built during the pandemic has begun to stagnate with many government agencies having since hit pause on digital transformation plans. To illustrate, our research found that over half (55 percent) of government leaders say the pace of digital transformation has slowed from where it was a year ago, or they expect it to slow down in the future. What’s more, only one in five government leaders expect at least half of their revenues to be digitally driven within three years. That’s down from 53 percent in 2020.

Governments risk falling further behind their peers in other industries, too. Only nine percent of government leaders say that at least half of their daily operations are digitised, compared to 18 percent of all leaders surveyed. And only one in five government leaders say they’ve made progress deploying technologies to streamline or automate workflows and augment the capacity of the existing workforce, compared to one in three of all leaders.

Navigating change in the public sector

Although annual budget constraints continue to put government leaders in a tough spot, proactive technology planning continues to save public organisations money over the long haul.  

We’ve witnessed government agencies saving up to 47 percent firsthand when comparing the 10-year cost of ownership of maintaining existing systems or upgrading with the same vendor. While back-office investments may not build public relations buzz, they undoubtedly go a long way toward helping governments do more with the resources at hand.

Change is afoot

The good news is that government leaders – at all levels – understand the urgency of this issue. They recognise that technology, which is faster, cheaper, and more efficient ultimately helps governments do more on tight budgets – and provides more resources to the people they serve. For this reason, over four in 10 (41 percent) listed faster acquisition and deployment of new skills and teams as a top opportunity for digital growth in the next 12 to 18 months. 

So how can this be achieved? The major hurdle leaders must overcome to address the inefficiencies caused by legacy infrastructure is to harness data-driven insights. However, just one in fifty government leaders say that their organisation’s data is fully accessible, with six in 10 saying it’s either somewhat or completely siloed. The larger the agencies become the more fragmented their data becomes, too; systems become increasingly piecemeal, and information is soon siloed.

An inability to connect operational, people, and financial data to business outcomes harms the organisation’s agility, while completely disparate systems between organisations hamper real-time decision making.

Today’s need for speed

Governments need to be able to respond rapidly when new, pressing issues emerge – such as the ongoing cost-of-living crisis. Equally, they must be able to measure how their services are affecting people’s lives. But this is simply impossible with siloed data. 

We found that government leaders want four key capabilities to help them meet their constituent needs:

  1. Connecting operational, people, and financial data to business outcomes (43 percent)
  2. Quickly changing business processes (37 percent)
  3. Enabling fast cycles between planning, execution, and analysis (33 percent)
  4. Running multiple planning scenarios (33 percent)

 To capitalise on the best emerging business practices, governments need to embrace change. Leaders must shift their focus from maintaining the status quo to engaging in ways of working, adopting emerging technologies such as the cloud. Cloud technologies not only promise enhanced efficiency, but can do it in a more secure environment, utilising a delivery model that can cost much less than maintaining a patchwork of fragmented, on-premise systems.

If we are to truly break down data silos and unleash the full potential of digital transformation, public service organisations must recognise that many legacy systems are no longer able to meet their core mission. Instead, they must understand that digital tools are drivers of efficiency, operational excellence, and improved citizen satisfaction regardless of the service.