Government efforts to accelerate modernization face tech hurdles

Legacy IT systems, attracting talent, and upskilling challenges are hurting leaders' ability to respond to changing demands, KPMG research finds.

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Digital transformation has become a priority for a significant majority of government leaders as a result of COVID-19, but legacy IT systems are hurting their ability to respond efficiently to constituent needs in a remote world. Further, only a small portion of their workforce has the required skills, according to new research from KPMG.

"COVID-19 has magnified the need for government agencies to transform their models for delivery of services. Citizens are demanding digital access to government services and government leaders are recognizing the importance of transforming," said Lorna Stark, national leader for government and public sector at KPMG, in a statement.

The number of citizens using online government services rose from 33% pre-pandemic to a projected 41% during the pandemic, the survey found. In addition, 70% of citizens would like the government to deliver mostly online services.

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However, a full 72% of government executives say that outdated IT systems are hurting their ability to respond to changing demands and 79% say the age of their IT systems negatively impacts their mission.

A modernization imperative

Spurred by new demands during the pandemic, government leaders are taking action, the KPMG report said. Some 66% of professionals surveyed have accelerated their focus on modernization, while 57% said they increased their budgets as a result of COVID-19, KPMG said.

In addition, 70% are more aware of the need to modernize IT, while 78% of government leaders say that COVID-19 has increased their awareness of the need to transform how their agency delivers services.

Digital transformation would not only improve the relationship between citizens and government agencies but would also provide potentially huge cost savings, the firm said.

KPMG cited a recent Technology CEO Council's report, "One Trillion Reasons," which said the federal government could save $1 trillion by modernizing its technologies and operations over the course of 10 years.

The talent challenge

But antiquated technologies are not the only barrier to modernization. Attracting top talent and upskilling the labor force are also major challenges preventing rapid transformation.

Forty-five percent of government officials said that COVID-19 revealed that their workforces weren't adequately trained or prepared to work remotely and only 39% of respondents said that their employees have the necessary skills to embrace emerging technologies. A full 57% are more aware of the need to train and upskill workers.

The vision for modern government is one that is connected, powered, and trusted, according to the report.

Connected governments "offer their employees meaningful work and a flexible workplace,'' as well as enable resilient communities. Powered governments "hire professionals who can harness the power of new technologies to accelerate transformation of public services,'' and enable scalability and responsiveness to accelerate modernization.

Trusted governments "place the highest priority on security and privacy,'' understanding the importance of guarding data from theft, and also value their employees.

To realize technology transformation imperatives, government leaders should focus on creating a workforce imbued with the talent and passion to move their modernization agenda forward, Stark said.

"A technology-only focus on modernization will only take governments so far. Equal emphasis needs to be placed on ensuring that the government workers have the skills and tools to provide the innovative services today's constituents expect," she said.

KPMG conducted two surveys during August and September 2020. The survey conducted among government employees included 85 professionals from various departments and agencies. The second survey was conducted among more than 1,000 US citizens and included a mix of genders, locations, incomes, race, age, and education.

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By Esther Shein

Esther Shein is a longtime freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in several online and print publications. Previously, she was the editor-in-chief of Datamation, a managing editor at BYTE, and a senior writer at eWeek (formerly PC Week)...