Transforming government software development and digital services

From healthcare to taxation and housing, governments across the world have been investing heavily in digitising key services

The benefits can be numerous, particularly when many nations are focused on cutting costs and improving efficiencies. There can be better collaboration between departments and a reduced burden on IT when delivered using cloud-based technologies.

Simultaneous to this internal evolution, citizens are becoming increasingly digitised themselves. Offering services in a familiar format is an ideal way to improve user experiences and increase participation and interactivity.

With the past 18 months having shifted work, life and play online, all organisations had to ensure they had an effective digital interface. This has also been true for the public sector, with 78% of decision-makers in the UK reporting an acceleration in their adoption of digital.

As digitalisation in health, public services and other sectors becomes the new ‘norm’, how can governments ensure this trend continues in an efficient and successful way?

Who wins the digital World Cup?

In recent years, governments have struggled to modernise services. In practice, even the most powerful economies are not necessarily the strongest digitally.

Last year’s United Nations E-Government Survey is possibly our most accurate bellwether of performance, measuring each nation by an E-Government Development Index (EGDI). According to the UN themselves, “the way forward is a new ‘digital normal’”.

The survey reveals several European heavyweights lagging behind relative to their economic and political influence. Germany, for example, ranks 59th out of 193, despite being in the world’s top five biggest economies. The UK places highly (just outside of the top five globally), scoring particularly well in online services offerings.

Scandinavian nations appear to be the leaders in digital government. The Finnish government attributes this success partly to a long history of IT in public life, with the first computers being installed in the Social Security Institution and in Postbank in 1958. More important, however, is mutual trust between the government and its citizens. In their words, “In Finland, citizens and businesses trust government agencies to provide services in a reliable, impartial and timely manner. Government trusts citizens and businesses.”

As in the private sector, openness and collaboration is the key to innovation. Each nation has its own agenda and approach, and there is a lot they can learn from each other.

Digital government trends across the world

There are a plethora of country-specific laws and digital government initiatives that aim to rethink public sector IT. One example of the collaborative approach mentioned earlier is Germany’s Online Access Act which aims to bring together the country’s 16 federal states and 11,000 local governments under one digital banner.

This means that all services offered at federal, state and local level are to be accessible online via their own portals, with these portals linked within a network. With a digital account, citizens can reach all federal, state and local services from this network in just three clicks. To enable this, uniform IT standards and interfaces are necessary across the board.

Another interesting development is the public sector taking cues from Silicon Valley to become more efficient, moving from a bureaucratic culture to a generative one. One example of this is Kessel Run, which aims to revolutionise the software acquisition process for the United States Air Force (USAF).

Where previously it took the Department of Defense an average of eight years to deliver software to its airmen, Kessel Run delivers a viable product into production within 120 days. One of these application deployments saved the USAF $428k a day in fuel, which was enabled by reengineering the procurement process with the help of VMware Tanzu.

Kessel Run shows the importance of small experiments driving innovation. Not everything can be designed and specified up front, so experimentation is key to validating hypotheses.

Governments embracing open source

Governments are also innovating their digital services in other ways that take inspiration from the software industry. For example, there is strong momentum behind adoption and contribution to open source software and new collaborative models.

Recently, there have been various digital projects utilising open source, such as open source utility libraries, tools, API documentation, and application implementations from governmental institutions spanning health (NHS-X), intelligence (GCHQ), and justice (HMCTS) entities in the UK.

The various apps and solutions that have emerged over the last year or so demonstrate that governments can quickly provide innovative digital solutions that solve real-world challenges.

However, to be successful at building impactful software products, a different approach and mindset is needed from building an infrastructure project. Government institutions need to take cues software companies, especially as shifting culture is more realistic than for many legacy private sector companies.

At the same time, this community mindset must continue in this same vein, and provide citizens with digital services that make their lives simpler.

About the Author

Marc Zottner is Global Application Modernisation Lead at VMware Tanzu. VMware Tanzu helps you modernize your applications and infrastructure with a common goal: deliver better software to production, continuously. The portfolio simplifies multi-cloud operations, while freeing developers to move faster and access the right resources for building the best applications. VMware Tanzu enables development and operations’ teams to work together in new ways that deliver transformative business results.

Featured image: ©Alice Photo