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Road to Digital Maturity: How Agencies Are Embracing the Modernization Journey

How can government executives successfully modernize? We asked Chris Radich, vice president of digital strategy at Salesforce. Here’s what he had to say.

Presented by Salesforce

The term “digital transformation” is meant to spur change. But often, it has the opposite effect. Some government leaders get stuck on how to define it, while others understand its importance, but feel that getting to a place of meaningful transformation can seem like an impossible feat. 

Chris Radich, vice president of digital strategy at Salesforce, knows these challenges well. He works directly with government leaders to create transformation plans that aim to drive meaningful, effective modernization across the public sector. Throughout the process, he has become intimately familiar with some of the obstacles that hinder innovation at federal agencies. One thing that can help government executives become more comfortable with the idea of digital transformation, says Radich, is developing a modernization roadmap.  

“Roadmapping is just good planning,” he says. “And now, as we approach the next normal in 2021, I believe this endless amount of transformation demand from the pandemic, things like telework at scale [and] digitizing citizen services, it can overwhelm even the highest performing government organization.”

Having worked with hundreds of government organizations, Radich has identified some common trends and challenges he sees across the public sector. 

The first, he says, is a lack of strategy altogether. Government agencies are moving so quickly that many of these initiatives are siloed and executed without a universal understanding of how they will impact the larger organization. 

Another common hurdle when it comes to innovation is the simple fact that agency staff are working on too many priorities at once. He also notes that, when it comes to transformation, there aren’t enough mission leaders that understand it — a problem that upskilling is poised to help solve in the coming years. 

Moreover, creating a transformation roadmap, Radich explains, is one of the most effective ways to address all of these hurdles. By taking a step back to understand an organization’s specific transformation goals and developing a plan to get there, agency leaders can embrace their digitization journey with clarity and confidence. 

Reframing the Narrative Around Digital Transformation

While developing a transformation roadmap is the first step to driving transformation, it’s not the last. Also important, Radich says, is how we talk about modernization. 

In fact, many of the transformation challenges agencies face come down to simple semantics. 

“I recommend actually shifting away from the term digital transformation altogether,” Radich says. 

Digital transformation, he explains, sounds like something that can happen in the span of a few days or hours. But there’s a danger to that approach: It presents these initiatives as quick-hit, overnight successes, when in reality the process is much more nuanced. 

“It kind of reminds you of those late-night infomercials on weight loss, with the before and after pictures that [look like they] happened overnight,” Radich says. 

Instead, he suggests replacing the phrase “digital transformation” with “digital maturity.” 

“Start with that first project, build a digital strategy around it and recognize that this is a long-term journey that you're going to take over multiple years,” he says. 

Leveraging Technology to Solve a Specific Problem 

Moreover, as agencies embark on the journey toward modernization, many are looking to emerging technologies to help lead the way. However, while these technologies can prove valuable tools for innovation, they shouldn’t be the driving force behind an agency’s transformation roadmap. 

“Technology will always change faster than a government agency's ability to adopt it. So, if you internalize that statement, the goal should never be to simply adopt emerging technologies. It's an impossible task,” he explains. 

There’s a reason so many of these emerging technologies refer to themselves as solutions: They’re designed to solve a problem. 

“When we change the discussion from emerging technologies to an agency or customer problem, I see even the most astute technologists lean into that conversation,” he says. 

Radich and his team recently partnered with a federal agency who had access to funding from the Technology Modernization Fund. The project started with a specific customer challenge, which led the agency to develop a single front-door portal that would serve every customer across the organization. Looking at the problem at hand instead of solely focusing on the shiny new technology helped the agency understand its priorities — and ultimately procure digital technology that would have the largest impact. 

“It allowed them to rapidly respond, take advantage of the [TMF] funding and more importantly, solve customer needs,” Radich says. 

This mission-driven approach to problem-solving is part of why Radich loves what he does. 

“[These] transformation strategies focus 100% on improving customer service and engagement. This could be across the customer continuum, employees, partners, citizens, and this allows them to find that one single action that scales into the next project and will yield the biggest impact on the mission,” he says. 

Hear more from Chris Radich’s team and other government and industry leaders at the Salesforce Public Sector Transformation Summit. Sign up at https://publicsectorsummit.com/register

This content is made possible by our sponsor Salesforce; it is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of GovExec’s editorial staff.

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