Last Monday, while in Singapore, I gave an interview about a variety of topics, and one question was about what I thought about progress in government transformation.
We do publish a Hype Cycle on Government Transformation: here is our hype cycle for 2009, available to Gartner clients, while my colleague Steve Bittinger is coordinating the 2010 edition. The diagram includes what we call “technology profiles”, i.e. a series of dots that correspond to technologies that we believe are critical to government transformation, such as community cloud, analytics, external communities, case management, and so forth.
However when I was asked the question, it felt weird. For how many years have I heard the very term “government transformation”.?But transformation of what and toward what exactly? and what is the whole purpose of transformation?
For too many years this term has been used in conjunction with e-government. I’m sure some of you still remember terms like “joined-up” or “citizen-centric”: they have been used many times, interchangeably, as synonyms or complements of “transformation”.
Now, transformation is to move from a current state to a future state. Has the future state ever been articulated with due clarity? Has the current state ever been really assessed? In an internal conversation between analysts during the development of our new hype cycle, we are debating the role of whole-of-government enterprise architecture, and some of us agree that this has not yet made any significant inroad in most transformation programs. Actually EA is a discipline that forces you to reflect about future state, current state, gap analysis: then how come that so few are doing anything vaguely useful with it?
It is time to demystify the term “government transformation”. The good thing about this is that today more than ever governments have a very good excuse not to embark in ambitious government transformation programs as well as to fail and derail if they have one.
The reason is that the future is just too uncertain to justify one particular version of a future state. Did anybody foresee the global financial crisis? Did anybody foresee its comeback with the debt crisis in Europe? Did anybody foresee the disruptive impact of social media on information sharing and service delivery models? Did anybody foresee the radical cost cutting measures that many agencies have to put in place?
Rather than fantasizing about the myth of transformation, governments have to accept that future is no longer predictable and focus on what changes are necessary to make them more flexible and nimble to adapt to uncertainty.
Many of these changes may be surprisingly far less expensive, complex and painful than the traditional transformation endeavors. They can be more local in nature, leveraging rather than fighting the concept of government silos, as they provide clear accountability lines and allow risks to be managed more easily.
In a world where all boundaries blur and everything becomes unpredictable, the only way to succeed (or just survive) is to hold onto those few certainties we have. For how dysfunctional government may look like, it is organized the way it is for a reason. Let’s make sure we don’t forget that as we manage change. And, please, let’s stop using the term “transformation” if we can.