Digital by Design: Unlocking Success in Government’s Digital Transformation


Published on August 31, 2023


A mature digital government establishes clear organisational leadership where “digital” is considered not only a technical topic but a mandatory transformative element.

So, in the context of government one must take an approach where technologies, capabilities and business models of the digital era are integrated into every aspect of the public sector’s operations, services, and decision-making processes.

This approach aims to maximise the potential of digital era technologies, capabilities and business models to improve efficiency, accessibility, and transparency in government operations, ultimately enhancing the overall citizen experience.

 Exploiting the full potential of digital technologies

The Digital Government Index (DGI) by the OECD assesses the implementation of governments’ digital policies.

The digital by design is one of the dimensions of this index which considers how far governments exploit the full potential of digital technologies.

This is not only important when designing services but also from the very outset when formulating policies … regardless of the channel used.

1. Cross-government coordination

Digital transformation requires collaboration and coordination across different government departments and agencies.

By breaking down silos and fostering cross-government collaboration, governments can ensure the seamless integration of digital initiatives. 

This includes aligning strategies, sharing resources, and promoting interoperability between systems.

Effective cross-government coordination enables the creation of integrated digital platforms and services, providing citizens with a unified and consistent experience across various government touchpoints.

For example, CBDDO’s Digital Turkey creates a layered digital ecosystem for seamless collaboration between central and local authorities, as well as the private sector, to deliver integrated and high-quality public services.

2. Developing digital talent and skills

Governments must prioritise the development of digital talent and skills within their workforce.

This involves investing in training programs, workshops, and certifications to equip employees with the necessary digital skills.

Additionally, governments can attract and recruit digital experts to augment their teams.

By nurturing a digitally competent workforce, governments can successfully drive digital initiatives, innovate, and effectively manage technological advancements.

3. Enhancing the digital culture

Cultivating a digital culture is crucial for successful digital transformation in government.

This entails fostering an environment that embraces experimentation, innovation, and risk-taking.

It involves promoting a mindset that encourages employees to leverage digital technologies to improve processes and service delivery.

A digital culture also values data-driven decision-making and encourages the use of analytics and insights for effective policy formulation and evaluation.

However, only digitally mature governments possess the necessary tools, talent, and foundations to foster a proactive culture of discovering and meeting user needs.

Great examples are Estonia, Korea, the United Kingdom etc., which have ensured ongoing institutional alignment in the governance of digital government.

4. Developing the proper infrastructure

Robust and reliable digital infrastructure is fundamental for supporting digital transformation initiatives.

This includes investing in high-speed internet connectivity, cloud computing, data centres, and cybersecurity measures.

Governments need to develop agile and scalable infrastructure to accommodate the growing demand for digital services and handle large volumes of data securely.

An efficient and resilient digital infrastructure enables the seamless delivery of online services, facilitates data sharing, and ensures the privacy and security of citizen information.

Bottom line

By focusing on these elements, governments can lay a strong foundation for a “digital by design” approach, enabling them to harness the benefits of digital transformation fully.

Cross-government coordination ensures a unified digital strategy while developing digital talent and skills empowers the workforce to drive digital initiatives. 

Enhancing the digital culture encourages innovation and agility, and investing in the proper infrastructure enables the seamless delivery of digital services and ensures data security.

Several states have demonstrated the concept of “digital by design” through their exemplary efforts.

Norway, Portugal, and the UK have successfully achieved seamless services across various channels, prioritising digitalisation and ensuring equal access for all citizens, regardless of their digital skills.

Estonia’s X-Road government platform (launched several years ago) is another noteworthy example, facilitating service delivery and data sharing among a wide range of organisations and enterprises across the country.

These countries’ commitment to embedding digital technologies in their public sectors highlights the importance of creating inclusive and efficient digital ecosystems for the benefit of all citizens.

Drawing inspiration from digitally mature governments all around the world, it becomes evident that proactive efforts to meet user needs, along with the right tools and foundational elements, are key to driving innovation and delivering integrated… high-quality public services.


About the Author

Mohammad J Sear is focused on bringing purpose to digital in government.

He has obtained his leadership training from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, USA and holds an MBA from the University of Leicester, UK.

After a successful 12+ years career in the UK government during the premiership of three Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair, Mohammad moved to the private sector and has now for 20+ years been advising government organizations in the UK, Middle East, Australasia and South Asia on strategic challenges and digital transformation.

He is currently working for Ernst & Young (EY) and leading the Digital Government practice efforts across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and is also a Digital Government and Innovation lecturer at the Paris School of International Affairs, Sciences Po, France.

As a thought-leader some of the articles he has authored include: “Digital is great but exclusion isn’t – make data work for driving better digital inclusion” published in Harvard Business Review, “Holistic Digital Government” published in the MIT Technology Review, “Want To Make Citizens Happy – Put Experience First” published in Forbes Middle East.

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