Digital Transformation: Why, When and Where to Start

There’s no denying that digital transformation is accelerating and dramatically changing the world. From our personal lives to the business domain, more and more information and processes are entering the digital realm.

The move to digitized services has advanced so far that non-digital interactions such as paper-based forms and phone calls have by far become the exceptions rather than the norm, seeming quaint at best, or antiquated at worst.

As public sector organizations strive for better engagement with their external stakeholders — whether a municipality’s citizens, a school board’s students and parents or a healthcare provider’s patients — they are constantly challenged to meet ever-increasing expectations. The public is now used to accessing and consuming most services online, enabling them to achieve the results they are looking for faster and more effectively. Meanwhile, internal stakeholders — the organizations’ staff — expect access to tools and applications that empower them and enable them to perform better.

Three Goals Achieved Via Digital Transformation

Moving processes and information to the digital realm provides a critical foundation for transforming the way organizations conduct their day-to-day business and how they interact with the outside world. In particular, digital transformation is key to achieving three goals shared by almost every public sector entity: raising transparency, complying with accessibility legislation and improving operational efficiency.

A well-formed digital strategy can help municipalities, educational boards and healthcare organizations become more open and inclusive while breaking down barriers to accessibility and public engagement. Still, many organizations have barely started their digital transformation journey, and may feel paralyzed by the increasingly daunting nature of the transition ahead.

Breaking Down Barriers

Raising the level and quality of access to public information helps develop a more inclusive culture within an organization — one that is more customer service oriented, with a focus on external stakeholders. A major component of this, of course, is maximizing the accessibility of information for stakeholders with disabilities.

Complying with Legislations

The move of content to the digital realm provides tremendous opportunities for improving accessibility beyond what was possible in the paper-based domain, leveraging technology to help people minimize or overcome their disabilities. At the same time, organizations must make compliance with accessibility legislation a high priority in their digital transformation strategy, as standards have now been defined to ensure equal access to information for all. Legislations such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibit discrimination against individuals on the basis of their disabilities, and in many cases define specific accessibility criteria that digitized content must adhere to.

Better Communication Inside and Out

Obstacles for those with disabilities aren’t the only barriers that digital transformation can help you eliminate. Cumbersome communication processes that slow or impede interaction between non-disabled individuals and your organization also form barriers to stakeholder engagement.

Phone calls, letters and even emails — which are themselves digital and faster than traditional mail, but still require waiting for the recipient to respond — are far less efficient and satisfying than self-serve online resources that provide ‘instant gratification’. For example, municipalities that offer online delegation request options make it much faster and easier for constituents to ask to speak in front of council, and provide immediate confirmation that the request was received. This inherently encourages greater public participation in council meetings, enabling citizens to take a more active and satisfying role in their local government.

shutterstock_1044844825 [Converted]Spending Money or Saving Money?

For some public sector organizations, the perceived high financial cost of digital transformation has been its own barrier. There’s no question that successfully implementing a change of this magnitude requires upfront investment of both time and money. But a well-executed digital strategy will likely ultimately save money.

A reduction or elimination of paper-based processes will save on paper, printing, courier and storage costs, while the implementation of self-serve online resources for the public will reduce the operational costs of interacting with external stakeholders. Meanwhile, workflows that required time-consuming manual searches and paper-based transfers of information between collaborators can be significantly streamlined, reducing turnaround time and operational costs.

Embracing Innovation

It’s crucial to recognize that digital transformation is not just about technology; it is as much — or even more so — about people and processes. Addressing only the technology side alone will limit the benefits that can be achieved. For example, switching from paper-based to digital report generation may not generate the expected potential efficiency gains if traditional linear processes for contributions and approvals are maintained and not updated.

Changing People’s Habits

As an analogy, consider if everyone checked their email inboxes the same way many people did their traditional mailboxes: just once per day. Email would have still been a vast improvement over ‘snail mail’, as messages would be delivered instantly, but the benefit of quick responses would have been lost. By becoming accustomed to checking their email more frequently — admittedly, sometimes too frequently for optimal productivity — people inherently became faster, more interactive written communicators. That required changing people’s habits, not just the medium they use.

The move to digital is not an end goal in and of itself; it’s about improving the way the organization and its staff do things. Digital transformation can streamline your processes; provide better ways for you to track progress; enable better time and resource management; and facilitate better service delivery to your stakeholders. But it can only do so if you view it strategically, and take both process and personnel impacts into account.

shutterstock_465653942A Cultural Shift

Don’t underestimate the impact that digital transformation will have on the people within your organization. Digitization can touch virtually every aspect of their jobs, and by nature people often fear change. Just as technology is adopted by individuals and organizations at varying rates, some people accept process changes faster than others. As the move to digital workflows combines changes in both technology and processes, it can require a significant cultural shift.

For digital transformation to be successful, everyone in your organization must embrace innovation. Technology is only a means to a broader change; the people using the technology need to strive for and buy into a better way of doing things.

As expectations from external stakeholders continue to increase, those staff who aim for continuous improvement to meet those demands hold the highest value to the organization. Those who fail to support the modern service delivery approaches sought by the public will soon find themselves left behind.

Better Late than Never

Speaking of being left behind — if your public sector board or council has not yet begun the digital transformation of its meeting-related processes and documents, frankly, you’re late to the party, and need to get moving! While organizations are at widely varying degrees of digital maturity, the longer you wait before forging and implementing a digital transformation strategy, the harder it will be to do so.

But the Later the Harder

Like any major business transition, getting started can seem daunting — but the situation only gets worse if you delay. While all future materials can originate in the digital domain, you probably already have a lot of paper-based documents accumulated that will need to be digitized. That pile will continue to grow; the longer you go on without starting your digital transformation, the more paper you’ll need to deal with during the change.

shutterstock_176447294The good news for those just getting started is that the technology costs of digital transformation today may be lower than those borne by your earlier-moving peers. Options such as cloud-based software and storage eliminate the need to buy, manage and maintain expensive IT infrastructure such as on-premises servers and storage arrays, thus reducing your initial investment requirements. And of course, from a strategy and best practices perspective, you have the luxury of learning from the experiences of those who transformed before you.

A Journey, Not a Destination

While the best time to take action is “now”, it’s crucial to realize that digital transformation is a continuous journey, not a destination. Even once you’re entirely within the digital domain, disruptive new technologies are constantly changing both external and internal stakeholder expectations.

Digital approaches that may have seemed unique, innovative and engaging five or ten years ago may seem strikingly outdated today. For example, not so long ago, the public was satisfied if the information they wanted could be accessed online through a desktop PC or laptop; today, they expect content to adapt seamlessly for viewing on mobile devices. It’s easy to forget that nearly-ubiquitous personal tablets didn’t even exist in the consumer mainstream a decade ago, until the introduction of the first iPad in 2010.

As such, it’s critical that your digital transformation strategy emphasizes agility, not only allowing for but proactively encouraging continual reassessment and re-imagining of technologies and processes to stay at the forefront of engaging with your stakeholders.

Where to Begin

The first steps in your organization’s digital transformation journey will be critical in ensuring its success. One of the most common mistakes is to focus on technology first, trying to find ways to leverage the newest and shiniest technological advances. However, as we discussed, technology is really just a set of tools to enable you to reach your true goals; digital transformation is really about improving processes and service delivery.

Get to Know Your Stakeholders

When formulating the digital transformation strategy for your meeting-related activities, start by considering your stakeholders. Meeting management solutions are catalysts for the creation and dissemination of information that concerns all stakeholders, internal and external: board and council members who are accountable for decisions; staff who are going to be tasked with follow-up actions; and the public, who want to know what is going on in their municipality and to have transparency into how their elected officials are making decisions.

shutterstock_548871208Talk to everyone involved with your organization’s meetings: administrators, contributors and participants. Find out their perspectives on how digital transformation can benefit the organization, and gain their buy-in for change. Even if these conversations ultimately only reinforce what you already knew or planned, soliciting active input and participation will help you get everyone on board.

For more on gaining buy-in for your project, see our earlier post “Quick Guide to Getting Buy-In for Your Project from Your Peers and Others

Also talk to your peers in similar public sector organizations who have already gone through the transition to digital. There’s a lot you can learn from their experiences, whether it’s positive or negative. It can also be valuable to consult with external change management experts who specialize in meeting management and digital transformation. They can work with you to help define your needs, refine your goals and assess the impacts of the changes across your organization. As mentioned, the move to digital can drive a significant cultural shift, and the guidance of an independent third party can help your organization overcome resistance while minimizing internal friction.

Once you have a vision for how digital transformation can make your meeting-related processes and stakeholder engagement better, then it’s time to start evaluating software solutions. The right meeting management solution can do far more than improve efficiency; it is also the foundation for meeting your accessibility mandates and elevating your organization’s transparency. The technology is just a tool, but the better the tool, the higher the quality of the resulting content and its presentation, and the greater its availability and accessibility.