We interviewed Carlos Alonso Peña, Head of the Information Technology Department at the Spanish Executive Resolution Authority (FROB).
1 . The Digital Transformation of the public administrations is a long-sought goal, and many people have been working on it for a long time. But it seems that now is the time to take a huge leap forward in this process. What has changed and why is there now a general consensus on the need to accelerate the digitization of government bodies?
The public sector cannot live with their backs turned to the society it serves. The services offered by the different bodies must efficiently satisfy the needs of citizens and be at the same level of quality, or even higher, than those offered by the private sector.
Technology is transforming reality and within that reality, it is transforming administration. We are seeing that bureaucratic jobs are tending to shrink and disappear. However, the jobs related to transparency and accountability, inter-administrative and intra-administrative collaboration and communication, or access to information, assistance and relationship building with citizens are increasing considerably. They’re also helping legitimize the role of some government bodies.
There is a big difference between the current approach compared to that of a few years ago. It was essentially all about mechanization. Now, it’s about digitizing, simplifying and automating. The public sector must embrace digital transformation, personalize their products, allow citizens to collaborate, and promote and lead social processes to create public value. Innovation is the law of life and the improvement of public services while thinking of citizens is the result of a balanced combination of collaboration between people, processes and technology.
2 . What are the top two keys to success for this digital transformation?
Of course, there are many important factors, but every digital transformation process must have the necessary political will behind it and recognize the fundamental value of data for designing public policies.
The digital transformation should not only be technology, it must go through a reengineering of processes where people (citizens, public employees) are at the center of the redesign. This is not possible without the political will to lead the change, and this will must go beyond short-term electoral interests.
Government bodies function as a large data bank. The data, its services, its value, its use, its distribution to third parties while guaranteeing privacy, must be considered in the design of any service. It must be effective and efficient and these values must be measurable, all within a cycle of excellence and continuous improvement.
3 . Can you use agile methodologies for project management in the public sector?
Public bodies must go from an excessively passive model of deploying public services to a model that analyzes the effectiveness of public policies. The intensive use of agile methodologies can boost effectiveness.
But the introduction of agile methodologies must go beyond technology. It must be present in the development of all citizen services. The service must prevail over procedures and tools and citizen satisfaction over strict labor compliance. Administrative collaboration must always be present, along with the ability to respond to a changing environment. This applies to the most general case and in the specific technological ones. Agile implies a cultural and organizational change that takes a lot of work.
Specifically, and within the management of technological projects, you have to avoid focusing on controlling the supply rather than achieving the goal. So often a strict vision of rules and norms prevails and is used more as an excuse than as a facilitator. Spain’s current contracting system deserves special mention, which, within the limits set by current legislation, must be interpreted to allow flexibility in the development of ICT projects using agile methodologies.
4 . Let’s talk about technology. How do you see the technology stack in the public sector evolving in the years to come?
It’s hard to give a universal recipe for future solutions. But I think, in the core business, we will witness exponential growth in the various techniques and tools related to data science and artificial intelligence. I also see widespread deployment of robotic process automation (RPA) solutions. Beyond the core business, we’ll see an unstoppable trend towards services based on cloud solutions from public (common services) or private providers, as well as the establishment of the ubiquitous digital workplace.
Security and privacy will be fundamental to this trend. Within it, I believe a special awareness of the need for adequate risk management will emerge, as well as business contingency plans that go beyond exclusively technological disaster recovery.
5 . Let’s go now to perhaps the most critical aspect — talent. How do you think the public sector will be able to attract this talent that is needed to carry out this digital transformation?
We have to vindicate the role of the public employee as a creator of value. Think of the public sector as the engine of society. And acknowledge the central role of technology. Digital transformation requires having the right talent at each of its levels.
Government institutions have specific bodies of ICT personnel already. They cover the different instrumental, tactical and strategic functions of technology. Collaboration with leading technology companies is necessary in this process of attracting talent. But beyond this public-private collaboration, we need to have our own staff, strongly committed to the organization and with deep business knowledge.
The public sector is a place where people can develop a motivating professional career, be innovative in a complex and varied business framework all within the goal of better serving the public. These motivations and circumstances, and not just economic stability, must be valued and adequately communicated. Nothing is more rewarding than seeing how the work you’ve done contributes to the development of a better society.