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What is Digital Transformation?

Digital transformation is a buzz phrase, but what does it actually mean? And how does digital transformation look in government?

Salsa Digital 1 February 2016

The new series

Welcome to the first installment in our blog series on digital transformation in government. Starting from today we'll be blogging every fortnight, bringing you both more in-depth feature blogs and shorter 'bites' to keep you informed. Our aim is to produce a must-read resource, somewhere you can come to find out how specific projects have changed the way government works and/or the way it interacts with citizens.

It’s only fitting that we kick off the digital transformation series by defining ‘digital transformation’. While it is a buzz phrase, unlike some high-profile terms this one also has a pretty concrete definition.

Digital transformation defined

Digital transformation is a phrase that’s used a lot, and sometimes it’s useful to go back to basics, to deconstruct the phrase. defines digital as: ‘pertaining to, noting, or making use of computers and computerized technologies, including the Internet.’ The Macquarie dictionary defines transform as: ‘to change in appearance, condition, nature or character, especially completely or extensively’ and adds ‘to change in form’ to this list.

Digital transformation then, indicates substantive (or maybe even complete) change that uses computerised technologies including the Internet.

Seeing is believing/understanding

Of course, a dictionary definition is only part of the story. Often, seeing something in action, through examples, is much more descriptive than its literal definition. So what are some examples of digital transformation? Two broad examples might be:

  • A new or updated website that provides innovative new features or services

  • A new product (e.g. hardware, software or a combination) that changes our lives. Thinking historically, it’s easy to see lots of these:

    • Computers

    • MS-DOS to Windows

    • The iPad

    • Facebook

    • The Internet itself

    • Smartphones

    • Mobile phone apps

    • …the list goes on

These are high-level examples that give you a sense of what digital transformation looks like in practice. Yes, words like innovative, revolutionary, game-changing all apply here.

The way we interact with the world around us is changing rapidly. The way companies are doing business is changing rapidly. IBM talks about ‘digital disruption’ and gives a list of examples to show it’s already happened. Two of these examples: the world’s largest taxi company doesn’t own any taxis (uber) and the world’s largest movie house doesn’t own any cinemas (Netflix). In today’s society, digital transformation is everywhere.

There are also many different levels of detail we can explore when it comes to digital transformation and to imagining our future world. From the simple—our definition above—to thinking about digital transformation and the technology driving it as a network with many interconnected branches and offshoots. This much more intensive approach can be found in Deloitte’s Gov2020, an initiative that aims to ‘explore the future of government in 2020’. This project identifies 39 drivers of change (divided into six categories) and 194 trends across eight government areas.

In this Salsa blog series we will be exploring more specific transformative technologies as well as transformative government projects (e.g. Medicare’s Express Plus app, govCMS, Data61, ATO digital identity voice recording, New Zealand’s online flag project, New York’s DataBridge, etc.).

The government commitment

Our blog series will focus on digital transformation in government (which may include new and updated websites, or using/building new hardware or software!). While we will look at some outstanding examples from overseas, our focus will be on Australia.

Importantly, recent announcements put digital transformation in government front and centre in Australia. On Monday 7 December 2015, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull released the National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA). This has a significant bearing on digital transformation in government, because one of the four strategies of NISA is ‘government as an exemplar’. The Agenda states: “We will lead by example by becoming more innovative in how we deliver services…” and “Digital technologies provide huge opportunities for government to deliver better services for less money. The Government is actively leading the cultural and technological change required to ensure innovation is central to the way government operates.”

Even before the NISA release, the Government was focused on digital transformation, setting up the Digital Transformation Office (DTO) in July 2015. The DTO is currently working on a range of projects, and as part of the NISA, the DTO is now also charged with setting up Digital Marketplace, a new online directory of businesses that provide digital and technological services.

In terms of looking at the way government (local, state and federal) interacts with its public (citizens), often digital transformation will be about delivering convenience to the end user. It also needs to be about saving money, saving time, about changing the way we interact with government departments—or more importantly, changing the way government departments interact with us.

Salsa Digital’s take

Digital transformation is happening all around us in the public sector—and we’re proud to be part of that, to be helping our clients design and build innovative solutions. But as a bunch of engineers, tech heads, design, and strategy experts we’re excited to be delving deeper into digital transformation. It’s a topic that gets us excited. So we’ll get more specific, and we’ll be looking at some great examples in this series, information that will give you (and us) ideas to transform the way we do things. So join us as we examine some of the best examples of government digital transformation—ideas and solutions that save time and money, and deliver a better user experience.

We hope you enjoy the ride as much as we will and we’re looking forward to giving you essential information at this exciting time in Australia’s digital evolution.

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