An insider’s guide to digital transformation in government and the public sector

For former Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter, government digital transformation starts with improving the citizen experience. With the use of technology for government, his administration  (2008-2016) drastically reduced costs and improved service delivery in Philadelphia.

PayIt’s team talked with Mayor Nutter to get his insider knowledge on how government leaders can also become innovation champions. Here are five takeaways:

1. Focus on the citizen experience 

Government is a business and, like any business, relies on customer satisfaction to thrive. As Mayor Nutter points out, the public sector is often compared to the private sector in many ways, and citizens come to expect the same type of agility in service delivery:

“Citizens, our customers, want quality and low cost. We are fighting for market share every day. And how do we do that? We pick up their trash. We make it easier for them to communicate. We get back to them when they have a complaint. The focus always has to be on the customers. We want them to have a good customer experience, engagement and relationship with the government.”

Improved citizen experience has been a key driver to digital transformation in government. According to the NASCIO’s 2021 State CIO Survey, 74% of the surveyed respondents cited better online experience for constituents as the top reason to expand their digital offerings.

Digital services and electronic payments can help state and local government agencies increase revenue collection and improve the user experience, making it easier for citizens to pay their bills. With PayIt, governments can consolidate hundreds of services and payments into a one-stop platform

For residents, a citizen self-service portal brings the convenience of not having to visit government buildings. As Mayor Nutter states:   

“If I can pay my bills while I sit in my house, I do that. If you don’t have to go to a lot of websites to pay bills, you get services quickly. It’s more intuitive.” 

2. Use data to leverage your digital transformation agenda 

A report by the McKinsey Center for Government points out that governments have traditionally measured success in terms of performance goals such as:

  • Compliance with regulations
  • Tasks completed
  • Budgets met
  • Total number of citizens served

However, new trends show an increased emphasis on customer experience. Gartner predicts that over 30% of governments will use engagement metrics to track the quantity and quality of citizen participation in policy and budget decisions by 2024.

Mayor Nutter highlights the importance of leveraging citizen engagement to gather data on areas for operational improvement:

“Government leaders should ask, ‘What are the top 10 things people call 311 about and how well we are doing in those areas?’ The 311 is not only a complaint center; it’s also a data center. It’s your main connection to City Hall.”

When Mayor Nutter took office in 2008, his administration gathered and analyzed crime data to better reallocate police resources to precincts that needed them the most. This measure resulted in a significant drop in homicide rates in the city. As he points out:

“More and more cities are understanding they need data and data-driven decision-making in the use of their scarce resources. Data is increasingly becoming the king.” 

3. Build the right team to drive your public sector digital strategy

In attempting to innovate, government leaders often face resistance from internal stakeholders. Some government employees might like their current systems and be worried that the new initiatives might not work. As Mayor Nutter warns,  

“No one has ever gotten in trouble for maintaining the status quo. The big challenge is getting everyone on the same page. Different departments and different agencies like what they have. People love change as long as things can remain the same.”

According to the Deloitte Digital Transformation Strategy Survey, 90% of agencies indicate that workforce issues represent a challenge to their digital transformation agenda. Only 34% of respondents say their organization has sufficient skills to execute its digital strategy.

The key is to build the right team with the skills and mindset required to push government automation and modernization. Mayor Nutter recalls his experience in Philadelphia and the role of leadership in driving change: 

“We had a fantastic team. Some had been in government. Others had never been in government. Some were from the private sector. Part of the role of leadership is to inspire people to be their best and do their best, and then you get out of the way and let them do their thing.”

4. Challenge the status quo and embrace digital technology in the public sector

The public sector is a cautious environment because of its limited resources and extra scrutiny. For Mayor Nutter, there’s only one way to overcome the risk-averse nature of many government leaders and institutions. It’s taking some risks:

“I ran on a reform platform. I said early on that I’m not here to maintain the status quo. I was not going to change things only for the sake of changing them, but I was going to take some risks.” 

His advice is to be transparent with the public, openly sharing information about the motives and outcomes of government software investments. Transparency can help the public sector build and sustain citizen trust. In Mayor Nutter’s words:

“You need to take some risks. If things don’t work, you say they don’t work, then you explain why and keep moving. If you are always worried about keeping your job, then you will get distracted from doing your job.”

Taking risks is becoming a cultural norm for governments with more advanced digital transformation strategies. As per Deloitte, digitally maturing government organizations are five times more willing to experiment with agile, “fail fast, fail quickly” approaches than early-stage agencies.

5. Learn from other government transformation initiatives 

In order to implement an interactive 311 system in Philadelphia, Mayor Nutter benefited from seeing what other cities were doing. He explains that mayors learn from each other and utilize each other’s ideas and best practices to better guide citizens. He says that innovation is a “calculated risk” if you look at what other cities are doing:

“You are often not going to be the first to do something, so ask where [certain digital initiatives] have been done before. Tell me five cities that have done it, and have done it well. Let me talk with them. Let’s see their revenues. Are their citizens happy? Why wouldn’t I be interested in something that’s working?”

As a strategy to secure buy-in for government technology, Gartner recommends providing decision makers with examples of agencies that have successfully implemented a government platform as a way to “build their confidence” in the solution. 

Consider the example of PayIt’s government as a service platform. We have already helped city, county and state agencies give over 80 million constituents in North America an easier way to do business with their government. Agencies can earn a return on investment (ROI) of 322% over three years by deploying PayIt’s digital solution, according to Forrester Consulting’s Total Economic Impact™ (TEI) study. Benefits include more efficient recordkeeping and cost savings for agencies, and more convenience and faster public services for citizens. 

Take the next step in your government modernization journey

PayIt can help you launch your digital services and payments platform in under 90 days—at no cost. Request a demo to discuss digital government solutions tailored to your agency’s needs and workflows.

Looking for more content?

Get articles and insights from our monthly newsletter.