COVID-19 is bringing new urgency to government’s modernization challenges - Technical.ly DC

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Dec. 15, 2020 12:08 pm

COVID-19 is bringing new urgency to government’s modernization challenges

Accenture Federal Services CTO Chris Copeland and CIO Kyle Michl break down some key trends from the report they recently authored, Federal Technology Vision 2020.
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(Photo by Pixabay user Free-Photos, used under a Creative Commons license)

This is a guest post by Accenture Federal Services CTO Chris Copeland and CIO Kyle Michl.

Technology so permeates our lives that we often don’t give it a second thought. And this reality has only grown more pronounced in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. We work remotely, hold Zoom happy hours, shop online and conduct touchless transactions. Our kids virtually attend school through technology.

Yet, even as technology assumes an ever-growing role in our lives, it also poses big challenges to business enterprises and government organizations. A global research effort that Accenture conducted earlier this year called Technology Vision 2020 tells us that one of the biggest of these challenges is that we, as users of technology, are increasingly circumspect of technology’s sway over us.

People are reevaluating their digital relationships with businesses and governments and reexamining whether the value those enterprises deliver is fully aligned with their core values. We refer to this growing wariness of today’s connected digital world as a tech clash, the result of old technology models that are increasingly incongruous with people’s expectations and values.

The key insight here is that we, as citizens and consumers, don’t just want more technology in our products and services — we want technology that is more human-centered and that appreciates our personal choices and desires for greater control in how we interact digitally with others.

This applies, for example, to how technology meets or fails to meet our needs, how it treats our privacy and security, the ways it makes decisions for and about us, the ethical standards to which it is held, and the degree to which technology is held accountable.

The federal agency view

In a new report, Federal Technology Vision 2020, we build upon this research by adding insights from survey data from 200 federal program, business and IT leaders. This has helped us better understand how these challenges might apply specifically to federal agencies.

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From our perspective, we believe that federal agency leaders should approach this tech clash challenge as a momentous opportunity as they chart their modernization journeys. It is no longer enough to bolt-on digital technologies to legacy operating models. Government agencies can capitalize on these digital tools and new approaches to instead reimagine how they work and deliver services so they can take full advantage of emerging digital capabilities.

In short, agencies need to rebalance the relationship between humans and machines in their digital operations. This becomes especially important as we navigate the expansion of today’s emerging capabilities such as AI, citizen digital services, robots and smart devices.

Agencies can diffuse this tech clash and foster more trusting relationships by making transparency, accountability and collaboration the new litmus tests for future engagements. And they will need to empathize with the individual who uses their services by incorporating human-centered design models.

By giving individual end users greater voice and personal stake in their dealings with the government, federal agencies can forge stronger bonds of trust and collaboration with citizens, stakeholders and employees, thus advancing their own mission aims.

COVID-19’s impact

So what impact is COVID-19 having on all of this? In our view, a significant impact.

Consider, for example, one of the five overarching technology trends that we highlight in our report. We call it “The I in Experience,” and it observes that digital experiences are evolving rapidly. Personalized digital experiences have become commonplace.

COVID-19 is accelerating this trend. Many aspects of our individual lives are in flux due to COVID, including our health, our employment status, where we live, where we work, and the government benefits and services we need. To be effective, digital services must be more responsive to these changes at the individual level.

While much of that personalization is appreciated by customers and citizens, there is also a flipside: Our research tells us that many people increasingly feel out of the loop and out of control. Too much personalization can come off as heavy handed, even creepy or invasive. In this environment, government agencies will need new models for personalizing digital services — models that affirm the individual agency of the citizen.

In the short-term, we believe agencies will need to update their personalization strategies to keep up with the changes occurring in people’s lives and lifestyles; quickly update their understanding of individuals’ wants and needs; and quickly retire information that is no longer valid. Federal organizations that give people the ability to steer their own digital experiences will be the first to understand what their new wants and needs are.

In the longer-term, we can expect the purpose of a digital experience will be transformed. Demand is soaring for truly shared digital experiences and digital communities, and leaders are rising to the occasion. The need for digital platforms and experiences will continue to accelerate in the future, as we all seek alternatives to in-person gatherings in a post-COVID world. Government agencies that start building personalized, interactive and shared virtual communities today can carry that success far into the future.

Our Federal Technology Vision 2020 report highlights other trends, including those addressing artificial intelligence, smart products, robots, and innovation engines for the enterprise. COVID-19 has made all these topics more relevant and urgent than ever before.

We are living in an unprecedented time. Opportunities and challenges that federal agencies expected to have years to prepare for are quickly approaching. To meet these challenges — and make the most of these opportunities — organizations will need to innovate, invent and redefine themselves.

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