CIOs can drive digital transformation in the public sector

Private sector chief information officers can provide collaborative IT leadership

11 November 2021 - 10:22
CIOs in successful public-private partnerships have an important task.
CIOs in successful public-private partnerships have an important task.
Image: 123RF/Dimitriy Shironosov

Many SA state departments have started projects and programmes to improve their technology, but comprehensive technology transformation isn’t their core purpose. That purpose is to provide citizens with service delivery.

Spending time on transforming complicated legacy ecosystems and finding the skills to manage this can detract from a department’s actual mandate and expertise, such as providing schools, housing and roads. This is where private sector chief information officers (CIOs) can help.

According to BCX, CIOs are the most senior technology executives in an organisation and their role is to enable a more transformative overhaul of public sector technology. 

“Developing countries struggling to integrate IT in their public sectors can partner with private sector CIOs with the expertise to focus on this challenge,” says Frans Basson, chief of cloud platforms at BCX. “They can focus on creating, implementing and disseminating e-government seamlessly throughout the public administration. It can be a valuable partnership when their experience of modernising IT in the private sector is brought to, and aligned with, public sector goals.” 

The right partnership is one where the CIO can explain technology to everyone, from stressed civil servants to the elected political leadership, and understands that their partner in the public sector has a mandate to provide particular services to a variety of constituencies with a variety of needs.

Their main stakeholder may be an elected official and their budget comes from taxes. This means it’s a responsibility of citizenship and a mission for the public good, not merely a revenue opportunity. It’s a complex role, but it’s one that can be carefully managed with the right people standing at this challenging helm.

CIOs in successful public-private partnerships have an important task: driving innovation and collaboration to modernise IT infrastructure so that it’s integrated and serves the needs of millions of people.

The best CIOs are good at delivery and also understand influencing, shaping, collaborating and strategising. They understand the goals of the public sector and take on the high level of accountability that their public sector partner already has. Only then do they consider an IT strategy to meet the service delivery goals.

The role of the CIO is to help set and lead the technology strategy for an organisation. If they are working with a public sector partner, they provide a senior interface between the public institution, its technology leaders, and their own business. They are responsible for understanding the public mandate, collaboratively developing the broad strategy, and explaining how technology can streamline service delivery.

The cloud era means the public sector can build a much closer relationship with their external partners — software can be provisioned and updated automatically and the system can be remotely managed by experts. If this is guided by a CIO who understands the public strategy for service delivery and who has maintained an understanding of current and emerging technologies, it’s a valuable addition to any state department.

An added advantage of cloud computing is that it’s no longer necessary to build costly IT departments and recruit scarce skills to manage digital transformation. This intelligent and strategic move to the cloud can also deliver the following benefits to the public sector:

  • a delivery model built for flexibility and speed;
  • a flexible foundation of core tech systems that can be quickly and easily updated, with the ability to increase and decrease capacity as needed;
  • data analytics systems that provide continual insights to decisionmakers; and
  • integrated security and privacy protections that align with national and departmental regulations and policies.

An advantage of bringing in private sector CIOs is that their work requires them to keep their skills fresh and up-to-date in world of rapidly developing technology. They have an end-to-end picture that includes technical process and service delivery process visibility, and they can map government challenges with technical capability.

Private sector CIOs can help design, implement and disseminate e-government throughout the entire public administration in a seamless way. They have experience of providing user-friendly digital services and processes in the private sector and can collaborate to broker similar services in the public sector. It’s a powerful partnership. In this way, with these skills and alliances, the CIO is more than just a role: they are the driver of change that’s transformative and sustainable.

This article was paid for by BCX.