Culture Remains A Significant Barrier To Technology Adoption In Government


If your agency or department has an organizational culture that looks warily on change or adopting new technology, it is more likely that you’ll lag behind your peers, according to a new report from the Harvard Business Review and Verizon. The report entitled, “The Digital Dividend: First Mover Advantage” details how technology adoption is changing the business of government.

Much like the private sector, government organizations can be classified by their willingness to integrate new technologies, and the first movers are winning. Organizations with a culture that is geared toward ready adoption of new technology or more efficient business processing, can realize significant savings in terms of time and cost. The report data shows a clear correlation between the early adoption of new technologies and better business outcomes.

However, like everything in government, doing anything first is easier said than done. CIOs and department heads will have to collaborate closely to adopt new technology and lead the change management process. “Put simply organizations have to collaborate. Those that don’t collaborate don’t do as well,” said Abbie Lundberg, Contributing Editor Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, in a briefing on the report held for media yesterday.

The report classifies early adopters as “pioneers”. When it comes to public sector, only 18% of organizations fall into this group. Almost half of organizations (46%) classify themselves as “followers,” while a remaining 34% fall into the “cautious” category. Those that fall into the “cautious” category say they are waiting for technologies to be proven before they will adopt. Although as we get close to 30 years with email, and 10 years with some form of cloud services, we are left to wonder how much longer this 34% needs. Most teenagers with a smartphone are running more technology than average government agencies, as one county official explained in a recent CivSource interview.

The report data on the public sector shows that 75% of officials realize that their constituent clients’ expectations are changing when it comes to technology. That almost always that means using more of it to provide services. A further 64% of public sector respondents noted that better technology improved productivity. 70% said that improvements in technology improved collaboration within the organization.

However, over half – 51% – said “cultural flexibility to adapt to new ways of doing business” was holding back use of new technology. So what gives? Lundberg notes that a whole host of reasons from cost concerns to individual training, to a broader legacy systems issue within agencies can make them slow to adopt new technology. Even so, as budget constraints remain a constant problem for government, the business case for avoiding new technologies gets weaker by the day.

Ultimately, being adaptive and staying on top of new technologies requires a willingness to learn and innovate, and that’s difficult against entrenched interests. As many government officials get set to retire in what some are calling the ‘silver tsunami,’ it will be important for hiring managers to shift the culture toward agility and innovation. Throughout the report, culture comes up again and again as one of the critical ingredients for improving technology and service delivery. For public sector, developing a culture geared toward innovation will be just as important as managing systems through the end of their life-cycle.