Digitally-Enabled Service Transformation in the Public Sector: The Lure of Institutional Pressure and Strategic Response Towards Change

This study finds that a multitude of challenges has impeded many technology-driven public-sector transformation efforts from being institutionalized.
June 27, 2017

Digitally-Enabled Service Transformation in the Public Sector: The Lure of Institutional Pressure and Strategic Response Towards Change

Vishanth Weerakkody, Amizan Omar, Ramzi El-Haddadeh, Moaman Al-Busaidy

Government Information Quarterly

Volume 33, Issue 4, October 2016

Description:

Digitally-enabled service transformation (DEST) refers to the use of information and communication technology "to change an existing public service radically in order to achieve dramatic improvement in critical contemporary measure of performance such as cost, quality, service and speed." Despite the significant improvements that DEST has brought about in many instances, including improved transparency and accountability and reduced costs, this study finds that a "multitude of challenges throughout the transformation journey has impeded many DEST efforts from being institutionalized."

A primary challenge is that public-sector DEST projects are more often structured as siloed efforts, rather than being integrated into larger organizational transformation initiatives. Further, such efforts often ignore the complex concerns that typically face public-sector organizations, such as those around political power and institutional legitimacy.

In order to better institutionalize DEST, this study's central question asks how DEST is implemented and diffused within public organizations through the processes of institutionalization, deinstitutionalization and re-institutionalization. This question is predicated on the assertion that technology and its hosting organization are engaged in a symbiotic relationship in which each shapes the other. A case study of Oman's digital-led transformation effort is presented.

Findings:

While institutional pressures do not affect all organizations equally, the authors write, public institutions do tend to adapt and change, "seeking legitimacy by conforming to institutional pressures due to the lack of accountability for performance indicators (in comparison to the private sector)." Thus, these pressures may be at the root of subsequent "reinvention" or deinstitutionalization, supporting the view that government organizations are more subject to institutional forces than their private-sector counterparts.

Why this matters to practitioners:

This study seeks to enable practitioners involved in digital-led transformation projects to recognize and address the apparent paradox between institutionalization of information systems and awareness of the strategic value of technology in public organizations. The importance of considering the surrounding political context and external influences to achieve a successful transformation is emphasized. Indeed, non-coercive external influences, such as oversight committees, can be beneficial as they challenge an organization's internal controls, leading to structural transformation in government.

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