Limited working budgets and organisational culture are the biggest barriers to achieving digital transformation within the public sector, according to a new survey.

The report, The Changing Landscape for the Public Sector: The Challenges of Building Digital Bridges was conducted by the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and commissioned by Civica.

The study of local government leaders in Australia and New Zealand found 70 per cent of survey respondents claim that limited working budgets act as a major constraint to digital transformative change, while 65 per cent believe organisational culture is an impediment.

Speed of technological changes (37 per cent), difficulty in matching user expectations (32 per cent) and conservative leadership (25 per cent) were also listed as barriers.

While 84 per cent of the survey respondents view digital transformation as an opportunity, almost one in five felt they were still not given many chances to learn new skills relevant to a digital-first environment. In addition, nearly 80 per cent of respondents admitted failure to implement some digital projects.

According to Professor Roberta Ryan, Director, Institute for Public Policy and Governance and UTS Centre for Local Government, local governments in particular continue to struggle with limited funding, implementation and resourcing issues for digital projects.

“Many local councils have to make a trade-off. Digital services are being pushed down the list of priorities in favour of more immediate requirements to build or maintain physical infrastructure that serves to keep communities moving. Meanwhile, the absence of leadership understanding in driving an outcome-based strategy is also hindering successful implementation of digital initiatives,” said Ryan.

Partnerships seen as key enabler for the changing landscape

Local governments are strongly in favour of partnering with other organisations to achieve strategic transformation goals. Nearly 60 per cent of respondents felt that partnering with similar organisations was a substantial opportunity for them, closely followed by partnering with external consultancies (54 per cent) and private organisations (49 per cent).

Partnerships with state and federal government were some way behind, at 34 per cent and 16 per cent respectively.

“What we are seeing in our work with public sector organisations is that they want to embrace digital solutions. Many organisations operate different system environments. Even though amalgamations offered access to bigger budgets, this also meant that larger amounts of data and systems need to be merged,” said Richard Fiddis, Managing Director at Civica International.

“We see huge potential for the public sector to work with each other and third parties like ourselves to achieve strategic goals — and they appear willing to do this voluntarily — but what maybe they are saying is support us, don’t force us.”

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