At least two-thirds of government executives acknowledge that their organisation needs to change faster over the next three years to keep up with changing business conditions – but only 27% feel significant or extreme pressure to adapt to the rapid change required.

Meanwhile, 55% expect slight or no technology-led disruption over the next three years, compared to just 29% of business executives across all sectors.

“This research was conducted on behalf of Ricoh by The Economist Intelligence Unit in Europe,” says Richard Pinker, MD of Ricoh SA. “However, many of the findings ring true for South Africa where our government faces many of the same socio-economic challenges of its counterparts in the European Union.”

However, the report also shows that 71% of government executives have already experienced technology-driven changes to the way they operate in the last three years. “While that’s true for Europe it is not necessarily the case in South Africa where we have experienced isolated pockets of digital intervention in government departments,” says Pinker.

In Europe government executives want to be more agile and 45% rank recruiting new employees and 44% improving core business processes as the top two areas where they expect to see most change over the next three years. In South Africa government has expressed on numerous occasions the desire to improve service delivery at all levels.

“Digital interaction between government and its people leads to numerous service delivery benefits, which are a key goal of our government organisations in South Africa,” says Pinker.

“One of the reasons that Europeans government executives feel little pressure to speed up the rate of change is that they have a 44% adoption of digital services. That’s not the case in South Africa. Our major digital service is e-filing from SARS, which is an unqualified success but there are few other examples like it.”

Government executives acknowledge there are several critical areas of focus if they are to improve citizen satisfaction. The areas cited as most crucial to their organisation in the future are: recruiting new staff; attracting and retaining customers (citizens); improving core business processes; and accessing business critical information.

This broad mix of priorities indicates that there is a lot to do, but many governments are already benefitting significantly from their digital transformations.

The report highlights several examples – “in Spain, three out of four administrative procedures are now initiated online. This cuts red tape and has saved companies 19-billion Euros in the past five years alone”.

In Estonia “100 information systems [are] connected through a legally-mandated data exchange layer. This interoperability has enabled [it] to provide about 2 500 e-services for its citizens.”

And in Denmark, they are “working towards making the use of the digital channels mandatory by law …, progressing to use a digital channel for at least 80% of all written communications between citizens or businesses and public authorities by 2015.”

However many of the government executives surveyed in Europe show concern that rapid change will bring increased risk to their citizen communications. Forty-five percent rated the IT function and 45% marketing of equal primary concern when changing business functions quickly.

However, as e-government becomes the norm, opening online paths to communicate is more essential than ever before and must be managed alongside the needs to those citizens that have not readily embraced the digital world.

Cross-media communications, data security, analytics, clearly defined processes and integrated technology platforms are essential ingredients to minimise risk, maximise citizen satisfaction and create efficiencies.

“One example is a public railway network in Spain,” says Pinker. “They managed the concessionary travel cards process with more than 80 000 applications from citizens each year. They automated the process so that they can interact directly with travellers to validate data and issue personalised travel cards and they’ve effectively reduced the waiting time by 50%.”

With effective digitised processes there are cost savings too, derived from reduced duplication, increased productivity and less waste.

Yih-Jeou Wang, head of International Co-operation at Denmark’s agency for digitisation, interviewed in the Economist Intelligence Unit report sums up the challenge of speed for government organisations by saying: “We’re looking for cost savings, but not by cutting back the quality of public services. In fact, we see the smart use of ICT as a way of empowering our citizens in the sense that they are experiencing more freedom in living their everyday lives.”