Government agencies pass the pandemic agility test

Despite obstacles, the public sector made important progress during the pandemic

Learn what key steps government agencies made to improve business agility during the pandemic.

At the start of the pandemic, government agencies were the least agile organizations, according to a survey of executives in five major economic sectors—financial services, healthcare, manufacturing, the public sector, and telecommunications.

But by the end of 2020, government agencies had taken important steps to improve agility—the ability to rapidly adapt strategies, processes, and technologies—in key areas, such as data security, IT services, and risk management. According to the survey by ServiceNow and ESI ThoughtLab, during the pandemic government agencies invested the most in improving agility with remote working, and plan to make similar improvements in cross-department coordination and strategic planning over the next two years.

Other public-sector highlights from the survey include:

At the start of the crisis, none of the executives surveyed considered their citizen-facing services agile; a year later, 20% reported agile customer services.

When agencies sent workers home, they made digitization of IT services a priority: more than half of executives now say their data management and security systems are agile, compared with less than 20% before the crisis. Executives also noted similar agility improvements with digitization strategies and IT platforms.

[Read also: Business agility rose during the pandemic]

Financially, the pandemic hit agencies hard: Tax revenue declined and demand for services soared. Many government agencies responded by boosting agility in finance and decision-making systems. The survey found that 28% of government-agency executives now say their finance, reporting, and budgeting systems are agile, compared with 5% a year ago; one-quarter say they now have agile decision-making and problem-solving systems, compared with 5% last year.

The pandemic forced the public sector to move quickly to improve employee- and citizen-facing systems; the survey suggests those investments are paying off. Eight out of 10 executives say that creating new programs and experiences to engage employees and citizens delivered great returns, while nearly all expect investments in remote working to yield benefits in the future.

Government agencies clearly need more agile systems and processes to meet future obligations to the public. But progress is slow. Executives consider the recruitment of new talent and expansion of the skills of existing employees as the two biggest barriers to improving overall agility.