How can government agencies become more exciting, attractive places to work?

Governments in this region have a huge opportunity, as part of their digital transformation, to rebrand themselves. If they are seen as “forward-leaning” and agile organisations, they can attract the best and brightest IT talent out there, says Ben Henshall, General Manager for Southeast Asian Markets at open source software leader Red Hat.

On a broader level, digital transformation is absolutely key to ASEAN’s economic growth, helping to attract foreign investment, Henshall explains to GovInsider. It is a “huge fundamental part that is either enabling or restraining a country’s ability to continue upon those GDP growth rates and improve people’s lives.”

Government 2.0

Governments across ASEAN are increasingly looking to adopt agile methodologies and cloud to serve their citizens better and faster. Digital transformation certainly provides a competitive advantage to governments, particularly if they are shaving weeks off of time-to-market for high quality digital services.

It can be a means to spur on the economy, says Henshall. One way is to “grease the mechanisms of commerce” – for instance, by building platforms that simplify business transactions, or collect tax more efficiently.

It will not be an easy change, though – requiring a complete reorganisation to attempt to compete with digital native players in the private sector, Henshall believes, which is why it matters how government agencies brand themselves. Fresh graduates today have their pick of cool, trendy tech companies to work in, and governments are competing with these companies for IT talent, Henshall says. “They need to make it attractive to work for the government, to compete with the cutting-edge or forward-leaning ‘IT shop’,” he emphasises.

His company Red Hat, a global leader in open source innovation, brings some of its own brand prestige to the table. The company hosts its annual Red Hat Summit for IT leaders and developers in the US, where governments and private sector alike associate themselves with the Red Hat brand to share their stories with a global audience. “This summit is the premier open source technology event for thousands of IT professionals to innovate. And this is why so many commercial companies are speaking on stage with Red Hat, because they’re recognising the value of open source and the brand influence that they get,” Henshall continues.

Building up internal tech clout

The time has passed where governments could outsource large parts of their IT, according to Henshall. Cloud computing and agile development form the foundation for innovation in modern governments, allowing agencies to build and roll out services quickly and securely, and also introduce software updates regularly. This means that government agencies “need to transform their organisation and build some of those capabilities internally,” he says.

Currently, the pace of innovation in ASEAN is uneven. Countries like Singapore are already ahead in their conversation and government initiatives, but there are still many government agencies in this region who are only “dipping a toe in the water”, Henshall says. “Red Hat is working with regional governments to help them modernise; reorganise their teams; and overhaul how they work together, helping to build these internal capabilities.”

The company’s work goes down two main routes: first, talking with CIOs to align business and transformation objectives; and second, leading detailed technical assessments to determine how to lead transformation in their environments. It can be a complex undertaking with many moving parts, which is where Red Hat’s expertise in massive IT projects comes in handy.

In the Philippines, for instance, Red Hat partnered with the Department of Information and Communications Technology in 2018 to build applications for the government using open source software. This partnership has a clear goal: building up capability within the Philippines government by creating an ecosystem of developers, according to Damien Wong, vice president and general manager of Asian Growth and Emerging Markets.

Using the Red Hat OpenShift Container Platform, a management tool used for virtual and private cloud infrastructure, developers can easily build, develop, and run applications in private or public infrastructure regardless of the app architecture. For the government, this will help developers create applications that can be tested by different agencies across the government, making it easier to integrate innovation into the system.

The collaboration aims to create an ecosystem to support developers, and achieve the department’s goal to help them benefit from open source technology. Juli Ana E Sudario, officer-in-charge at the DICT’s Government Digital Transformation Bureau, said in a statement how “there is a need for us in government and even those from the private sector who are providing assistance to government agencies, to be able to develop applications easily in a cloud environment”. She went on to add that Red Hat’s OpenShift Container Platform would be made “available freely” to registered “software houses” that want to develop applications for the government.

The bottom line is that it is not enough for government agencies to leave digital transformation to IT teams and then call it a day. Every aspect of the transformation is important and needs to be taken into consideration, whether it is the internal processes, team structure, culture or mindset. To advance ahead, government agencies can always take a leaf from the most innovative technology brands out there, to collaborate, reinvent, refresh their image and attract top talent.