Government CIOs working with multiple ‘moving targets’ today - Ex-US government leader

By Si Ying Thian

Government officials, software developers and system integrators need to work together to reap the benefits of public sector innovation, says OpenText's Keith Nelson, who previously worked in the US federal government.

Citizens today are benchmarking government technology against digital services offered by the private sector, says OpenText's Keith Nelson who has over 15 years of experience in different US federal government agencies. Image: GovInsider.

From a central IT infrastructure, government-wide policies, budgets to the evolving cyberattacks landscape, government chief information officers (CIOs) are trying to balance multiple “moving targets” today.


“Some government CIOs choose to outsource their innovation and research, and that’s a mistake,” says software company OpenText’s Senior Industry Strategist for Global Public Sector, Keith Nelson, to GovInsider.


Nelson has over 15 years of experience working in multiple US Federal Cabinet Agencies, including Assistant Secretary for Administration, Chief Financial Officer, and Deputy Chief Information Officer.


He shares three challenges that government CIOs are facing today.

Keeping pace with rising citizen expectations


When it comes to tech innovations, citizens are benchmarking the government against the digital services offered by the private sector, especially when it comes to user experience and timeliness, he says.


“Governments need to look at it end-to-end. From the beginning when the person initiates the request, to the end when the government records the outcome. Forget about the way the government is broken up into parts, because the citizen doesn’t look at it that way,” he explains.



However, the government does not need to play catch-up with the private sector. Public-private partnerships can help bridge the gap between government tech and people – by matching up citizen needs with the latest innovations.


A “great partnership” brings together government officials “closest to the issues,” software developers and system integrators, he says.

Digital enabling inclusive access to public services


Technology may be another means to the government’s end of delivering public services, Nelson says, but the more meaningful difference it can make today is creating predictability and enabling personalisation.


Traditionally, public sector agencies have struggled with resource allocation – think long waiting times at public hospitals – and this results in frustrated citizens who are put on hold longer.


“There’re actually many more sophisticated ways to use technology,” he shares, citing the ability of tech to tailor interactions for individual citizen profiles.


“From the citizen’s point of view, when you have somebody who remembers you from the last time, their trust goes up,” he explains.


Nelson’s point on the sophisticated ways to use technology in public service delivery was reinforced by Open Government Products (OGP) Singapore’s Hongyi Li’s panel sharing at GovInsider’s Festival of Innovation 2024.


“Just because the frontend of it is more analog, [digitalising] the backend can still have tremendous gains in terms of making the government more efficient,” he says in the panel.


OGP has developed an inclusive voucher system that allow citizens to either use e-vouchers or physical paper vouchers collected from authorised centres when they transact with a vendor.

Governments to establish what needs AI and what not


Nelson puts across this question for governments to use as a starting ground to use AI: “What kind of questions do we trust AI to answer?”


Today, we know that they are good at summarising long documents, he adds, but there are mixed opinions about using it for more complex decisions like designing an environmentally friendly, low-carbon footprint supply chain.


Speaking from his private sector experience working with government customers around the world, he says that most governments are experimenting with using AI to organise their internal data.


Contrary to open internet data, internal data is collected by public agencies from businesses and citizens, so governments can trust this data. They can use AI to organise the data and generate actionable insights, he adds.


As trustworthy data is the foundation of good AI, a use case like this would be low-hanging fruit for governments to adopt AI.


He highlights the need for a flexible, adaptable regulatory framework, as governments balance reaping the most out of AI, and ensuring protection and inclusivity among citizens.


“In the interim, we all should be learning how to use GenAI. As I said earlier, you can’t outsource innovation.


“One needs to stay sharp, keep your muscles strong, and do the innovation yourself. So, roll up your sleeves and learn this stuff,” he explains.