In an age of instant gratification, citizens’ expectations from public sector leaders has changed.

To keep up, governments must enable people to prioritise what matters most. For a frontline officer, this means being able to spend more time interacting with citizens and responding to their requests faster. Meanwhile, managers and executives in government can focus on setting out visions and new areas of growth.

There are three stages of digital transformation that agencies should go through to achieve these results, explains Jay Theodore, Esri’s CTO of ArcGIS.

1. Build a digital twin

The first stage is to create a “digital twin”, he says – a virtual representation of the information you get from the physical world. This includes digitising where your assets are, what the observations are, and what results are coming out of those.

The digital twin forms a foundational layer for collecting and analysing data, understanding insights, and ultimately, making smarter decisions. “You can enquire on where things are, or the current state of something. You can get a digital dashboard of everything that’s going on,” Theodore explains.


“You can get a digital dashboard of everything that’s going on.”

The digital twin of a farm can enable precision agriculture, for example. Sensors in the ground pick up soil readings, while drones collect images of crop growth from above. Every piece of data is matched a location on the farm, building a living virtual model of the land.

Farmers can use this to test new crops and planting techniques, and provide just the right amount of pesticides and irrigation to maximise yield. Diseases can be caught before they spread widely.

For consumers across the world, this approach can improve food security by predicting the impact of floods, droughts and diseases on crop supply. Farmers can have a more predictable source of income that is not at the mercy of increasingly extreme weather patterns.

2. Gain analysis and insights

The next stage of digital transformation is analysing all of the information in the digital twin to identify trends and patterns. A crucial step at this phase is to build your business goals into the model – what you would like to achieve depending on your needs, Theodore says.

This has been particularly impactful in the utilities sector, where monopoly state-linked suppliers are being disrupted by newer players. Companies must reshape their priorities, and can focus their attention on serving customers and improving reliability by automating operations.

Sensors can help them get real-time information on the health of power infrastructure often spread across remote and difficult terrain. They can use drones to continuously collect new images of the equipment, which can be analysed to spot signs of damage.

Staff would be automatically alerted to the location and details of damage, triggering an order for replacement parts. This allows maintenance and operations staff to be more efficiently allocated and more resources to be put towards improving customer satisfaction.

3. Make predictive decisions

The third stage of digital transformation is where organisations are able to make predictive decisions. Artificial intelligence uses huge amounts of historical data in the digital twin to come up with scenarios for the future. “You can use the past to predict the future. That’s the smart transformation,” Theodore adds.

Artificial intelligence and location intelligence need to go hand-in-hand at this phase, he says. The value comes from being able to localise the prediction to a particular area, and understand the patterns emerging around that, he adds. “If location is not taken into consideration, in some cases it might be that businesses can’t survive anymore,” he says.

For example, one of Esri’s partners is building autonomous ships, and wants to predict equipment failure. The new equipment to be installed would arrive at the ship’s next port before it docks. Companies can get “huge savings” from this approach, avoiding additional docking charges and loss of business.

With the rise of online retail, such savings and predictability in logistics and operations is crucial for countries to attract businesses and grow as commerce hubs. Businesses can build more reliable supply chains, providing their customers with a smoother experience and cheaper products.

Digital transformation empowers the employees in an organisation to make better decisions using data. The frontline employee no longer needs to rely on a bureaucratic structure to get approvals. They have real-time data on the customers’ needs and the system provides recommendations on the best courses of action. “What we want to do is help people at the edge who are actually providing customer service to be the everyday decision-makers,” Theodore says.

The end result is a community, city or province where citizens receive great services and feel that their time and money are valued.

Image by Tom DriggersCC BY 2.0