Digital Government at the Nexus of the Fourth Industrial Revolution


What exciting and challenging times we live in. We are all witness to the emergence of the fourth industrial revolution – the convergence of our physical world with the digital world. A nexus where intelligent technologies such as devices and machines assimilate more purposefully with human enterprise.

Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, has written a book titled “The Fourth Industrial Revolution[1]”, where he quite rightly points out that this fourth industrial revolution will fundamentally change the way we live, work and relate to one another.

Look at how smart we have become during the first decade of the 21st century with smartphones, smartwatches, smart glasses, smart assistants, smart homes and buildings, smart cities, smart cars, smart TVs, and the list goes on. Perhaps when we use the term digital age what we really mean is the smart device-dependent age!

The digital age is often characterised as an age of constant change. Most commercial organisations now have a very healthy appreciation for this new norm of accelerated change. After all, in the digital age, disruption is the modern mantra. Research by IMD[2] indicates that across most sectors, one in three companies expect to lose their place in the top 10 for their sector due to digital disruption over the next five years! This is an astonishing metric that is forcing organisations to fundamentally rethink traditional structures and operating models.

How is this relevant to governments in Australia?

The fourth industrial revolution is not only relevant to government but, in my humble view, is critical to the future of democratic government. Citizens are rapidly accelerating towards digital emersion in everyday life. Technology now dominates human interaction and is a key driver of expectations for interactions with organisations including interactions with government. While investment in digital government should yield significant efficiencies (particularly from automation), this should not be the primary objective. Rather governments need to focus on building trust with citizens through bureaucracy-light digital engagement which focuses on the day in the life of each citizen persona. Building trust improves compliance – hopefully, the harmonious conformity type of compliance that drives productivity and goodwill, rather than a begrudged acquiescence.

What does the journey to digital government look like?

For many jurisdictions, including the Commonwealth government, the journey is well underway. There has been significant progress in moving transactional services online and some progress toward de-siloing. However, this elementary approach to digitisation of transactions is a long way short of what citizens need and expect and therefore a long way short of where we need to be.

All organisations (whether consciously or not) are on a path to fundamentally shifting their business models to that of a digital enterprise.  Naturally, technology will be a key enabler of digital transformation, however, technology in and of itself is not the key to success. There are two far more critical rudiments to the digital enterprise – data and the customer.

For the digital enterprise, data will be its largest tangible asset, which is a significant shift from today’s intangible measurement of the value of data. The digital enterprise is fuelled by data and is adept at data governance, data management, and data exploitation. Much like the wild brumby, once tamed, data can be a source of great productivity and value creation.

As important as data is to the success of the digital enterprise, so too is the organisation’s approach to the customer. Government services have traditionally been structured around services and related professional disciplines or around funding and regulation. Citizens, however, do not view nor experience their lives as a series of discrete, unrelated events.

The future digital enterprise is one that is attuned to the personal journey of its customers. It is also empathetic and caring, personalised and authentic, ethical and trustworthy.

There are of course plenty of organisations including government agencies that practice these important social values and characteristics every day. Having been a CIO in healthcare for nearly a decade and a half, I have certainly witnessed incredibly skilled and compassionate care to citizens. The future digital enterprise is not about these individual citizen touchpoints, it’s about a holistic view of citizen engagement and experience.

To establish capability in these two critical rudiments – data and customers – organisations should be contemplating and progressing three agendas. The first is structure, ensuring the organisation is structured to give prominence to the customer experience and to the value of data. Second, organisations need to mature their approach to technology architectures (this is a more technical discussion for another day), and finally, the organisations need to address workforce capability for the digital enterprise.

In the next article in this series, I will discuss digital competencies in more depth, emphasising that digital competencies go beyond technical skills and apply to all levels of the enterprise dependent on your role within the organisations. I will introduce three competency domains that acknowledge the journey most organisations have embarked on towards digital. I look forward to when we next chat!




Dr Mal Thatcher is part of the QUTeX Digital Capability Practice
The QUTeX Digital Capability Practice is a community for digital thought leadership, and provides world-class research, analysis, advisory services and education to guide you and your organisation to digital business transformation success. Let’s navigate the future together. Find out more here:



Professor Malcolm Thatcher was a Professor of Digital Practice in the QUT Graduate School of Business. Professor Thatcher is a career technologist and has held senior executive leadership positions in both the public-sector and the private-sector. Professor Thatcher has over 35 years’ experience in leading and delivering business value through technology-led innovation and transformation. In 2018, Professor Thatcher published a book on Digital Risk and Governance titled The Digital Governance Handbook for CEOs and Governing Boards, which regularly features in Amazon’s best seller list under Corporate Governance.

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