IT managers in the public sector must ensure they deliver “visible value” at each step of a transformation programme – and plan for an uncertain future, a Gartner analyst has urged.

Public sector organisations face “specific challenges” in carrying out IT-enabled service transformations, distinguished analyst Andrea DiMaio told delegates at Gartner’s ITxpo in Cannes, France.

“Sometimes there are constraints that have very little to do with technology,” he noted. “Take a three-year transformation programme. Every year the budget is re-discussed and there may be changes to the portfolio of activities. You need to keep the programme alive.”

Disruption could also arise from changes of elected administration and knock-on changes of key executives as well as “turf issues” between different departments, he warned.

DiMaio said a Gartner exercise with public sector IT leaders had highlighted that “it’s very important to be able to plan for an uncertain future”.

“The transformation programme has to be handled in a sub-optimal way,” he advised. IT managers should “look at chunks of the programme” and ensure they delivered visible gains for the wider organisation in order to justify the programme’s continuation.

“Look at the transformation plan... is it achievable, or structured to make it achievable within the constraints of the industry?”

DiMaio urged public sector IT leaders to “deliver visible value within those constraints”, adding: “But you should not compromise the longer-term objectives. It’s important to have broader view of the technologies that can have an impact on sustainable transformation,” he said.

Public sector bodies faced particular constraints on changing their business processes, he argued. “We can’t change the process every time – processes in government are very heavily regulated.”

It was also more difficult for public sector organisations to absorb best practice from elsewhere, because of regulatory differences, DiMaio said. “Best practices in one country don’t necessarily transfer to another country or domain,” he said. He also noted that some countries had “a different flavour of democracy” that affected the way public sector bodies operated.

There could be “a mismatch between the vision and the ability to execute”, DiMaio added. “Very rarely is failure linked to a wrong technology choice... it’s the way in which it has been deployed in a different context.”

Transformation of services “is indeed possible”, DiMaio said, but it required “cultural change and an understanding of the constraints”, which were “not necessarily impediments” but could affect the pace of change.

He praised the UK’s Transformational Government strategy as “very honest”, adding: “They don’t say what will be achieved by 2011, they say they will make [transformation] sustainable.” This offered “a framework for transformation”, he said.