Digital is one of those terms that makes my skin crawl and excites me in equal measure. There is some fantastic work being done under the banner of ‘digital’ across a number of public sector organisations, work that has seen fundamental changes in the way that technology is defined and delivered. At the same time however, there are other cases where the Digital box has been ticked through the creation of digital strategy, but it is no more than a veneer over the top traditional and ultimately out of archaic delivery mechsmanisms.
At a very basic level digital, for me at least, is about making best use of technology to deliver improvements in user experience and business processes. Digital is also a mindset, which is closely aligned with agile delivery and continuous improvement- an outlook which seeks to embed a culture of always wanting to do more, better, with a focus on delivering value quickly through many iterations and learning from mistakes more quickly. Many of these sentiments are not new I know, and are key elements of the Local Digital Declaration.
The futuregov image below sets out a maturity model which many of us will recognise. Digital for most organisations started out (and continues to be) the movement away from paper forms and manual processes, to electronic and online, utilising elements such as self service, automation and integrations, and most recently artificial intelligence and robotic process automation. Importantly, digital should not stop at the customer, but continue into the culture and every day working practices of the organisation – the complete transformation of the end to end process – and not simply a Digital veneer for the customer facing elements.
Thinking about my own organisation, I am very clear in my mind about what ‘digital’ looks like, but there are some pre-requisites and challenges that need to met to make our Digital Strategy a reality;
1. A stable foundation – one of the immediate challenges is getting the basics right. To be able to focus on digital transformation you need a stable network, the right infrastructure and reliable end user devices, coupled with a solid business as usual IT service. We aren’t quite there yet.
2. The right governance – there is an ongoing tension between waterfall and agile, which requires a shift in the role of the PMO from gatekeeper to facilitator. There is also a leap of faith required in Agile delivery, without the comfort blanket of a beautifully crafted project plan and requirements that are detailed to the nth degree. Digital or Agile is also something that is very difficult to achieve in an outsourced environment, which lends itself more to lengthy solution proposals, than sprints.
3. The right tools – some would argue that there is no such thing as the right tools, but there are certainly the wrong tools as many local authorities will testify. Most of the traditional behemoths have no place in Digital- without naming names, many colleagues can name the outdated applications, provided by large companies, that are slowly losing their grip on the local authority software market. Applications that do not sign up to open standards and don’t include the basics like being mobile enabled by default, do not feature in a truly digital toolkit.
4. Roles and responsibilities – true digital, can’t be cobbled together with a couple of PRINCE2 project managers with a dotted line to the traditional application support team. There are fundamentally different delivery models and additional capacity needed in roles such as Developers, Product Owners, Scrum Masters, UX and Service Design specialists, formed into multi disciplinary ‘two pizza’ teams (to coin the Amazon phrase) – and not shackled by the traditional pillars of the IT structure.
5. Trust – finally and most importantly, you need the services that you support, to view you as a trusted ally, rather than just the team to go to when something goes wrong. Digital must be given license to facilitate fundamental service redesign and not just providing a payment form or integration. To achieve this the traditional IT Department must evolve into a true partner of frontline services, with credibility as a collective and as individuals, to advise and support services to deliver genuine transformation.