The smouldering remains of recent digital transformation programmes such as the DWP Universal Credit, Home Office E-Borders and CAP-D, the regional payments agency all have common points of failure. They suffered from a lack of strategic business vision, weak leadership, limited skilled resources, the rise of a ‘no bad news’ culture and focus on technology rather than on citizen experience.
In effect, these failures highlight a lack of understanding of the term, ‘digital transformation,’ a concept that I don’t believe is properly understood or implemented across all sections of Government.
Back to the Basics
So, let’s begin with the definition of ‘transformation,’ which refers to a comprehensive change to component parts of a business entity. This includes its fundamental operating processes, methods, culture, infrastructure, vision and goals. A transformation programme by its nature will touch every function and stakeholder within and beyond the business. The ‘digital’ part, at its most basic, is technology that connects people and machines to each other and/or with processes and information.
So, an organisation should undergo change from a legacy, labour-intensive, paper-based business. To one that incorporates and exploits digital technology, improving its financial position and effectiveness. This should be done through innovative strategies, processes and services, and more importantly, deliver positive customer/citizen experiences. Such an organisation can be regarded as moving towards being a true digital business.
Set the Scene with Strategy
With regards to strategy, it has been said that, ‘there is no digital strategy, just strategy in a digital world.’ This is an important hypothesis that essentially implies that businesses need planning, approach and actions, which must come before ‘digital’. The Government’s ambitious digital initiatives introduced radical and flexible operating models designed around users and data with the intention of delivering a much lower cost base, operational agility, skills and culture to match.
Additionally, the Cabinet Office policy encourages initiatives to provide online channels and promote them as the preferred route for accessing existing government services. In effect, this entails a fundamental service and operational redesign, better user experience, automation and data analytics (big data insight). All of this must be achieved quite quickly whilst maintaining data, system and user security.
Prevent Digital Transformation Failures
Digital government is not about building a website or a .gov platform or digitising an outdated paper-based system with an equally awful online one. Nor is it about procuring or developing trendy technologies to access data. Instead, digital government involves transformation of the fundamental relationship between government and the citizen.
We have entered the seventh year of ‘Digital by Default,’ the digital transformation strategy for UK Government services. To further prevent the drastic failures that arose with past digital transformation programmes, we should address key areas of risk including questioning whether:
- The custodians of digital transformation within public sector are asking the question “is the current legacy business process fit for purpose before converting to digital?”
- All stakeholders are fully engaged and skilled in the new approaches for delivering digital such as LEAN and AGILE
- We can adopt new methods to better integrate with legacy systems and the people that process services across them
- Outcomes are planned towards convenience of the administration or of the citizen
Focus on Citizen Insight
Once we lay bare the technological and political issues, the risks to successful outcomes for digital transformation in government are clear. With citizen’s expectations rising, policy makers are making radical changes that place the citizen at the centre. Add to that, the tech industry is bringing to market innovative new systems and software assets with modern architectures that accelerate the support for digital transformation.
As we witness the emergence of service orchestration to automate the business of government, we must move our focus away from % cost savings, digital doctrine and petty inter-departmental turf wars. The goal of digital transformation in government should be to leave a lasting legacy by improving the value of outcomes to citizen and society as a whole.