5 steps to deliver digital transformation in the public sector

5 steps to deliver digital transformation in the public sector during lockdown.

COVID-19 didn’t create the business case for remote working; but it took away the excuses not to do it. When the lockdown hit, we saw the most rapid change in work behaviour ever seen. Many of those organisations that had been wary of allowing their employees to work from home were so surprised by how productive — and cost-effective — it was, that many employees are still working from home, despite Boris Johnson’s many pleas to “get back to work” .

If all remote working needed was the removal of the last few excuses not to do it, what other great ideas have been waiting for their moment to shine? Could the much broader trend of “digital transformation” be ready for prime time? Already well underway in many private sector organisations — and to an extent in some public sector departments too — could digitisation be ready to ride on the coat tails of remote working?

Just like remote working, the business case for digital transformation is already well established — paperless and contactless working, greater employee mobility, big data analytics, improved customer experience and new collaboration opportunities.

With this in mind, what are the building blocks necessary for the public sector to make a successful shift to digital transformation in the current climate? Here are five steps.

1. Leadership

It is critical to have top level buy-in when embarking on the digital transformation journey. Without this and the ambition to succeed, there is little chance of success.

Leadership is essential when you realise that digital transformation is not an IT project; it goes much broader than that. Digital transformation is business transformation, simply enabled by technology. It must therefore be implemented within a broader business strategy that imagines the future and coherently communication everyone’s role within it. Leadership for the project on a cross-departmental basis is therefore essential.

2. Cultural change and buy-in

I cannot stress this enough, but digital transformation goes much broader than technology. IT may be one of the enablers of digital transformation, but it is not the only one.

Managing the people and the cultural change of transformation is often more difficult than the technology, but it is often left out of the equation or simply an afterthought. No change can be undertaken successfully without the people delivering that change being bought into it.

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3. Get a programme manager

The first question to answer is who is going to run the transformation programme? Would it be an IT specialist, a generalist or an operations specialist who has already run a similar programme? Ideally you would need both a programme manager and a transition manager to be effective. Simply having the budget is not enough; you need someone to run it.

4. An appetite for risk

You must accept that you will never have perfect knowledge prior to starting a digital transformation project, and that is ok. Sure it would be more comfortable to know what versions of hardware, software and applications are deployed on each device, where they are, etc., the reality is that the time required to do such analysis would significantly slow or scupper the project altogether.

Data gathering is made even more difficult when you consider how much of your IT and other services are now outsourced, making it even harder to have perfect knowledge. While it is an uncomfortable situation to change an unknown quantity, it can still be done if the appetite for risk is there. The correct use of a risk register to manage, understand and even accept the risks involved is a key element of programme management and will help to drive the programme forward.

5. It’s not just about the cloud

Digital transformation could involve a move to the Cloud, but equally, and more likely, there will be a hybrid model, where legacy platforms may stay on premises, some in datacentres and some in the Cloud. “Cloud first” is no longer government policy, so organisations have the opportunity for more flexibility in their approach.

Transformation is not a one-off event. It is a continual event, which can instil the understanding of the need for continual improvement as a part of the DNA of the organisation. This is truly transformational in that it means that your people are always aware of the need for improvement and you need to have a system for them to be able to offer their ideas for consideration.

The main point to remember is that digital transformation is nothing more than business transformation with a bit of technology added. Once you understand that digital transformation is a change management exercise you immediately realise it should never be run by the IT department — IT is just one piece of the jigsaw; “the business” at large, procurement, commercial, finance, operations, security and legal are also part of it.

Written by Romy Hughes, director, Brightman

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