Just prior to the New Year, the UK government quietly posted a notification that it was “seeking ideas for the next phase of the digital revolution”.
From what I have seen in terms of those responses, they might have been better served by standing on a soapbox at Speakers Corner in Hype Park and asking passers by for their opinions, as their call to action has unleashed a torrent of ‘thought pieces’, opinions and rants from virtually every corner of the UK.
Over the past several years, I have followed with great interest all of the digital transformation programmes that central governments across the world have embraced in their efforts to bring ‘digital to the masses’, while improving government services and efficiencies.
Most of these have now evolved into ‘cults’, with every agenda seeker and crackpot out there opining the virtues of their ‘flavour of digital’ on social media and at every conference imaginable.
During this same time, we have seen ever-increasing budgets allocated to these programmes, high levels of management attrition, and dubious ROI results being promoted as ‘savings realised’.
But the single most glaring aspect that troubles me in virtually all of them is: what is the long-term strategy? It certainly can’t be just making better websites or training the entire population to hack code.
‘Digital’ as a term encompasses all disciplines in respect to embracing all that the web, data and analytics have to offer. There are core competencies that must be leveraged in an organisation’s strategy in order to be an enabler of the desired outcomes from it.
The UK (whether in or out of the EU in the future) must create a competitive strategy that makes it relevant on the world stage in order to capture inordinate levels of external investment and develop the greatest talent pool in all sectors, all at the expense of its peers.
This notion of differentiation is a much more business-like view of the needs of a country, but most have been evolving their thinking in this direction for quite some time now.
If the UK wants to punch above its weight in the world, it needs to make its core competencies the strongest and most sustainable, and difficult to duplicate or commoditise by countries motivated to do so.
A long-term competitive strategy for the UK should fully leverage all of its investments and know-how in digital to date – including capabilities, infrastructure and people – to create clear lines of differentiation in respect to other countries pursuing similar paths. Sustainability for this momentum should be built far into the future.
Here are four things the UK government needs to include in its digital strategy going forward, and a few it definitely doesn’t.
1. Bank digital into long-term strategy
Use digital as a focal point to create sustainable sources of competitive advantage for the UK by baking it into every aspect of the long-term strategy of the country and its the goals. It shouldn’t just be a fashion statement or feel-good programme.
2. Develop digital leaders who are more than cheerleaders and partisan politicians
This includes in the civil service, Cabinet Office and charities, as well as MPs. Regardless of class or age, all citizens should be educated from the earliest age to be literal in digital, throughout their entire academic and trade schooling. And digital leaders must be promoted based on competency and acumen (merit), not beauty, charm or politics.
3. Create a national culture that embraces digital at every turn
‘Digital’ should not just amount to people consuming interesting content over broadband. It should be made an essential element of daily life in all sectors of government, commercial and non-profit.
4. Invest, invest, invest
The government should invest inordinately in education, leadership development, infrastructure and culture to create sustainable sources of competitive advantage in all things digital.
What’s not needed?
1. Superlatives and exemplars
Digital is an evolutionary transition from the analog world we have known for centuries. It is not disruptive, but can be transformational if executed with speed and precision. Hype is not of value in any strategy.
2. Grandiose predictions as to the impact of outcomes or capabilities
At best, digital is incremental in terms of benefits and sources of competitive advantage. It is the execution that is critical, not the idea itself. Benefits will manifest over the long term.
3. Exclusion of any sector from participation
Or realisation of the full benefits of the strategy and its outcomes. All boats must rise accordingly in this strategic journey.