Amid rising citizen expectations, new workforce requirements, changing demographics and ever-tightening financial constraints, the public sector is under enormous pressure to become more agile and efficient.
To deliver more with less, it’s crucial to embrace digital capabilities. However, public sector organisations also need more than just new technologies—they need to inspire, instil and implement transformation inside and out. Here are my top tips for success:
1. Define digital change
“Nothing should be off the table, digital can radically transform the way we operate.” - Andrew Cox, Head of Service Transformation, Watford Brough Council.
In our experience, there’s always one common theme behind successful transformation: a clear view of where you want to get to and what you want to achieve along the way.
For CIOs, transformation is a no-brainer. From enabling automation to embracing the cloud, new digital capabilities can touch every area of operations—empowering greater agility, dramatic cost-savings and more. However, it’s crucial to ask what digital means for everyone else in the organisation.
Many staff—sometimes even other C-level executives—perceive digital transformation as little more than changing paper-based documents into electronic files. As such, they miss all the thrilling opportunities digital can unleash, including its potential to make their own work more effective, interesting and meaningful.
By taking the time to establish a clear vision for the future, CIOs can educate everyone involved on what needs to change and why. With a compelling vision that inspires people to take action, organisations are much more likely to stay focused on the right goals and drive successful transformation.
2. Develop a detailed strategy
“We have a clear vision of where we are and where we want to be, but [the] journey between the two is difficult.” - Simone Davey, Customer Services & Business Support Manager, North Somerset Council.
As ever more public sector organisations embrace digital change, it’s worrying that almost two-thirds of CIOs admit they have no formal transformation plan in place.
It’s easy to be caught up in the huge potential of new technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Robotic Process Automation or the Internet of Things, but don’t invest blindly. When it comes to digital transformation, the goal isn’t digital—it’s transformation: enabling staff, services and operations to become more efficient and effective. The value comes from doing things differently, technology just makes that possible.
To that end, it’s essential to develop a detailed transformation strategy. Consider how prepared the organisation is for change. Engage with senior leaders, staff, citizens and partners to understand their needs. Assess the new skills needed to capitalise on fresh technologies. Discuss how change will be implemented—outlining priorities, milestones, investments and predicted gains. All these factors and more will help shape your strategy and flesh out your approach.
3. Lead from the top
“It’s important for leaders to listen and reflect on what’s different now…historic experiences shouldn’t necessarily inform what they want to do in the future.” - Charles Mindenhall, Founder, Blenheim Chalcot.
Even the most detailed transformation strategy will fail without crucial buy-in from senior executives. Change needs to be led from the top, then cascaded down to everyone else in the organisation. Indeed, digital transformation is five times more likely to succeed when CEOs communicate a compelling, high-level change story that’s both tangible and digestible.
The best way to achieve buy-in from senior leaders is to encourage their involvement from the outset: meet with them regularly to demonstrate the benefits of change, highlight positive feedback and be as responsive to their input and ideas as possible.
Remember that transformation is a journey, not a destination. Digital change usually happens gradually to avoid any negative impact on the organisation—often taking years, rather than weeks and months. As a result, leaders need to be in it for the long-haul, firmly pledging the time, money and resources needed to transform operations.
If at any point senior leaders start to waver in their commitment to change, halt transformation projects immediately and reconnect with them to eliminate any confusion and ensure you’re still on the same page.
4. Keep communicating.
“I think the public sector is waking up. I think we’re moving at a reasonable pace, and it’s not just our local authority, it’s across the country as well.” - Shazia Hussain, Divisional Director of Customer Service, London Borough of Tower Hamlets.
To manage transformation most effectively, digital projects should be overseen centrally by the IT department. This ensures resources are used efficiently—avoiding any overlap, interference or competition between projects, as well as minimising the chance of ‘rogue’ initiatives being hatched in different divisions.
However, IT can be seen as controlling and isolated from the wider organisation when driving digital change. As a result, it’s essential to focus on effective communication. Ensure everyone understands the overall plan, as well as what each project contributes to it.
Lines of communication must remain open at all times. Perhaps the best way to achieve this is also the simplest: the CIO or project leaders should regularly tour the organisation, checking in with managers, employees and end-users face-to-face.
With clear and effective communication, everyone will be able to understand what’s happening, why and how they can help. Showing why change is relevant and beneficial to each and every person is a sure fire way to set digital transformation up for success.
If you’re a GovTech leader looking to accelerate bold thinking, ambitious transformation and successful outcomes, discover more about how the right technology solutions can drive effective change.