‘This thing of ours’ isn’t JUST about people..

Like many of us in ‘this thing of ours’ I am prone to making statements like — digital is all about people. In fact here is a picture of me standing in front of a massive screen saying something similar:


Now I stand by this but sometimes I worry I mean something different when I say this than some other folks and a couple of related comments I’ve seen recently have inspired me to dig into what I mean by this.

Paul Shelter recently had a little Twitter rant on this topic..

..and while I don’t entirely agree with the entire thread I believe there is a core truth there.

Then today James (the boss) posted the following (which led to a bit of a rewrite of this post!);

“Digital Transformation” — people say, “its about culture not tech.” True, of course, but understanding modern tech, associated practice and what sort of tech and related talent you need to attract are a vital part of that culture. As long as its that and not — “I can’t be bothered to learn about the tech that powers this stuff so I’ll make out its not really important” then that’s ok. There’s a difference.

Which I think it making a related point. That is in our efforts to change the narrative from ‘digital transformation’ being all about technology we have over-corrected.

Like Trump’s tweets I often find there is a Richard Pope post for every occasion — and once again here we are. Almost exactly two years ago he wrote about ‘It’s not about the technology — apart from when it is..

Technology does matter. Good digital / design / business / transformation / culture / strategy requires an understanding of the materials.

I’m a believer in ‘service design’ (if not always in the idea of Service Designers) and believe it is a genuine force for good in the world — especially in the ‘internet of public service’. I believe the elevation of ‘design’ in the public sector is a good thing and initiatives like Essex CC focusing on a ‘service design’ transformation to be a useful reframing…

…but I don’t think it negates the fact that an understanding of the opportunities offered by modern approaches to technology and broadly the Internet are the canvas upon which we are designing.

Applying the culture, practices, processes & technologies of the Internet-era to respond to people’s raised expectations.

I feel like I refer back to Tom’s definition of digital every week but it is the gift that keeps on giving. When I talk about ‘digital being about people’ — I mean two things.

  1. People who already totally grasp this definition
  2. People we have to convince.

Applying the culture, practices, processes & technologies of the Internet-era to respond to people’s raised expectations.

We absolutely do need great designers but we also need people who really understand the technologies now (and next) who can work out the best ways to implement that design thinking. Much as I hate the ‘lipstick on a pig’ accusations — (any) design without equal efforts to rethink technology leaves itself wide open.

We need technologists who understand privacy and issues around data sharing.

Who understand security without destroying the user experience.

Who can spot the next big thing vs the Emperors new clothes.

Now I am neither a technologist nor a designer. So I think I can be Switzerland here and say that it is the magic of the team — of disciplines working together — that makes this ‘thing of ours’ work….It is about people. It is about design. It is also still about technology.

Also — lets not pretend otherwise — it is also still about savings. To one extent or another most digital transformation programmes in the public sector are built upon Business Cases promising savings. This is probably a shared psychosis given how rarely the savings are actually realised but if they do happen the savings come from opportunities to simplify infrastructure etc more often than not….and this needs people who really understand it to do it well, safely and securely.

So anyway isn’t JUST about people..