Talking to myself…

A couple of weeks I was asked to created a talking heads video rather than to do an in person talk and – unusually – I was provided with the topic(s) for the talk.

It was only supposed to be five minutes (some of you might have seen me moaning about it on Twitter) and it was a bit of a mess. I couldn’t get the timing or the tone right and found it frustrating – plus I hate editing video and I’m bad at it (I probably hate it because I’m so bad at it).

Anyway I didn’t hate the words I wrote so here they are for posterity.

How do you see digital contributing to transformation for public service institutions?  

To start with I think it is important to start uncoupling the words digital and transformation in the discourse. Organisations embracing digital isn’t transformational anymore – it means reaching the baseline. 

As Tom Loosemore said (three years ago this week) digital can be defined as →

Applying the culture, processes, business models & technologies of the internet era to respond to people’s raised expectations.

We are deep into the internet-era and responding to those expectations is now business as usual if you expect to succeed.

There is no doubt the COVID crisis shone a light on this. Previously immovable obstacles to embracing digital ways of working crumbled over night (or at least over a few weeks) but now the challenge is to not give up ground where progress has been made but also not to take the wrong lessons from these recent months.

Across public service – and especially the NHS – there was a surge of epic change to cope with the unfolding situation – new technologies were embraced, agile approaches were undertaken, risk appetites were reassessed. All of this could be considered ‘digital’ and all of it combined can speed the evolution towards becoming a digital organisation….and it is that that should be the goal because as Janet Hughes once wrote 

Digital is something you are, not something you do

Digital isn’t just about delivering digital products – it is about embracing all those elements from Tom’s definition – becoming an organisation that truly operates as a digital era institution. 

So how will ‘digital’ contribute to the transformation of institutions? It is the transformation.

Organisations that are going to be fit for the future need to make digital the beating heart of the organisation – the trick is to prevent the institutional immune system from rejecting the change.

As a leader, what will you do to deliver transformational digital capabilities that all users love when your teams are working with new in-house developed products, off-the-shelf products and highly integrated legacy products? 

Well I think ‘love’ is the wrong ambition – the success of digital should be when it stops being something you think about – it quietly supports teams delivering outcomes for users but isn’t a topic of a conversation in of itself. 

Anonymity rather than an object of desire.

For a start you need to truly understand your users – both external and internal. Your staff are users too…and often get the short end of the stick. This needs real, ethnographic research. Hastily designed surveys and cherry picked focus groups aren’t enough. You need to get under the skin of needs (not wants) and really identify where to prioritise to make the most impact.

I like to use the RICE method to decide where to focus – reach, impact, confidence and effort provides a simple little equation to remove bias. How many people can we help, how big an impact will it have, can we do it well versus how long will it take.

You need a way to prioritise because there is always too much to do and if everything is a priority nothing is. This is what has crippled more ‘transformation’ programmes than anything else in my experience – and another way COVID disrupted the status quo – it forced a priority!

As for the issue of in-house vs off the shelf vs legacy products I like the Wardley Maps continuum from Genesis to Custom to Product to Utility with each stage having strengths and weaknesses and requiring a real understanding of what your needs are and where the ecosystem for those needs sits. It is not about personal preference despite what you might think from some of the dogma. There are times when an off the shelf product is much more appropriate than building your own product and times when sweating a legacy solution is more appropriate than replacing it. The hard thing is understanding those underlying reasons and maintaining consistency across all your decision making and expectations. 

There are already digital principles as articulated in Service Standards and Manuals across public service and all digital solutions should be assessed (not necessarily formally) against them and no approach should get an ‘out’ by default. Off the shelf products should be held to the same user experience and accessibility standards as an in-house build. In-house builds need to think about security, scalability and service levels to the same extent as off the shelf products. Nothing is perfect and trade offs will always have to be made – but the criteria for the compromises should be consistent. 

So in summary I’d commission deep user research with external and internal users, prioritise opportunities in a consistent way and use the right option for the right problem without prejudice or dogma – holding everything to the same (Service) Standard.

Thanks for your time.

2 responses to “Talking to myself…”

  1. Say what?! Those are two big questions\topics to fit into five minutes! Was your speech well received?

%d bloggers like this: