Digital Transformation & the public sector (Top3ics, April 2017)

Digital Transformation & the public sector (Top3ics, April 2017)

There’s no shortage of resources about Digital Transformation (DT) on my Hub, but unlike most of the resources I curate, I’m not sure I recommend all of them. 

This edition of Top3ics includes three I do recommend, and was triggered by this excellent piece by the ever-reliable Greg Satell:

business gurus … identify the “one true path” to success… when applied to the real world, their advice doesn’t apply as cleanly as they promise and they often contradict each other… Simple rules rarely apply to a messy world…  
- Here’s Why You Should Think Twice Before Listening To Business Gurus

He goes on, of course, to nevertheless identify a theme common to great innovators (he has a book coming out). However, the main point of his post, illustrated by multiple examples, is clear: there is no One Right Way to innovate.

more: 164 resources tagged innovation

Private sector templates don’t transfer

But if a digital transformation template what you’re looking for, the framework which provided the illustration at the top of this post looks promising:

founders of the Hub Institute in Paris, have just released (in French) The guide to Digital Transformation… a useful and simple way for every company to measure its progression, with prioritized steps to follow in order of degree of maturity, as well as defining the next stages to undertake. 
What if we walked the walk of Digital Transformation? 

There’s also Brian Solis’ six stages, McKinsey’s Digital Quotient and 6 building blocks, Wharton’s ‘forgetting organisation’, Adobe’s take, the NYTimes’ two reports (20142017) and much, much, much more. 

Forgive my scepticism - perhaps cynicism - towards cookie-cutter approaches. It’s partly because I, like Tim Malbon, was introduced to “the information super-highway via a dial-up connection”, and so sympathise with his view of Digital Transformation as:

“the next level sh*t of self-delusional auto-exaggeration. Imagine someone grabbed hold of one end of the Gartner Hype Cycle and scraped all of the emerging technologies off it … catching all the hype in a blender. The viscid liquid that comes out at the end would be the elixir of purest technology hype”
I’m having a ‘Digital Transformation’ right now

But mainly because most DT frameworks - hype-ridden or otherwise - are aimed at private companies, whereas most of my digital/innovation work is for the public sector. 

While private sector insights are always useful, the basic paradigm underpinning most private sector digital transformation approaches is unusable by the public sector. It doesn’t matter which you use, in the end you’ll face a change management challenge. And the public sector simply cannot change the way private companies can.

A focus on capacity

Many private sector DT approaches are therefore underpinned by assumptions which are totally unrealistic for the public sector. One approach I do like, however, is to focus on capacity:

a capability-driven model identifies the properties needed by the organisation to be successful in the future even if it cannot predict exactly what is going to happen… digital transformation is more about gradual changes, loosely joined, that move towards the capabilities and ways of working we know we need to create.
The role of the Quantified Organisation in Digital Transformation 

Focusing purely on capacity, however, can be directionless. This can be a major issue for public sector organisations, which don’t have focus-inducing metrics like sales figures and balance sheets, nor the threat of bankruptcy.

So in some recent work for a client, I coupled the capacity approach with an innovation process designed to allow them to identify and resource individual digital innovations, and then mainstream them across the organisation.

This is not ‘transformative’, in the sense of being disruptive. While not as grand-sounding as many digital transformation projects, however, it does have the merit of being implementable by public organisations. 

Practical outsourcing problems

Another problem the public sector has with the private sector DT approaches   could be called the Contractors’ Dilemma.

While public sector organisations need the expertise of external consultants - people who study DT fulltime, and have seen it implemented in several contexts - they generally keep external consultants well away from core strategy, and only bring them onboard for limited periods. 

All of this is the exact opposite of what is required for digital transformation. 

In the recent project, for example, I only met the Director at the presentation of the Final Report, on the very last day of the contract. She declared that it was “the most beautiful two hours I’ll spend in the first few months of this year” (no, really, she did) … and deeply regretted not taking an interest earlier. That’s life.

One solution to the Contractors’ Dilemma was described quite well back in 2014:

a new contract where the focus of consulting support doesn’t fall so much on prompt responses (“I have the answers and come to tell you what to do”) as on the facilitated co-creation and dissemination of new operational models (“I’ll use my experience to accelerate your ability to learn and change) … Only under this condition digital transformation will be made agile and pervasive.
Digital transformation starts from within

Which is why we spent probably 75% of our time on that project interviewing staff in groups and one-on-one. 

I don’t think we came up with anything really earth-shattering. But it was useful, because we:

  • first unearthed what they already had  (or had imagined)— by definition, not incompatible with their existing corporate culture
  • and then helped figure out how they could harness, encourage and systemise it to transform a static organisation into an innovation-friendly one.

In the end, digital transformation you can use is better than hype-written, disruption-rich consultantspeak. The latter may make you feel modern and sexy, it may play really well on the conference circuit and in meetings, but it has no chance of actually happening.

Blogplug & MeetUp: Integrating Communications and Innovation Programmes

That’s all for now, except for a link to my latest post on Medium:

An effective communications strategy must be connected to other strategies, usually managed by different departments. Reframing it as central to your organisation’s innovation strategy helps sidestep turf wars. 
Reframe your communications strategy as part of your Innovation Programme to sidestep internal politics

I’m organising a meetup with people interested in integrating internal and external comms, knowledge management, innovation processes and more, so if you’d like to join us (in Brussels) drop me a line.

PS From the vault: please don’t get me started on webdesign projects masquerading as digital transformation. We saw how that panned out in the UK.

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See also: Digital Transformation , Innovation Strategy , Science&Technology , Business

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