Taking a step back before the next big leap in digital transformation

Dr Gerald Power is RedQuadrant’s director of customer-led transformation and service lead for digital change and digital delivery.

The last two years has been ‘challenging’ to say the least for public sector delivery organisations as they have had to cope with the direct and indirect impact of covid. In many ways covid greatly accelerated change that was overdue and we are seeing step-changes in how service delivery is done and realising very tangible benefits from this. However, those with an interest in change and may also recognise a need to pause and reflect and three areas stand out as in particular need of attention before the next push forward:

i) Ensuring all your internal stakeholders are engaging in solution development. The last two years will have seen some major leaps forward in using cloud storage, Software As a Solution (SAS), use of AI, virtual working and online self-service. However, not all stakeholders will have kept up with this. Those on the ‘front line’ coping with crisis after crisis may not understand the nature of the new technologies being used. There is a need to help them ‘catch up’ and give them space to engage in discussions on how to best exploit it rather than imposing solutions on them.

ii) Thinking in terms of Enterprise Architecture (EA). Using cloud technologies and SAS solutions have many big advantages, but they also create challenges technically and commercially. EA is no longer something that the senior team can ignore or delegate; they have to develop sufficient understanding to establish EA’s that are resilient and effective.

iii) Challenging ways of working and job roles. The sea-change in technology and ways of working should fundamentally change job roles and how performance is monitored. But, this requires transformative change and needs effort and leadership.

In response to the call to reflect there will be the inevitable ‘so what question’, why spend time on analysis and reflection when the technology clearly works and we desperately need efficiency. In response, I would remind readers of NASA and their ‘faster, cheaper, better’ approach.

In the 1990s NASA pioneered an aggressively optimistic approach to programme management which was summarised as ‘faster, cheaper, better’. Initially, it worked very well and the space programme leapt forward rapidly. However, early success was followed by several major disasters including the loss of two space shuttles with their crews. The ‘faster, cheaper, better’ phase was later amended with many programme managers adding ‘pick any two’ to it. While it may not be entirely true that you can’t have all three the NASA experience highlights how important it is to reflect and test when transformative change is happening rapidly and ‘faster, cheaper, better’ might be too good to be true.