Culture is the secret ingredient for digital transformation

Moving from a traditionally top down structure with hierarchical governance to one that embraces multiple ways of working can be a challenge. Terry Storrar explains why cultural change is central to digital transformation projects in the public sector

Digital transformation is a major priority in the public sector. Across the board, organisations are seeking to implement digital improvements that have the potential to bring enormous benefits to staff and end-users. However, inspiring and actioning meaningful change is challenging. What is central to digital transformation projects in the public sector is cultural change.

On paper digital transformation sounds like a win-win for the public sector. With budgets under more pressure than ever before, it sounds simple to improve digital processes to save money and work more efficiently.

However, resistance and fear of change is a major issue in just about every organisation and sector. Change can be can be hard, and it takes us away from what we know, trust and understand. But change is also incredibly powerful and useful. It can help us do things better, more efficiently and with better results. When it comes to digital change, technology is making such rapid leaps forward every day that public sector organisations must adapt to continue to keep up to date, safe and efficient.

Digital transformation allows the centralising of data and access to that data in a way that facilitates new practices around agility, innovation and efficiency which suits each unique individual and their role. It allows organisations to understand that everyone is a contributor to both the organisation, and the most productive ways of working. Beyond this, it’s also realising that the tools that people need to do their jobs today will not be the same as they need tomorrow.

The public sector challenge
Public sector organisations are complex; ‘work’ is wide ranging, it takes place in multiple locations with myriad pieces of software and hardware. To move forward, the public sector needs to embrace digital change or risk getting left behind with consequences on costs and further pressure on service delivery.

Some sectors have been quicker to embrace digital transformation than others, and attitude towards risk does have a significant bearing on the pace of change. Digital transformation can be a particular challenge for the public sector with diverse departments that adhere to strict policies and processes. Making a mistake with data can have serious repercussions, so the stakes are even higher. As such, relinquishing top down governance, can be an even bigger hurdle to overcome.

Moving from a traditionally top down structure with hierarchical governance to one that embraces multiple ways of working can be a challenge. For IT departments digital transformation present new challenges – how can they allow this to happen quickly and, importantly, securely?

Culture is key
When it comes to real digital change in the public sector we already have the technology ingredients we need to allow people to decide what tools they need to do their job better. Embracing this method of working is a major cultural shift. The secret ingredient to inspire meaningful and progressive change, is a shift in the working behaviour of staff. Resistance to change from individuals, departments and whole organisations is what must be addressed to allow real digital transformation.

Training and education is key to help explain to organisations how they can best navigate digital transformation. Organisations need support and advice about how to move to structures that are more consultative and collaborative and ultimately more effective.

By working in more of a consultative manor with all staff, organisations will gain incredibly valuable information about how they can deliver performance improvements and what tools they need to do that work better. Trusting users to do their job and allowing them the ability to access and use the data they need is not only more effective, it will also lead to more engaged and valued staff.

The approach towards education must be two-fold. Firstly, IT departments must be properly trained in how to keep such open systems secure and working effectively. IT departments can become meaningful agents for change within their organisations if they are confident and knowledgeable about how they can empower other staff.

Secondly, education must take place with the wider staff about how they can make best use of the tools available. Empowering staff with the tools, training and knowledge they need will make them happier, more productive and ultimately more effective in their jobs.

A shift in culture needs to occur across all levels of the organisation, and although this kind of strategy focuses on ground-up change, ongoing senior level buy-in is critical to ensure change is being supported and encouraged throughout the organisation. Digital transformation needs a considered approach of engagement from all stakeholders to break free from limitations both internal and external.

By embracing the right digital tools for your unique organisation and listening to each and every employee that uses them you will be setting yourself up for digital success. Organisations must properly engage with individuals and move from a top down strategy, to one that listens to and educates everyone. They can then move towards real digital transformation knowing that they are still operating safely and securely, but also more effectively. And of course remember that what works today might not tomorrow, so be prepared to embrace a program of constant change.

Terry Storrar is director of Managed Services at MCSA.

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