A digital transformation checklist for the public sector

Romy Hughes looks at the five prerequisites necessary to deliver transformation in the public sector

When the coronavirus lockdown took hold in March, every organisation that remained open was forced to accelerate its homeworking plans. The speed at which organisations were able to deliver homeworking for example was staggering, and left many organisations asking themselves why they hadn’t done it sooner.

But Covid-19 didn’t create the business case for home working; it simply took away the excuses not to do it. The broader business case for digital transformation was compelling enough long before Covid-19 ever entered our vocabulary. Coronavirus simply accelerated the change because there were no more excuses not to do it.

Now that society is beginning to open up again and we are being encouraged back to work, and homeworking is perhaps a less essential driver of digital transformation, organisations are starting to look at the many broader benefits that digital transformation offers, such as paperless and contactless working, greater employee mobility, Big Data analytics, improved customer experience, new collaboration opportunities etc.

With this in mind, what are the building blocks necessary for the public sector to make a successful shift to digital transformation?

1. Leadership from the very top: It is critical to have top level buy-in when embarking on the digital transformation journey. Without this and the ambition to succeed, there is little chance of success. Leadership is essential when you realise that digital transformation is not an IT project; it goes much broader than that. Digital Transformation is business transformation, with some tech added. It must therefore be implemented within a broader business strategy that imagines the future and coherently communication everyone’s role within it. Leadership for the project on a cross-departmental basis is therefore essential.

2. Cultural change and buy-in: Digital transformation is much broader than technology. After all, IT is just one aspect of the change. Managing the people and the cultural change of transformation is often more difficult than the technology, but it is often left out of the equation or simply an afterthought. No change can be undertaken successfully without the people delivering that change being bought into it.

3. The need for a programme manager: Having the budget is not enough. The first question to answer is who is going to run the programme? Would it be an IT specialist, a generalist or an operations specialist who has already run a similar programme? Ideally you would need both a programme manager and a transition manager to be effective.

4. An appetite for risk: While it would be more comfortable to begin a project as extensive as digital transformation with perfect knowledge of the status quo (i.e. what versions of hardware, software and applications are deployed on each device, where they are, etc.), the reality is that the time required to do the analysis as completely as you’d like would significantly slow or scupper the project. Data gathering is particularly difficult when you consider how much IT and other services are now outsourced, so you may never have perfect knowledge. While it is an uncomfortable situation to change an unknown quantity, it can still be done if the appetite for risk is there. The correct use of a risk register manage, understand and even accept the risks involved is a key element of programme management and will help to drive the programme forward.

5. It’s not just about the cloud: Digital transformation could involve a move to the Cloud, but equally and more likely there will be a hybrid model, where legacy platforms may stay on premises, some in datacentres and some in the Cloud. ‘Cloud First’ is no longer government policy, so organisations have the opportunity for more flexibility in their approach.

The main point to remember is that digital transformation is nothing more than business transformation with a bit of technology added. Once you understand that digital transformation is a change management exercise you immediately realise it should never be run by the IT department – IT is just one piece of the jigsaw; ‘the business’ at large, procurement, commercial, finance, operations, security and legal are also part of it.

By Romy Hughes, director of Brightman.