It was a genuine privilege to be able to take part in the recent Public Sector Enterprise ICT conference in London. Senior leaders from both central and local government met to debate and share learnings on digital strategy in public services. ‘Digital transformation’ is starting to become an overhyped buzzword, however the conference speakers delivered some excellent, insightful and thought-provoking presentations on what’s required to make digital transformation REALLY work.

The conference was chaired brilliantly by David Bicknell, Editor, Government Computing, using his knowledge and experience to facilitate the discussions and keep the event on track. The many interesting topics covered include data, artificial intelligence and, of course, digital transformation and change.

I thoroughly enjoyed the keynote speech by Warren Towns, CTO, the Department for International Trade, and one of the key points was that the public sector needs to get rid of the fear. Public sector technology has come a very long way since the arrival of the first government iPads and their EtchASketch type capability. Nonetheless, in order to achieve continuous progress you have to stay agile and be prepared to try something new. For example, some shadow IT can bring benefits. 

 

Jan Roszkowski, Chief Information Officer, and Kate Evans, Associate Director Digital, Ofqual shared the ups and downs of their organisation’s digital transformation journey which started three years ago. The new strategy (or mission!) has included a move into the cloud, adoption of 365 and other new agile solutions as well as, importantly, a significant cultural shift.

 

 

 

John Jackson, CEO, London Grid for Learning, delivered an interesting as well as inspiring presentation. Jackson talked about how digital often can be relatively easy to adopt, however is irrelevant unless it is actually absorbed and embraced by users. Ensuring absorption of digital services is the tricky bit. Users need to learn and believe that digital, if done well, actually is fun, frees up their time and has the potential to empower them.

 

 

 

Rob Miller, Director of ICT, the London Borough of Hackney, shared details of Hackney’s digital manifesto. Miller’s top tip was to rip up any digital strategy that is too big and complicated. Make your digital plans simple and ensure they meet the needs of the people first. In addition, public sector organisations need to force a cultural shift and learn how to embrace agile, collaborative working. 

In this context, Miller also talked a great deal about the necessity to alter our attitude towards risk:

“We need to change our relationship with failure. Fail fast, recalibrate, be bold.”

 

 

 

There were many excellent take outs on digital strategy from this conference and the thinking is very closely aligned with my own.

I operate in the area of ICT skills, leadership and talent and always try to encourage clients to be brave enough to take a risk and ‘hire differently’. By looking outside of their own sector, specialism or stereotype they can find that exceptional talent that will develop and thrive in their organisation.

In order to achieve digital change and transformation, we need to have the vision, courage and freedom to do things differently.

 

Failing should be seen as simply learning how to succeed.