At this year’s annual PSE ICT conference, delegates gained valuable insight from a panel of experts on “how local authorities are approaching digital change”. Speakers included Simon Hughes of Mid Sussex District Council and Maryvonne Hassell of Aylesbury Vale District Council, who each shared their experiences of how their own organisations achieved success via two very different approaches.
Mid-Sussex District Council: The significance of user experience
Simon began his work at Mid-Sussex at a time when confidence in any kind of digital change was at an all-time low. Senior executives were particularly risk-averse following several failed initiatives and part of his early brief was to avoid any long-term strategic plans altogether.
So to work alongside this degree of scepticism, he adopted an approach which involved using agile principles to make small incremental changes.
“What’s the minimum viable change we can make - learn from that and build on it quickly.”
Rather than a five year programme, the details of the strategy were simply created on Trello and shared with staff and Members. This step-by-step mindset minimised any risk, which in turn alleviated a great deal of associated anxieties. Simon went on to explain the importance of user experience.
“For us, digital isn’t just about the technical stuff, it’s about people and culture.”
This ethos passes much of the control to internal and external service users who are encouraged to be part of the change, rather than simply have it happen to them. By giving users an incentive to think about the technology themselves, this increases the chance that it will be proactively embraced.
“User experience is so significant in what our staff and teams do.”
Aylesbury Vale District Council: Driving organisational change
Aylesbury approach digital change in a different way entirely and Maryvonne began by explaining that the senior executives are particularly innovative and keen to tackle transformation. With this as a backdrop, longer-term strategies have been implemented wholeheartedly, even if they had wide-ranging implications.
It became clear that Aylesbury uses a stepped approach to change with each set of successes being built upon by the next. For example, around five years ago, the Council began its cloud migration which has now been successfully implemented (with Amazon Web Services). Building on this, the decision was made move all services online, including transactions.
However, Maryvonne and her team soon realised that this next step required structural alterations to the very fabric of the organisation. Hence, the Council created “sectors”, including a customer sector that’s focused on all forms of contact, irrespective of the back-end service. The restructuring also included rewriting job descriptions, as there were previously 328 for only 450 staff.
Over the next five years, a “technical digital strategy” will drive even more innovation around customer interaction.
“We’re going to take the next step and create a complete unified digital platform with all of our data connected together…”
“…a set of applications can sit on top of that, which will intelligently analyse the information and use AI to actually look at patterns of behaviour: to do fraud detection, to understand our customers' needs, and proactively suggest new things that they will want to interact with.”
Ultimately, this will mean that all customers will be treated in the same way, via the same system, irrespective of whether they’re internal or external.
What have been the key barriers to overcome with elected Members?
Both Simon and Maryvonne cited the importance of educating Members to alleviate any concerns they may have. For example, both used analytics to highlight that, contrary to popular belief, the main users of digital services are in fact the elderly. Simon mentioned that Mid-Sussex had also undertaken a phase of “reverse mentoring” which involved Members being mentored by young people to demonstrate how they currently interact with technology.
Is cloud a prerequisite for transformation success?
Eduserv’s Max Elliott-Massouras responded to say that cloud was by no means a prerequisite, although it does help to provide a focal point for broader transformation.
Is moving to Office365 actually transformative or is it avoiding transformation by sticking with known ways of working?
The panel agreed that moving to Office365 was not transformative in itself, but it was a “quick win” and could support a wider programme of reforms.
How do we encourage users to embed technological change and transform how they work, rather than just adding the new technology to their old ways of working?
Max’s view summed up the consensus: “Let them use the tools they want to use, but just have a level of visibility and governance around it.”
It was also pointed out that organisations should consider the 1-9-90 rule whereby 1% create ideas, 9% comment on those ideas, and 90% follow. So with this in mind, it’s vital to understand who the 1% and the 9% are within your respective teams.
The audience were asked to vote on two questions.
Does your organisation have a digital strategy as well as (or instead of) an IT strategy?
Jos Creese, a Principal Analyst here at Eduserv, commented on the poll results, where 50 conference delegates voted:
“Nearly 50% of respondents said they have a digital strategy, although it is likely that many of these will be in specific areas – individual programmes or service areas – rather than a total organisation-wide digital strategy deeply embedded into corporate and Business strategy.
This suggests the digital strategy and digital transformation are still very high on the agenda for local public services and local government in particular.”
Has your organisation formally adopted an agile development method for digital projects and programmes?
“Nearly 80% of the panel discussion delegates are planning to, or are already using agile development methods.
This is reassuring, given traditional ways of developing IT systems and solutions have proved to be too slow and cumbersome, especially in the public sector. Short, iterative and agile methods create a greater likelihood of successful delivery, offering greater scope for adjustment as circumstances change (and they usually do).” [Jos Creese, Eduserv]
In summary, the panel featured two very clear underlying themes. Firstly, digital transformation can be approached in entirely different ways and long-term strategic plans only work when the organisation is ready for them. Secondly, the most important aspect of change is the people involved, and only when they’re an integral part of shaping their own experiences, can you move towards a successful outcome.