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Listen to the EBP skills for digital change webinar

We are all told that ‘digital’ is much more about ‘people and cultures’ than it is about ‘process and technology’, so why is it that so many digital programmes still gravitate back to a technology focus (systems, websites, cyber, iPads, social media tools etc), and why are so few HR professionals at the heart of digital change, at least, it seems, in the public sector?

Following detailed research that Eduserv’s Executive Briefing Programme undertook with the PPMA (Public Service People Managers Association), using surveys, interviews and a range of roundtable discussions with HR and digital leaders, the week we hosted a Webinar to look at findings in more depth and challenge some current thinking.

HR leadership evolving

Caroline Nugent, PPMA president and HR director at oneSource, made the point in opening the discussion, that digital skills need to move higher up the agenda for councils, in order to become central to change leadership. She described how HR leaders should be seen in five years’ time: digitally savvy innovators, no longer primarily operational, but true business partners with a focus on strategy and change well beyond the traditional HR function. She stressed the importance of political and board level advocacy for digital skills on this journey.

But how do we get to that position? According to our EBP survey, only 3% of councils reported that digital literacy of frontline staff is good, and yet at the same time less than half said they had any plan to address this! So, there is a hill to climb.

New cultures needed

Neill Crump, Head of Digital Transformation and Customer Services for Worcestershire County Council, discussed the need for new cultures to be set in councils if they are to have a strong basis for digital operation. He believes this must include lifelong learning, an environment of collaboration and a more agile approach to delivery. Central to this must be a focus on the customer, with council leaders adapting their behaviour accordingly. He challenged whether councils are sufficiently involved in working collaboratively with customers and other public service organisations, which should be an essential part of the digital journey.

These points were well-made, and the culture in many councils does seem to be ‘behind the curve’ in terms of digital readiness. For example, the EBP survey of HR professionals suggested that less than a third promote digital skills in either recruitment or in performance measures. Clearly work still to be done in reshaping the workforce to operate in a digital fashion, and HR professionals need to take more of a lead in this.

Changing public service delivery models

Kushal Birla, Head of Customer Services at Warwickshire County Council, spoke about the way in which councils are changing their public service delivery models to embrace digital, enabling partnerships, self-service and eliminating avoidable contact. She discussed the need for councils to keep pace in terms of skills, practice and policies, and the part to be played by HR professionals in changing how we see, design and deliver true digital customer service.

There was an interesting point made, backed up by questions from the audience, that often barriers in digital skills in the workforce may be overstated, since we all use smart phones, Facebook, Amazon and other digital tools at home. There may be an issue about how we design and deliver intuitive and simple to access systems, but also how we encourage digital skills to be used at work, not left behind at the door on the way into the office!

HR as strategic business partners

In general, there was a feeling that the HR profession is traditional and needs some modernisation. This is more than simply moving from operational HR to strategic business partner functions, and it includes acquiring digital knowledge and technology skills. In the webinar, we spoke about the future where HR professionals’ use of technology such as low code tools to develop systems is commonplace, without needing any IT support. We are some way from this today.

One future model described in the webinar, and already been tried in some local councils, brings together change managers, programme managers, business analysts, OD, L & D and traditional HR in single teams. For example, Stevenage is trialling this, and the panel agreed that this was innovative and the right direction of travel. As one webinar participant put it, digital has to be in the DNA of the organisation.

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Listen to the webinar

If you couldn’t join the webinar, or you are an HR professional or someone associated with cultural change in digital programmes, I’d encourage you to listen to the video recording. There is some real insight, new ideas and practical guidance from our panelists.

You can also find out more about the skills required and how to develop these in the organisation from our research report ‘Skills for digital change’.

About the author

Jos Creese

As Principal Analyst, Jos acts as the face of our Local Government Executive Briefing programme, independently educating IT and business leaders on a range of business issues and technological challenges. Jos is an independent consultant specialising in helping organisations shift to digital operating models, especially in the public sector. With over 25 years' IT management experience, he has held a number of CIO and non-executive director positions, including with Hampshire County Council as CIO and CDO, supporting business change programmes enabled by IT and leading many IT shared services and IT partnerships in the region. He was president of the Society of IT Management in 2010 and is current president of BCS (the Chartered Institute for IT). He has been named the ‘most influential and innovative UK CIO’ listed in the ‘Top 100 CIO’ since its inception.

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