People and processesChange ManagementWhere are all the change managers delivering “digitisation”?

Where are all the change managers delivering “digitisation”?

Digitisation is one of the single biggest changes organisations could make and touches each employee and business process - Romy Hughes, Director, Brightman

Depending on where you sit, digitisation is either the Holy Grail of IT, or the latest meaningless corporate buzzword. It is either a transformational shift in the way organisations operate akin to the industrial revolution, or the latest fad for executives to cling onto to secure their next promotion.

According to a recent Institute for Government report, there are at least 19 “digital transformation” or “digitisation” programmes currently underway, altogether costing just shy of £38 billion.

The reality is most likely a combination of the two and depends entirely on which organisation you are looking at. One thing we can say with more certainty is this; the sheer hype around digitisation and column inches dedicated to it must be encouraging organisations to think bigger when it comes to their IT. Instead of signing off that next departmental SaaS purchase, executives are more likely to hit the pause button and ask broader question posed by digitisation. “Could IT be used differently to transform the entire structure of the organisation?” So far, so good.

Right question, wrong answer

The next logical question is “Who will deliver this transformation?” This is the right question; but not enough people ask it, and fewer still get the right answer. Most of those who advocate digital transformation simply assume IT will deliver it. This is wrong. While digitisation is largely delivered through technology systems, the change required to become a fully digitised organisation simply cannot be achieved by the IT department. It is not IT’s responsibility to deliver holistic change to the organisation, and it certainly is not its expertise.

Think about it this way. Wholesale digitisation is one of the single biggest changes any organisation could do. It will touch every employee and business process. Digitisation is a business change, so it needs to be implemented by change managers. You wouldn’t think twice about enlisting the help of change managers to handle a merger or corporate restructuring, so why wouldn’t you do the same for digitisation? Where are the change managers driving digitisation in the public sector?

Who is delivering change management today?

If the change managers are notably absent, what sort of roles are delivering the 19 digital transformation projects currently underway across the public sector? From our experience, most digitisation projects are let by a myriad of roles, from external IT consultants to project managers, procurement leads and even contract managers. You can imagine the confusion and lack of direction that results from such a mismatch of resources.

In the rare instances where a Director of Transformation (or equivalent) has been appointed, they are often hamstrung by a lack of budget and IT experience. Without a budget they must tap into existing departmental budgets to deliver transformation. This also means they rarely have their own team to support them. One person cannot effectively oversee and manage the transformation of an entire organisation. At the same time, austerity has forced many of these transformation directors away from transformation altogether (because implementing change requires spending money). With no budget of their own and falling budgets elsewhere, their remit has inevitably shifted towards cost-cutting.

The institute for Government has also called out the impact of excessive staff turnover in the civil service, citing the loss of £74 million each year in recruitment, training and lost productivity. The indirect costs of this turnover are even higher, particularly when you consider the impact that disruptive leadership changes have on major, multi-year change management projects like Universal Credit. Digitisation is just another casualty.

You need a change management plan

Given the sheer size of some government departments, it is not uncommon to hear of multiple digital transformation programmes happening at the same time which are not integrated. In the worst-case scenario these different programmes will end up competing with each other to achieve the same result, or at best, the project will simply be wasteful as resources are duplicated among the different streams.

A Change Management plan, implemented by a team with experience in change management, is therefore essential to successfully deliver any form of technology change into the public sector. IT is the interface between the organisation, the business functions, and its suppliers. How these components interact is where the organisation ultimately gains the benefits of the change. If this interaction breaks down – which is often inevitable without prior planning or oversight – the new technology will be left unused, or worse still, it will break the very business process it was seeking to improve.

Change management recognises that IT change goes much deeper than swapping a piece of technology. In many instances, especially in a cloud/server environment (which has naturally been a big focus for the public sector since Cloud First), the end user might not even see a change to their work processes. If the plan is to migrate from a private server environment to a cloud hosted or hybrid one, the end user should not see any change at all. But this does not mean that the change to the business is not significant. The way the organisation governs those services changes, how it manages and looks after those changes, how it measures the business case for them, the financial aspects of paying for them etc. – all of that changes. While the CCS has indicated that Cloud First is under review, migrating to any form of private/public cloud or hybrid environment will have the same impact.

Don’t condemn “digitisation” to be another wasted opportunity. Don’t leave it to IT. Let the change management experts ensure that digitisation truly delivers on its potential.

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