Previously, we explored: Building the right strategy for your Digital Transformation Programme.

In part 2, which focuses on planning for your Digital Transformation Programme, Nick explains that an organisation must reorganise itself to realise benefits from technology.

Mindful: It can sometimes feel like quite a challenge to extricate your department from existing arrangements because of the scale and complexity of the works involved. What’s your view on how Programme Leaders should deal with this?

Nick: I agree with you that it is difficult. I think what’s important is sponsorship and leadership. If I’m running a programme it’s really important to be given a mandate to spend money or resource in ways that are not necessarily guaranteed to deliver an old school business case saving. If you are looking to try new things it’s equally as successful as an outcome for you to learn that the new thing you’re trying doesn’t actually work, if it is experimentation.

If I reflect on some of the work that we did at the Home Office on automation, what was important was having an executive sponsor who enriched and recognised the value in spending money on proof of concepts, and actually proving or disproving a concept. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to end up then rolling that concept out across the organisation. I think it will be quite difficult with the way that business cases are constructed to be given that permission because at the end of the day the programme works is going to pay for itself. We were only able to do it because within our wider business case there was scope for us to be able to spend some money in that way. So, for me, probably more than actually the planning of it, the important thing is the mandate and the sponsorship.

Mindful: What key messages should Programme Directors bring forth in their business cases when seeking funding approval?

Nick: From my point of view, the messaging in terms of strategy is very much about removing unnecessary work and removing unnecessary effort. Not necessarily so that we can just take money or further resources out of the system. For us, it’s very much about the messaging around people being able to focus all of their time and energy on the core citizen activity that generates outcomes for the citizen, and not the back-office activity that is just a distraction really.

“The messaging in terms of strategy is very much about removing unnecessary work and removing unnecessary effort.”

I think many programmes like ours fit that agenda because it’s about saying we’re going to let people focus their energy on the activities they do, but also support citizen outcomes. When we’re giving them those tools that help them focus that, and spend less time on this stuff, we’re also going to be able to make better, smarter decisions. This is because we’ll have access to the data set which will allow us to conduct the right analysis to know how to spend money smarter in the future.

Mindful: Research from Harvard Business Review suggests that in the region of seventy-five percent (75%) of Digital Transformation programmes don’t achieve everything they set out to achieve. Given Digital Transformation programmes have statistically low odds of success, what mechanisms should be built into programmes to assure success?

Nick: I think you’ve got to be really specific about what it is you’re trying to achieve. It’s very easy to think that implementing the technology will deliver benefits and I would say that Digital Transformation isn’t any different from anything we’ve been doing for the last fifty years. First of all, you have to understand the IT and what new ways of working the IT will enable, because the thing that delivers the benefits is people moving to new ways of working, and not the IT.

“First of all, you have to understand the IT and what new ways of working the IT will enable.”

One of the things I’ve learned is that it’s really important upfront to make sure that you are not saying that when we switch on this new system these benefits will flow. Instead, what you’re saying to the organisation is that when we test this system that it is going to show that the IT and the business processes that are embedded in that IT are working the way that we specified them. That’s what user testing is. The other important thing for realising benefits is that the people who work for you in the organisation are moving to the new ways of working that IT enables. And if they don’t move to those new ways of working then you wouldn’t get the benefits from it.

This probably sounds quite basic but if you think about a lot of programmes it is based on ‘we’ll move to the new technology and then we’ll get the following benefits’. However, a lot of the time when you don’t get the following benefits it’s not because the technology doesn’t work. And it’s not because the technology doesn’t do what you thought it was going to do. It’s because your organisation hasn’t reorganised itself in order to exploit it properly, and to work in a different way. Setting up a programme with a focus on benefits means facing the fact that you will have to make decisions about how people work and how they are organised, and reorganising the way that the people in our team’s work. These are really all of the things that deliver the benefit. The digital stuff and the IT stuff is just an enabler to that.

The irony is that when you’re making a business case to seniors and you’re saying this will bring lots of benefits with it, you may be met with scepticism. Actually, you need to turn the tables on your stakeholders and say whether this has got benefits is really down to you. I can show you the way this IT will enable different ways of organising your people and different ways of working for them. But the key to whether that delivers any benefit at all is whether or not you are prepared to reorganise the way that you work and tell people that we are now going to do things in a different way. As a Programme Director, taking that challenge to your stakeholders at the start is probably quite a smart move. But if the organisation isn’t up for that challenge then it may mean some projects shouldn’t go ahead until they are.

Next week we will release part 3 of our interview with Nick, which focuses on the execution of your Digital Transformation Programme. If you can’t wait till then, sign up to receive the full transcript now.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organisation, employer or company.