On May 26, 2021 Noord hosted a multi-stream virtual boardroom in association with Radware. The event consisted of an overview by Stephen Jamieson, Regional Manager (UK, Ireland & Nordics) at Radware, followed by a discussion among senior IT professionals on their organisations’ experiences of digital transformation.
Opening of the session
Stephen Jamieson gave a brief overview of the topic, noting that while most organisations have embarked on a digital journey, the concept of digital transformation means different things to different people. He explained that an organisation’s digital maturity can be broken down into four key stages: one-off social and mobile apps; immersive citizen experiences; digital agency alignment; and agency process model disruption and transformation. With most public sector organisations seemingly at stages one or two, it is difficult for them to prove the value of the benefits that digitalisation can bring at these early stages, both to service users and employees.
In terms of barriers to adoption of digital, Stephen drew on the findings of several reports. According to research by Prophet, digital transformation is still perceived as a cost centre by 28% of respondents. 26% cited resistance to change as a barrier, while 26% had legal and compliance concerns. In addition, a study by Fujitsu had found that complexity of implementation is the biggest challenge for over three-quarters of respondents. A similar proportion cited the availability of talented staff (75%), upfront costs (75%), the time necessary to achieve benefits (75%) and security and privacy concerns (74%).
Stephen then explained that as companies become more IT and cloud based, they use Radware to secure their digital experience. Radware makes applications available, keeps data secure, and protects organisations during their cloud transition.
He noted that many of the challenges that can occur with digital transformation had been exacerbated by the pandemic. Common challenges were staying open for business, protecting user data, securing cloud apps, and finding the necessary resources and expertise.
Reasons for attending and key challenges faced
Many delegates were representing various strands of the public sector, including local borough and city councils and a large healthcare provider. One borough council was facing the challenge of digitising 100 years’ worth of physical archive materials, while a representative from a city council noted that their biggest challenge is users’ reluctance to use the digital pathways implemented, exacerbated by the widespread digital poverty in the region. Moreover, an attendee from the healthcare sector noted that the challenge ahead lay in maintaining the support, passion and determination fostered during the pandemic, and in securing processes where ‘things have been built on sand’. An IT professional representing a special police force captured the mood in noting that the onus for digital transformation still falls on IT departments, but to truly achieve digital maturity, organisations need to see it as a business challenge and extract business value from it.
Driving digital transformation
When asked whether their organisation’s strategy was driven by leadership or frontline teams, a representative of a healthcare body noted that it had been difficult to galvanise frontline drive due to a skills and confidence deficit. It was felt that when developing public-facing ecosystems, organisations rarely consider the end user and sometimes fail to train staff on the potential of having shared information across an ecosystem. That said, within the healthcare sector, an approach centred around co-production had elicited enthusiasm from employees.
Another delegate noted that within local authorities, senior leadership tend to want to be seen to be implementing digital strategies but don’t understand that services need to be targeted at the public. They therefore need to think harder about the needs of specific demographics before launching into digital-first strategies.
Driving internal efficiencies through technology
The point was made by several attendees that for non-IT experts within organisations, shiny new solutions often take precedence over business requirements. It was therefore felt that people don’t have objectives in mind and that digital is seen as a buzzword for progress. As a potential solution to this, one attendee cited the Outcome-Based Accountability framework, which has been developed for public services and encourages organisations to start with the ‘why’, then consider the ‘how’ and lastly the ‘what’. Stakeholder engagement was also suggested as a way of ensuring that organisations are meeting the needs of their users.
Exploring synergies: common systems for common purposes
It was felt that greater assistance from the government would be required to develop shared systems across the public sector, with one attendee describing service sharing as a minefield. While there was felt to be great opportunity in this area, the point was made that organisations tend to be reluctant to use services other than their own. Four major barriers to service sharing were mentioned, namely: silos; capacity and capability; tribalism and protectionism; and misaligned incentives. In particular, organisations tend to be reluctant to develop shared systems when there aren’t immediate individual benefits to them.
The future of home working
There were examples of organisations downscaling physical premises with a view to making remote working more permanent. One organisation had seen a sustained 20% increase in productivity with staff working from home, while another noted that the dead time spent commuting could be better utilised when working from home. However, it was felt that a hybrid approach would be essential, as there are as many valid reasons for wanting to work in the office as there are for wanting to work from home, including to avoid the isolation that home working can cause and to remedy the lack of opportunity for face-to-face interaction. Moreover, giving people as much flexibility as possible had meant that one organisation had been able to retain more staff and recruit from previously untapped labour pools.
Examples of RPA adoption
There was a brief discussion on robotic process automation, with one university having successfully automated its production of student cards, which had enabled it to scale back its temporary workforce significantly, and another having invested in an RPA academy to train up junior staff within the organisation. However, the point was made that the corporate world tends to be further ahead of the curve in RPA, particularly when it comes to data reporting and migration.
Reflecting on the pandemic and lessons learned
When asked what they would prioritise to enable greater digital transformation if they had their Covid time again, attendees made a range of observations. It was felt that the impact of in-person interaction had perhaps been underestimated, and it had since become clear that video calls were not a democratic space – with some employees being more dominant and some more reticent, which resulted in a lack of full engagement. In this context, it was felt that simply stating ‘nothing from me’ could help the conversation to flow better, given the difficulty of reading non-verbal cues on video calls.
Another attendee noted that they would have kept a video diary in hindsight, as they can remember major stages of their organisation’s evolution during the pandemic but not specific learning points. Moreover, while the pandemic had given many employees an immediate sense of purpose, technologists had fallen under enormous pressure and had perhaps felt disassociated from their purpose and from the rest of their organisation.
Closing of the session
Stephen noted that no single organisation has mastered digital transformation, and that each one has a different part of the story. Crucially, organisions should cultivate the cherry tree rather than focusing on what the cherry will look like on the cake. They should also focus on the end user, including by ensuring that people can still access services in a range of different ways.