Key Principles for Digital Transformation

A couple of weeks ago we began discussing what we were doing about digital transformation. We knew we needed to do something, but nobody knew exactly what it looked like in practice. We had a few ideas kicking around and examples of best practice from elsewhere, but nothing seemed to fit with our position on the learning curve.

I was fairly certain that we didn’t need another strategy. At this moment in time, we don’t quite have enough people in the right places with the digital mindset to deliver it.

What we need is the precursor to the strategy. A way to kick start an environment that is conducive to a more modern way of working. A set of digital principles to consider before embarking on new stuff. A means of prompting discussion about how all this works in reality and what we need to do to get there.

This is my attempt at defining those principles. This is a working out loud exercise, so consider this the first draft that I’m putting out there to overcome inertia & procrastination. Any feedback gratefully received.

This document will set out some key principles for digital transformation. It is not intended as a rule set to enforce upon people, but rather the foundations upon which others can build and iterate.


What is digital transformation?

Digital : Applying the culture, practices, processes & technologies of the Internet-era to respond to people’s raised expectations.

Tom Loosemore — founder of Government Digital Service

Therefore, digital transformation can be thought of as the journey to make Cadwyn fit for the Internet-era and meet people’s raised expectations.

Why do we need it?

The Internet continues to have a profound effect on the ways people interact with organisations and each other. The digital revolution isn’t coming, it’s been here for a while and is rapidly picking up pace.

The way in which we communicate, organise, watch tv, learn, bank and shop have experienced massive change. In the space of ten years, we went from basic mobile phones to iPhones. From Internet cafes to Internet everywhere.

This represents a huge opportunity to work differently for the benefit of both the organisation and those it serves.

  • It means responding to specific user needs rather than one size fits all.
  • It means being able to work more flexibly, openly and collaboratively.
  • It means utilising the digital literacy we’ve got and building upon it.
  • It means unleashing the potential of the data we hold.
  • It means faster & more efficient ways of delivering services.
  • It means being able to scale up or down with minimal impact.

The continuing digital revolution also brings with it new risks. As totally new digital business models emerge, they disrupt and replace the old. For every Blockbuster Video, there’s a Netflix waiting to take its place.

To keep pace with the world around us, we must embed this new digital mindset across the whole organisation and we must start now.

How are we going to digitally transform ourselves?

While it’s tempting to write a digital strategy, experience from other organisations has shown that until there’s sufficient digital leadership distributed more broadly across teams, it simply won’t take root.

The truth is, there is no singular best way to digitally transform. There are multiple paths to the same objective and what works best for one organisation won’t necessarily work for another.

What most people do agree on is that you start by starting.

We will embark on our digital transformation journey by actually doing. We will look for small defined areas and then work to digitally enhance them, using user needs to guide us and learn by doing.

With that in mind, I have outlined some key principles for digital transformation. Think of them as end goals rather than prescriptive methods.

The Principles

These key principles are the underlying concepts to help the organisation progress on its digital transformation journey.

1.0 Develop, Recruit & Embed Digital Thinking Across The Whole Organisation

Digital transformation can’t be confined to one department. It must be liberally applied and embedded everywhere to have the greatest chance of success.

In practice, that means we need people in different departments thinking about how digital can enhance their work. That means making best use of the digital expertise we already have. It means encouraging staff to be aware of what digital can offer and ensuring that new employees demonstrate a willingness to embrace the digital mindset.

It should be recognised that many of the constraints here may be cultural rather than technological, and should be approached with that in mind.

What would this look like in practice?

  • Lunchtime talks on the benefits of different digital tools.
  • Encouraging staff to suggest ways in which their work can be more digitally enabled.
  • Considering other modes of work outside of desk based 9–5.
  • Championing digital inclusion inside and outside the organisation.
  • Placing importance on digital competence in staff and board recruitment.

2.0 Co-Design with Users

Services (digital or otherwise) work best when designed for user needs.

User needs are the things that tenants/customers/landlords NEED from the service.

Before launching or modifying a service we must take steps to understand what customers and tenants need. Where possible, we should show what that service will look like early & often to challenge our own assumptions and avoid building the wrong things.

We should also take into account what the experience of using the service is like from the user perspective. Not everything can be verbalised as feedback via a form or conversation, some things may need to be observed.

What would this look like in practice?

  • Discovering what people need from a service before embarking on a project.
  • Mocking up prototypes and showing them to managers, staff and tenants early on to explain how it could work.
  • Recording videos of tenants using services to observe areas where they struggle.

3.0 Open By Default

Digital works best when it’s not constrained by silos. To ensure that data and information can freely flow where needed we must make things openly accessible (data protection withstanding) by default.

We can only take advantage of collective wisdom is everyone is talking about what they are doing, what’s working well and what’s not working.

Likewise, our data can only truly drive decision making when we are able to join all of our systems up and report upon them.

What would this look like in practice?

  • Working openly and collaboratively using tools like Office365 and Google Docs to share knowledge and avoid duplication.
  • Real-time data dashboards showing how the organisation is performing.
  • Sharing anonymised data publicly to build relationships & enhance collaboration with others working with our tenants.
  • Communicating to the outside world what we’re working on.
  • Streaming training sessions, community events or meetings on the Internet.

4.0 Keep Horizons Short

The environment in which we operate is changing all the time. Not just technologically, but also economically and politically. All of these factors mean that the organisation needs to retain a degree of agility and resilience.

Large scale IT implementations which take place over many months have little chance of responding to change. They are also reliant on the original scope being correct at the time of writing.

Instead we need to think about doing smaller, more focused, iterative blocks of work. This enables us to course correct as we go and avoid spending time/effort delivering things that are already out of date.

What would this look like in practice?

  • Smaller, modular systems over large one size fits all.
  • Smaller more regular investments VS big initial investment.
  • Adjusting to emerging business needs as they’re happening rather than making do.
  • Pay as you go not multi-year contract.

5.0 Infrastructure and Technology that’s fit for the digital age

The infrastructure is the underlying technology that enables digital to work.The technology can be thought of as the tools that staff use for work.

We can think of this as three distinct layers.

Visible — this is the technology that is visible to the outside world. This is where our user needs drive everything we do. Technology and Infrastructure must be able to support what tenants/customers need from services.

Back Office — This is the hardware and systems that our staff use. User needs will have a strong influence on what staff use in terms of systems. We will also take into account organisational needs, but not at the expense of user needs. The hardware (laptops/tablets) will be driven by input from each department. Guided by a vision of how digital can enable more flexible working styles and better service delivery.

Invisible — The underlying infrastructure is almost like the plumbing that enables everything else to work. There’s not much innovation required in this area, it just needs to be super reliable and able to scale up or down as required.

What would this look like in practice?

  • Choosing web applications, systems and suppliers that can deliver defined user needs.
  • Staff being able to work from any location, on any device with no technical limitations.
  • Only coming to the office when you need to, rather than by default.
  • Subscription based models instead of outright purchases.
  • Virtual/cloud based services over self hosted static servers and software

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