Digital Transformation: How is the Public Sector tackling it?

Highlights from our exclusive public sector event at the Engine Shed in Bristol

As providers of transformation services across a broad range of public sector organisations and departments, we realised that, while our customers were very different from each other and performed very different roles, when it came to digital transformation, the same challenges were coming up again and again.

So, since “a problem shared is a problem halved,” we decided to host an event to bring all our customers together to share their experiences and ideas. The event, which took place on 12th March at the Engine Shed in Bristol (we just managed to sneak in before the COVID-19 shutdown), was for the public sector only, and while Brightman staff were present to facilitate the discussions, we enjoyed taking a back seat to let our customers do all the talking. This was, after all, about their journeys, not ours.

With a few short keynotes to get the discussion going, the room was split into five working groups, where delegates could discuss a specific challenge:

1. What does Digital Transformation really mean for public sector? What does it look like?

2. What is the impact on the operating model for IT departments?

3. How does Digital Transformation affect the supply chain?

4. Service Management: ITIL4 vs DevSecOps, what's the way forward?

5. How do you get Cloud Ready? What is the impact for people, processes, tools and beyond?

The discussions were candid and insightful on every table, but a number of themes stood out for me:

- The benefits of digital transformation are very well understood in the public sector. The public sector is not shy to embark on this journey, and in many areas, it is pushing harder and being more ambitious than many of those in the private sector.

- Digital transformation is not “just a technology thing.” It’s just transformation. The governance and funding of transformation in the public sector needs to change dramatically to accelerate transformation. Public sector procurement needs to adopt a more experimental mindset to align with the experimental mindset of transformation. The old project governance approach isn’t appropriate.

- The biggest change that needs to happen is cultural. Transformation is about changing the way people work. That’s not a short-term project – it’s a strategic goal. We can’t just focus on quick wins. Culturally, most government organisations are hierarchical. This conflicts with the innovation mindset and freedom of action that you associate with more agile ways of delivering services. We need the public sector to adopt this mindset to deliver transformation.

- Many of the same challenges continue to persist in the public sector, despite being recognised. If you simply swapped the words “Digital Transformation” for “Managing Change” as the title for the event, you would have had broadly the same discussions 5, 10 or even 20 years ago; Hierarchical and departmental decision-making, purely project-based planning, a focus on short-term over long-term goals, an anti-private sector bias, rigid procurement structures etc. continue to remain, despite the challenges they present.

We are now going through the process of capturing and consolidating these and the many other themes from the discussions so that we can create relevant content and solutions to help the public sector in 2020. Most critical of all is to see if/how any of these will have changed in light of the COVID-19 landscape we now find ourselves in.

Watch this space.

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