In our latest monthly digital transformation column for Manchester Digital, Discerning Digital MD Richard Lucas examines the digital transformation lessons in the recent changes in the Government Digital Services.
"One of the biggest digital transformation stories of the summer is the resignation of one of the UK government’s most high-profile senior digital people, Mike Bracken.
"Until recently the director of the Government Digital Service (GDS), Bracken led the drive for the digital transformation of public services, while developing and implementing the UK’s digital strategy.
"Credited also with bringing in top digital talent to Whitehall, his departure is being viewed as something of a surprise. With the news that Bracken will leave the government in September and take up a new post as Chief Digital Officer at the Co-Operative Group, comes the further revelation that four of his key team members are to depart also.
Why Did Mike Bracken Leave the Government?
"Bracken has been diplomatic about his reasons for leaving but did touch on a few issues in an interview with Computer Weekly.
"Tellingly, he implied institutional change needs to happen before the government can achieve its digital goals:
“Are we going to back a centre of government that works for all of government and is not departmentally aligned to a single issue? Or are we going to try to use a civil service system that is tremendously resilient but works in silos, to try to effect digital transformation. The jury is out, but that's the real question.”
"It also appears that ongoing staffing changes among government departments have taken their toll on internal support for GDS’s work:
“We now have a different set of ministers, a different group of permanent secretaries, and you have to win these arguments over again. Just because you’ve won them once doesn't mean you’ve won them permanently, especially in a system that will roll back to what it knows.”
GDS Lessons in Cultural Change and Digital Transformation
"I’m a true admirer of the work GDS has done, particularly the award-winning GOV.UK site and its mission to deliver vital public services online. Although I was as surprised as anyone to learn of the departure of Bracken, reading his post-exit interview it was clear that even at government level, the success of digital transformation depends on senior buy-in and a willingness to lead cultural change - something that I’ve come up against time and again with clients.
"How to drive successful organisational change is hard to cover in one article, owing to the highly-individualised nature of each business, but I’d advise anyone investing in digital transformation to consider the following.
Culture change in digital transformation
1) Top Down Support
"Whether you’re a business owner or a senior person with responsibility for making digital investments in a business, it’s imperative you have the support of your board. Digital transformation must be led from the top, even better if it can be led by example.
"A helpful strategy is to appoint one person on the board as a digital champion, someone who understands the work and can communicate its value across the business. This individual can not only maintain support for the project at the highest levels, but act as a valuable hand on the tiller with authority to make decisions and pull the project together when required.
2) De-Siloing Digital
"If I could distill just one key lesson from my work in digital transformation, it would be that transformation won’t, and can’t, work in a silo. There has to be an understanding across the organisation that digital is everyone’s business, not just that of your IT or marketing teams. In one of the first digital transformation projects I worked on, the siloing of digital was a real challenge.
"It took a lot of work to disperse ownership for digital across all areas of the business, and devolve its pressures and responsibilities. If you’re struggling with this, I’d recommend sharing and communicating your vision at the earliest stages.
"Bring everyone in the business on the digital transformation journey and be clear and transparent on how the process will work, why it’s valuable and what everyone’s responsibilities are. Consider setting joint milestones or goals to bring departments together, for example shared digital goals for your sales and marketing teams.
The Lessons for Your Business
"I’m sure there are many reasons why Mike Bracken wanted to leave GDS, and we’ll likely never know the most interesting ones. However, a clear lesson emerges - that digital transformation, from big government to SMEs, requires unified support, the right infrastructure for change and the tenacity and endurance to bring it into effect."