Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Intrapreneurship and the art of digital transformation - improving how government operates

It's been a tough week to resume blogging about digital government, egovernance and Gov 2.0, with the attention of the media, public, public service and politicians fixed on politics rather than the operations of government.

However the nature of government, and of humans in general, is that politics is always a key element in getting stuff done (or undone as the case may be).

When it comes to improving how government operates and serves the public, in my view the goal or outcome of Gov 2.0 (whatever buzzword is used to describe the topic), the political element must always be considered part of the fabric of the process.

Little gets done without the authorisation and example of management, or at least a blind eye from those at the top allowing gray space in laws and policies for changes to creep through.

The discussion and debate over whether (and how much) innovation can occur in government, whether agencies can transform themselves to meet citizen expectations while reducing costs - as typified by the concept of Digital Transformation - thus must consider the political elements as well as the practical.

Do the political masters of the public service support Digital Transformation and what does 'support' mean in practice? Do the appointed heads and senior executives of government agencies embrace and champion the change, despite potential disruptions to their orderly structures and ongoing policy challenges? Do the middle management understand completely the vision and goals of the process, and can it be aligned with their practical day to day struggles to allocate the right people and resources to meet the goals of their agencies? And are the officers who undertake many of the roles requires to keep the machinery of government operating mentally and physically prepared to change their habits in pursuit of change?

Aligning these factors is a challenge at an agency level, at a whole-of-government level it becomes even more so, but it is a challenge that public servants face after every election, Ministerial shuffle or machinery of government change.

Indeed often the challenge is that there's simply too much and too frequent change in government for officers to become familiarised with the last set of changes before being thrown into new ones, with the leadership - political and operational - finding it hard to bed down new systems before being confronted with new ones,

This blend of stability, structure and chaos into which the announcement of the creation of a Digital Transformation Office has been made, at a time when the nation is discussing questions of national leadership and the public sector is still bedding down the machinery of government changes of 12 months ago, and the Ministerial changes of last month may thus seem a very challenging environment in which to achieve success.

Having come from an entrepreneurial environment, and having successfully intrapreneured in government, participating in and running teams of technologists and business professionals, my view is that the current moment in government is possibly the best time and opportunity for groups seeking to create change that we've seen in a few years.

Innovation flourishes when the status quo is uncertain and malleable, not within environments where structure and objectives are clear cut and certain.

When organisations are clear on their objectives, have optimum structures to achieve them and have leadership focused on the task at hand, innovation is kept to the margins, providing incremental improvements to maintain the status quo.

But when the status is not quo, when change is the norm and the goals are less clear, innovation can be bolder and  more revolutionary. It becomes possible to consider radical options, to allow a greater risk of failure in the pursuit of larger outcomes and success.

For digital transformation to succeed it must be possible to link together disparate systems and thinking from across government, to smash through existing silos and processes when considering new designs for policy creation and delivery and rebuild the mechanisms that underpin the operations of government not just in new forms, but in new ways.

There's no better time to attempt this then when existing silos are fragile and the pressure of falling budgets, personnel and loss of expertise is mounting.

The challenge will be to gain the advocacy and mindshare required to drive through the transformation agenda alongside the competing priorities that agencies now face.

No comments:

Post a Comment