Whether in the public or private sectors, ‘digital maturity’ results in higher performance on most measures – customer service, profit, revenue, productivity and flexibility.
But this is typically not about the ‘IT’ – we are all using the same ‘tool kit’ in general, and we all know that badly applied IT can damage service quality, reduce flexibility and increase costs. Indeed, there have been enough examples in 2013 of how not to use IT, from government to banking.
It is much more about how IT is applied to internal practices and to external service delivery which determine a truly digital business, and that requires a state of organisational readiness. For example:
• A commitment to move away from traditional practices (paper, meetings, reports).
• Digital thinking lying at the heart of all service design.
• ‘Digital by default’ empowering staff and customers, not disenfranchising anyone.
• IT is seen as a source of innovation, not as a cost or risk to be avoided.
• A new model for business risk emerging which recognises the shift to digital.
• IT literacy up to Board level and adoption of new tools such as social media.
Behind these lies a great deal of detail and hard work. Business risks, for example, will change fundamentally as digital dependence increases – data security, social media reputation, staff and customer empowerment and business continuity. Without properly preparing the ground, IT-enabled business change can be disastrous – indeed, only 20% of IT change programmes delivery as expected according to surveys in 2013, and 40% are still failing outright (the rest are nurtured back to health at a cost in time and money).
The real trick is closing the gap between business creativity and IT opportunity, and that is the job of the CIO. It is not the CIO that leads all the change – that must be a co-production model with colleagues across the organisation – but the CIO must ensure the possibilities as well as the risk are well-understood in the way business policies and strategies are developed, whilst the potential of IT is not oversold.
All this comes at the right time for the public sector, where a combination of financial austerity and growing customer expectation and demands require new thinking. Using IT to marginally improve out of date practices by automating them or outsourcing them is just not going to be enough. Whilst technology may be seen as a growing risk, it is also arguably the single biggest opportunity for service improvement and cost reduction… but only if it is truly embedded in a digital culture which lies outside the IT department.