Public sector chiefs are 'holding back digital revolution'

Written by Rene Millman on 8 February 2016 in News

Public sector bosses should not stand in the way of technological progress to transform the way public bodies and local authorities operate, according to the director of the Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing.

Stephen Curtis, who heads up the government organisation tasked with the job of promoting collaboration between agencies, councils and other public sector organisations, said that the use of technology is less critical than the vision and leadership of management teams charged with driving transformation.

Curtis was speaking at the Civica Expo held in Manchester at a seminar entitled “Tackling the challenges to information sharing in multi-agency working”. The seminar focused on how public organisations are driving towards more integrated services, to deliver better outcomes for people at lower cost.                   

He said that technology, information governance and people must work “hand-in-hand” to become a powerful enabler for information sharing, but the "people aspect" is often neglected. 

“The potential for technology to make public sector services work better for the general public is clearly huge but in order to do so we must first transform organisational cultures. In particular, the willingness to share data across organisations must come from the top and be instilled across all pillars of an organisation to have a real impact,” he said.

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During the conference, a number of themes emerged, according to Civica. First, management teams must “create an organisational culture and structure that supports and drives transformation, with leaders empowering their employees, welcoming innovation and investing in digital services to succeed in the years ahead”.

Change has also become a “way of life” for public sector organisations with the pace of change and expectation accelerating, the conference heard. These organisations were urged to “embrace the opportunities that this brings to restructure services and improve delivery”.

There must also be a focus on core strengths, according to Civica. This meant that organisations that are not best placed to deliver a service should line up a strategic partnership to meet this need. Technology must also be embraced to deliver better services with a focus on managing and analysing data to create real consumer benefits. 

Wayne Story, deputy chief executive of Civica, said that making small changes was no longer an option.

“It is about completely re-adapting the way public sector organisations think. A more strategic commitment that is driven by technology and sensitive to cultural nuances is the only route to success in this digital era. This wholesale change must come from the very top to stand any chance of success.”


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Submitted on 8 February, 2016 - 13:00
Wayne, I agree with the need for change, as often our current organisations are failing to achieve the policy outcomes. In the process both citizens and staff are compromised and system changes are less impactful. ‘The way the public sector organisations think’ is the root-cause of the problem as 20th century structures are now not-fit-for-purpose in the digital 21st century. Organisations need to be aligned to purpose and performance in What Matters Now, Garry Hamel, identifies the huge burden (structure and decision making) being borne by customers and staff in organisations designed to Taylor’s (scientific management) principles, typified by ‘command and control’. What Matters Now: Throughout history, managers have seen their primary task as ensuring that employees serve the organisation's goals - obediently, diligently, and expertly. Now we need to turn the assumption of "organization first, human beings second" on its head. Instead of asking, how do we get employees to better serve the organization, we need to ask, how do we build organizations that deserve the extraordinary gifts that employees could bring to work? To put it bluntly, the most important task for any manager today is to create a work environment that inspires exceptional contribution and that merits an outpouring of passion, imagination, and initiative." To create our future communities, improving social outcomes What Matters Now

Submitted on 8 February, 2016 - 14:34
Stephen Curtis is right about the need for progress to go ahead without being artificially impeded, but I am afraid the pace of transformation is also being impeded by a lack of vision and a lack of understanding by the very IT Management that everyone relies on. The fact that change is a "way of life" should not be a surprise to anyone, but still some fail to embrace the very things that can enable transformation staring them in the face. The year I started in a (a particular NW) local Council, the IT Department was faced with a problem, a problem not exactly made easier by the fact that the CEO was sometimes difficult to work with. The cry went out that the CEO wanted to work with digital images, but his insistence on 'near perfection' - or 'perfection' put colleagues off. OK, 'perfection' is the word used with me, but let us just say that no one wanted to deal with this enquiry. Digital imaging was very new (10 years ago?). Guess who ended up with the assignment? Me. To me, a long time Mac user, there was no problem, except that IT said the solution had to be on XP. It didn't take long to both get the CEO onside, and to convince him that the Mac gave him all of the functionality he needed, with a simplicity to convince him that the Mac was a serious consideration. From that point onwards, the CEO had his solution. I had a number of meetings with him, and often he would show me the wonderful images he had created, and how he used them; we drank coffee and every now and then he upgraded on my advice, but we'd discuss where technology was going and how the Council could best benefit... rather informally really. Sometimes we discussed how IT worked in the Council, and at others we just discussed areas of transformation. One day the Head of IT Department, seeming trying to make a point about the CEO, mentioned in a meeting how I had managed to get myself involved with the Chief Executive - as though it was a burden (which clearly he thought it should be). I expressed my pleasure at being able to work with the CEO, get to know him better, and to provide him with expert advice. Was it just fear that prevented action? It certainly didn't help. CEOs should not get in the way of transformation, but they should seek out pertinent questions and query decisions where they can see that there are clear options - but they need to understand that sometimes it can be the strangest of things that 'limit' progress. The biggest danger for any organisation is to find itself 'cornered' by a lack of willingness to look beyond the norm.

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