Socitm advocates move away from ‘delusions of transformation’

Written by Rebecca Hill on 25 August 2016 in News

Councils need to recognise that real digital transformation goes beyond e-enabling transactions and “get serious” about technology-informed redesign, Socitm has said.

Digital transformation must be about more than simply moving records online, says Socitm - Photo credit: Flickr, rmkoske

In a briefing paper published on 23 August, the society, which represents IT professionals in local government, said that if councils wanted to avoid “delusions of transformation” they needed to change their way of thinking.

It focuses on a research paper published earlier this year by two professors from Brunel University, which aimed to challenge how people define transformation.

The Brunel paper said that the term transformation is over-hyped and is often used when the changes are merely cosmetic – “putting lipstick on a pig” – instead of reserved for programmes that are doing something fundamentally different.

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The Brunel paper criticises so-called digital transformation projects, saying that many are merely cosmetic and have not delivered real change.

In response, Socitm said that this was because “the potential of ICT to change policy design, implementation and administrative practice has been missed”.

The society’s briefing paper said that many ways of working at the moment do “focus on relentless efficiency improvement to the point where everything is so streamlined and lean that there’s no slack left at all”.

This, it said, stiffens management thinking and curbs “anything other than ever more of the same”. Instead, teams should make keeping some slack in the system, and being open to testing new ideas a virtue.

Advocacy role

In addition, Socitm said that it was “vitally important for somebody to evangelise…about the potential of technology way beyond just the ICT-digital function and local senior management”.

It goes on to say that its members are best placed to advocate the potential of ICT and digital and to influence new policy formulations and delivery instruments in their councils.

As such, Socitm calls on members to promote the use of new technologies in a truly transformative way. “We change the game by opening up others’ thinking,” the paper states.

Socitm also takes the opportunity to highlight its own recent paper, Simplify–Standardise–Share, which set out a series of design principles to follow, rather than best practice or standards to be “bluntly adopted”.

These principles include ensuring that all digital or related strategies are brought together into one overarching strategy and promoting the use of open standards.

‘Nothing wrong with improving pigs’

However, the Socitm paper also notes that, in practice, not all services or products can be replaced immediately, and that improvements to such services were still valuable.

“Being realistic, pragmatic, and sympathetic to the circumstances many find themselves in, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong about improving pigs per se,” the paper said.

For instance, Socitm said, programmes that aim to improve the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of existing products are “right and proper, but they’re probably not really transformative”.

It added: “If you have to have them, you should make the best of it.”

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