8 Lessons Learned for Public Sector CIOs Implementing Digital Transformation

8 Lessons Learned for Public Sector CIOs Implementing Digital Transformation

By Marc Edwards, B.Sc. , PMP, Content Analyticss, bpms, MBA

As a CIO, one of, if not the, most important things you can do is to successfully implement digital transformation within your organization. Doing so would mean that you exerted a greater positive impact than almost everyone else in the organization, with the possible exception of the CEO. As awareness of the importance of digital transformation becomes apparent, so will the challenges of implementing it within your organization.

Any digital transformation blog will tell you how important the customer is, but here, we are going to broaden the definition of customer and focus on the CIO’s customers; namely the internal departments, divisions, and staff of the organization that will directly use and be affected by the services that the CIO will provide through her/his department.

In my professional life, I have seen a number of CIOs try to implement digital transformation within the public sector, some doing relatively well, others not so much. CIOs from both sides of the spectrum have made mistakes and what I have found is that these mistakes have led to lessons can be grouped in the following ways:

  1. Embrace a multi-cloud future

    • Some vendors (in fact, all of them should at some point) provide cloud versions of their applications that may be better than anything you can build yourself within a platform, such as, Salesforce
    • What you’ll want to do is to evaluate the internal program and the program-specific services they provide. If there is a current online app that handles at least 80% of those services, then go with that. If not, THEN consider putting it on a platform
    • You probably don’t have the resources or skills in-house to build the apps and the costs to have someone else do it may be prohibitive
    • Use open APIs with a developer network – carefully open up valuable business data strategically through APIs both internally, as well as outside to business partners and entrepreneurs. Then build out a developer network that makes the API attractive and something that 3rd parties will invest in

2. Begin with the end in mind

  • Through digital transformation, you are ultimately building a digital company. Are you ready for that? Is your CEO/CAO ready for that? Is everyone else in the organization ready for that?
  • Have a clear vision
  • In order to get to your desired future state, achieve small, quick wins

3. Get buy-in or get out

  • Focus on the strategic risks – you’ll want to make sure that you are taking enough risks and not be too conservative – communicate the risks of staying still
  • Do roadshows and get the CAO involved
  • Buy-in is extremely limited among employees who lack any opportunity to make changes or improvements. Instead, they simply throw up their hands and go along – without the passionate energy that underlies every successful digital business
  • Create digital transformation committees that features representatives from each department – create digital transformation champions
  • Focus on the business outcomes; as your clients are shifting to an outcomes-based business model,, you, as the CIO, need to understand this, know what those outcomes are, and gear your transformation to address them
  • Beware…change management will be a beast and getting buy in will ultimately depend upon how well this piece is executed

4. Follow a proper procurement process

  • Don’t fall in love with the first platform you see – always conduct a full-scale RFP process in selecting an IT technology partner/vendor. If your company has business units that provide IT services, stand firm and participate in the RFP process just like an external organization
  • Ensure that a clear, detailed understanding exists between your company and the IT sourcing provider on the responsibilities of each party. Ensure the rest and assigned in the forthcoming legal agreement governing the outsourcing relationship. There should be no surprises!

5. Know what you’re talking about

  • Don’t take your staff for granted; they’re smart and they can smell your B.S.. Know what you are talking about and always strive to further understand the organization
  • If you’re going to implement something like Agile or Business Process Management, make sure you understand what it is – training for this tends to require more intense use of resources than originally planned – everyone may need to be trained
  • Focus on business analysis – you need business analysts to help with the understanding of the business problems. Without this understanding, you will not succeed
  • Be willing to take risks but quickly learn from your mistakes
  • Analytics is a hot and trendy topic but it is less important when you’re still swimming in paper;digitize everything (or as much as possible)!

6. Consider the C-Suite

  • What is your governance structure like? Who do you have to convince/persuade to get things done?
  • Do you need a Chief Digital Officer? If your organization is large enough, you might need help with leading the digital transformation initiative

7. Neglect the operational and kiss your job goodbye

  • There is a major disconnect between user expectations and what IT can deliver, and it is hindering innovation
  • CIOs are responsible for BOTH operational AND strategic work
  • Your main goal as CIO is to keep the lights running, so to speak. If you try to implement without considering this, your clients (the rest of the organization) will soon revolt against you
  • See point #6 re: chief digital officer; here is where a CDO may help with the strategic work and the CIO could focus on the operational

8. You need help, you can’t do it alone

  • Consider democratizing your IT strategy. There may be a number of functions within your organization that are IT-related that you as a CIO do not have control of. Before absorbing everything into your group, pause. Do you have the resources to do everything that’s required? If you’re in the public sector, chances are, you don’t, so this approach is fraught with risk. Instead, develop techniques to solicit input from the wider circle of employees and make the strategy one that’s created owned, and understood by the entire team. This helps with buy-in and may allow for greater recognition of potential threats and opportunities.
  • Outsource as much of the implementation as possible. Technology implementation, in some cases, is a commodity so putting your scarce resources into this work is not putting them to their optimal use. Use your staff to assist in areas, such as, strategic planning, business analysis, or change management

Implementing a digital transformation is not easy in the most technologically advanced companies, let alone public sector organizations. It can be so difficult and so massive to undertake that one can easily become overwhelmed as it is all important and all of it needs to be done now. A common thread throughout this post is the importance of people; digital transformation is not so much a transformation of technology as it is a transformation of people and culture. Focus on people, culture, and use tools, such as the Digital Transformation Pathway, to help you avoid the mistakes of CIOs-past and ensure your digital transformation is as effective as possible.



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