John Sheridan

John is CEO of Digital Business insights!

Can government really transform?

There was a song written by Tom Lehrer in the 60's that had a line, "Once the rockets are up who cares where they come down. That's not my department," says Wernher von Braun.

There are other lines in the same vein that we all hear regularly, "It's not your job," "That's not what you are paid for," "It's not our core business," "It's not in your job description," "Do what you are told," "It's more than my jobs worth," and so on.

These sentences all describe the frame of mind that perpetuates industrial revolution thinking in a departmentally structured society, in the midst of a digital revolution.

And that "frame of mind" is in direct conflict with the mindset of digital revolution.

That tortoise "frame of mind" doesn't like the digital revolution.

It wishes "digital" would go away.

It thinks short term when the revolution is defining the new platform for the next 300 years.

It puts its eyes to the knotholes in the fence and thinks it sees the big picture.

It looks at old problems with tired, old eyes.

It builds an "app" and thinks, "I've got it".

It does the "same old, same old", talks about it on social media and thinks, "I've got it...I get the digital revolution". Not true.

It uses the "1"s and "0"s to make 10, rather than combining and configuring them into multiple, joined up solutions for every problem we face as a human race.

That is not going digital. That is not being digital. That's not thinking digital.

It is hitching the automobile to the back of a carthorse.

It is putting lipstick on the pig.

It is blatant misunderstanding of the revolutionary new options.

"Television? It's just radio with pictures" We've all been here before.

It is taking old world thinking and adding a bit of digital window dressing – website, social media plus a few apps.

When what we desperately need is to look at all the old problems with new eyes.

Fresh eyes, wide open, with the optic nerve hardwired into a digital mindset.

We have to revisit the "wicked problems" we face in society without predefined, "it's all too hard" answers.

No assumptions about what can't be done. Technology can do just about anything we ask it to. We just have to ask the right questions.

No whispering fearfully, "It's more than my jobs worth," but declaiming boldly, "Yes, that's my department. The joined up, interconnected world. That's digital"

Digital is the non-department. With no walls, doors, boundaries, limits or constraints.

Digital offers us holistic joined up opportunities. Cradle to grave. Regional. Universal. Collaborative. Shared value.

It offers us the opportunity to look at economic development in a different way, not just as an observer, but as a gardener, a facilitator, a farmer and conserver.

Not hands off, but collectively "hands on".

At the moment we don't have the mechanisms in place to even discuss these things...other than privately shooting the breeze over a coffee or a beer with a few mates.

We need to go further than private discussion and good words. The words have to be transformed into action. And there is the rub.

Which department door would you knock on? Which minister would you email?

Which Chief of Staff, which Director General? Who would you seek and where would you go to talk about connecting the dots, connecting the regions, city to bush, training to jobs, health, community, indigenous, export and tourism?

Who would take on that discussion intelligently? Who would engage with comprehension? The minister might listen, but when it moves to the next stage...


"It's not my job," "It's not what I am paid for," "It's not our core business," "It's not in my job description," "What are the risks?" "I do what I am told," "It's more than my jobs worth," and so on.

We don't ask the right questions...the big questions...the joined up questions. We back away. We couldn't possibly do that. We worry about the risks, when we should be focused only on the opportunity.

So what can we learn from the NSA?

Whatever you might think of the NSA or GCHQ or ASIO, they ask the right questions. They understand fully what the implications of a connected society are to them and are engaging with that society in their best interests.

Commercially, the same thing can be said of Google. And the same thing of Amazon. They understand what a connected, collaborative and integrated society offers from their perspective. And they structure their engagement to maximise their commercial interests.

Now the NSA and GCHQ and ASIO are all government agencies. And they are all using the tools offered by the digital revolution to their best advantage.

So what is the problem with other government agencies doing the same thing?

I don't mean spying on people. I just mean being smart and thoughtful, and leveraging the new digital platforms and tools most effectively to fulfill our national strategic interests.

Any government agency can do that. And should do.

The logic is simple. The technology is mature. The possibilities are only limited by imagination. And that is where the problem our imagination.

We don't set the right challenges...the big challenges. We constantly water them down.

Departmental thinking dominates – it's not my department.

Election driven thinking dominates – we need the next PR release now, the hard hat, yellow vest photo opportunity for (insert politicians name here).

Budget driven thinking dominates – there's no money...when in fact there is a gazillion dollars in the treasury, all being channeled into 20th century inefficiency and waste that could be invested in our productive future if we only thought digital.

We don't think things through.

And we don't provide the time, the money or the permission for the thinking to happen. We demand joined up thinking from the spooks, but allow all other government departments to carry on business as usual.

Meanwhile, the problems mount up and the revolution rolls on, and like it or not we are all being carried in one direction – towards ever more connection, more collaboration and more integration.

And the digital revolution is finally disrupting government. It was inevitable. It was only a matter of time. And the time is now.

There is no real choice. If government doesn't govern, somebody else will.

It is probably not in our best interests that Google, Amazon or any other large American, Chinese, Japanese, German, Indian or UK corporate lays claim to that position, directly or indirectly.

Because they will. They are. And because they can.

Government has to transform. And government CIOs all over the world are working on government transformation.

But what are they transforming?

A recent Deloitte Digital global survey across 70 countries worldwide – "The journey to government's digital transformation" - is revealing.

A public sector official from Australia told us, "Historically, [government] organisations have arranged those things to be most efficient for them in the workforce. They have thought about things in the context of saving money and making things more efficient—even in terms of securing things in the context of an internal focus to make things better, rather than a customer focus. And the big change I think, in digital is the customer focus."

Governments across the world are totally occupied with transforming their services, with 26% at an early stage, 60% developing and only 13% digitally maturing with a long way yet to go. With maturing being a carefully selected word (not mature).

Governments are preoccupied largely with INTERNAL issues of creating strategy, leadership, workforce development, user focus and establishing a new culture to foster and support change.

The main focus of government transformation is on service delivery, interaction with citizens and improved efficiency.

It is going to be hard for government to accept, manage and transform to the fullest extent possible, because of the dynamics involved – political leadership, political focus, political timetable, challenge to existing departmental structures (internal and between), 3 levels of government, threats to individual roles and jobs, and especially to those in leadership positions within departments.

Add to that, "too many competing priorities – 41%, lack of an overall strategy – 31%, lack of entrepreneurial spirit, willingness to take risks – 19% and a lack of understanding – 19%".

The level of involvement of citizens in co-creating digital services is quite low, with just 13% of agencies reporting high citizen involvement in the process.

Law, justice and health agencies frequently interact with citizens but have among the lowest percentage of respondents being driven by customer demands. They also lag in engaging citizens in co-creation of digital services.

It is not easy for government to transform. And they are doing the least possible.

This will inevitably result in citizens creating their own solutions. And this is already happening.

And government is transforming slowly, largely focused on enhancing what is. Not what might be

The question "what might be?' hasn't even been asked. So let's ask it.

"Given the new digital information possibilities available to us as a government, how might we reimagine our relationship with all parts of society, and how might that impact the way we are currently structured?"

That would be an interesting question to consider.

Because, where do you set the bar? How high can you now jump?

The CIOs will just do what they are told.

The option and opportunities for questions and discussions will be driven by Ministers, Mayors, Directors General and other politicians.

In a connected, collaborative world, should we not start looking at things in a connected and collaborative way?

Connecting all the dots. Not keep dividing things up.

Somebody in Queensland government told me that there are 120 agencies involved in delivering services to indigenous communities in Australia. And they don't talk to each other.

How do we manage this problem? Not the indigenous problem, the problem of managing an increasingly, interconnected society, when the management structures are departmentalised, don't share, collaborate or communicate.

What do we do?

At the moment we poke a stick at it. There is no evidence that we take this issue seriously.

Even when we give somebody the title of Chief Digital Officer, Digital Transformation Officer or even Chief Information Officer, we don't really mean it.

They are not the "Chief" of anything. They just carry the badge and title without the power. They are defined, constrained and reined in by a job description with no real freedom to make decisions about anything strategically digital or really important.

Because that would be very disruptive.

Just think what might happen if government at any level took the digital revolution seriously.

Here is a quote from the Deloitte UK Government Digital Transformation Journey report.

"Digital transformation is about more than just technology implementation, it requires seeing old problems and old processes with new eyes.

A digital mindset is different from how most organisations, especially in the public sector, approach the world. It is a different way of thinking about stakeholders, a different way of launching products and services and a different way of working."

There is a lot in that statement.

At the moment we fail before we even begin.

And you can't address this issue with a Hackathon. It needs some serious bluesky thinking. And asking the right questions.

Are we ready? I don't think so. But I would love to be proved wrong.

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Wednesday, 21 March 2018