Digital transformation continues to be a hot topic for UK public sector generally and our colleagues in local government are right in the eye of the storm. At Abavus we have built our entire business with the UK local government sector. We regularly work with local government professionals who face the challenges associated with bringing their organisations right up to date in terms of digital self-service, efficiency and automation, whilst ensuring quality of service does not suffer.

In this blog post I’d like to share some of my experiences of how UK Local Authorities that I’ve worked with have made their transformation programmes a sustainable success. In particular, I think there are five key success factors that come up again and again in multiple projects.

  1. Plan to deliver in multiple phases – not in a single outcome. Every Local Authority we speak to and work with has a digital transformation programme of work (or at least has assembled a function or team with some digital transformation objectives). It’s clear that those who are most successful are those who do not expect transformational changes to happen over night, nor do they try and do everything in one go. Instead they identify and plan for a series of smaller quick wins, each contributing to the longer term transformational goal. The secret ingredient here is that a local authority working towards digital transformation must plan and complete due diligence for the longer term vision, whilst at the same time taking a pragmatic approach to actually getting some things done and delivered in timescales measured in weeks and months.
  2. Use early success as the foundation of confidence for subsequent phases. there is a further benefit in taking the phased, pragmatic and pared down approach that I have just described. The smaller, although not insignificant wins delivered early in a programme, provide the ‘poster child’ of success on which to build momentum for the next phase of the plan. There is nothing like an early successful delivery to build self-belief and enthusiasm.
  3. Start simple and learn through the process of doing and delivering. It’s tempting to focus on the biggest (and often most complex) prize when looking towards digital transformation. However, we’ve seen the most sustainable success in projects where local authorities start with the transformation of simpler (and less risky) processes and procedures. Interestingly these are often the place-based services. Whilst internally they’re generally not seen as being at the more challenging end of service delivery, externally they’re some of the most important services for your customers. Local authorities that have transformed here first have quickly graduated to more complex service areas with a great deal of accumulated knowledge and experience, whilst also getting a ‘quick win’ from their customers’ perspective.
  4. Transform deep into your process. There has been a tendency to focus on the customer-facing end of processes and transaction. This is relevant and important. However, the really significant opportunities for efficiency gains and improvements often lurk deep in your internal processes. You must drive technology-enabled change all the way through the process, not just concentrate on the customer-focused end. To do this successfully means working with internal stakeholders, selected delivery partners and vendors that can effectively support you.
  5. It is not the technology that delivers the efficiency. The technology is simply the enabler. Your organisation must grasp the nettle of cultural change (especially if you want to transform deep into your processes). This means that you need to spend time educating colleagues and other stakeholders about what you are doing, why you are doing it, how it will impact them and what exactly will be delivered and when. This is every bit as important to the success of the project as the technology. Alongside this in terms of importance is your business process re-engineering (BPR). Don’t just roll old processes onto new technology delivery approaches. Instead you must take the time to re-think and re-design processes from the ground up. Neither the organisational development aspect nor the BPR aspect are inherently tethered to technology, they certainly touch upon it, but they are not subordinate to it.