The CEO’s digital fog and how to see through it


Digital transformation should be near the top of every Local Government CEO’s agenda. However in most cases CEO’s don’t come from an IT or

The Digital Problem

Digital transformation is near the top of every Local Government CEO’s agenda – if it’s not then it should be. However, in most cases, CEO’s don’t come from an IT or digital background. They are historically more likely to come from a finance, marketing or engineering background. As a result, it is no surprise, that whilst common sense informs every CEO that digital transformation is hugely important, inevitable knowledge gaps tends to mean that they embark upon “the digital challenge “with trepidation, if not confusion.

Recently one Local Government CEO confided in me that it was like being enveloped in a “thick fog”. With no clear way forward. This “fog” makes it difficult for CEO’s to articulate a clear vision with the outcomes of digital transformation, a key success factor in any change initiative. In this post, we look at some of the reasons why this fog occurs and provide some clarity on the way forward.

Here are three reasons why this fog exists:

Digital jargon

First comes the language. Digital transformation has its own lexicon of terms and acronyms. To the non-IT person (and indeed to many IT people) these terms are nebulous and vague.

Digital disruption, APIs, web services, transformation, digital business model, rapid prototyping, open source, open standards, cloud computing....   the list goes on and on. This language makes it difficult to articulate what needs to be done in simple terms.

Conflicting digital requirements

Next comes the competing opinions and requirements from each department. It's like the old Indian parable about the elephant and the blind men. Digital is like the elephant and the blind men are the departments. Each department touches a different part of digital, sees something different and demands a different solution. Every part of the organisation knows that they must adapt to the digital world – however it seems each department has a different view of what this means and no understanding that this may conflict with what the other departments want. Nobody is seeing the whole elephant. New digital systems are added by multiple departments on an ad hoc basis, adding to the confusion and chaos. Someone, therefore, is needed to provide the holistic view – the person who sees that the elephant’s tail, leg, ear and trunk are all part of the same organism and must work together.

No one to provide holistic digital advice?

In many organisations, no one provides, or has the ability to provide, a holistic view of digital. Ideally, this should be a function of an empowered and skilled IT team. The IT Manager or CIO should be a strategic thinker – someone who understands business models and processes. Often, however, the focus of the IT department is to “keep the show on the road”. They have little time, or often aren't given time, to critically review the current approach. In such circumstances, it is difficult for the IT department to provide the strategic advice and guidance the CEO needs to effect digital change.

IT departments often focus, quite rightly, on protecting the data “in the building” and ensuring that internal information is safeguarded. However, today cloud computing means large amounts of council information sits outside the server room. In other words “outside the building”.

Is it any wonder many CEO’s opt to maintain the digital status quo?

With so much jargon, so many moving parts, so many conflicting opinions, and every part of the building clamouring for something different, it is no wonder many Local Government CEO’s approve what effectively amount to minor tweaks of a system increasingly unable to respond to the needs of their customers. Such tweaks are not sufficient to enable their organisation to operate effectively in our increasingly digital world.

As a CEO you may recognise these symptoms in your own organisation?

The digital reality

The reality for local government CEOs is they must address digital. The community is demanding it. Council’s customers have become accustomed to better service from other service providers allowing them to consume services from banking, to shopping, to learning in digital channels. They want the same from council. Furthermore, dwindling budgets (from measures such as rate-capping) mean council’s need to do more with less. Digital offers perhaps the only means of achieving this.

The Solution

What is the solution? In our minds the solution is simple – you need to develop a plan. What we call a "SmartRoadmap". This SmartRoadmap is a digital strategy specific to you, outlining what you plan to do in order for your organisation to operate in an increasingly digital world.

We prefer to call it a roadmap because it needs to be simple to follow, and outline step by step what you are going to do.

Whilst each SmartRoadmap is different according to the specific needs of an organisation, here a few traits that are common across all good roadmaps:

  • Simple language. Yes, we need to understand and include digital jargon. However, we need to be able to convert this technical jargon into layman’s terms. A roadmap should be developed so that a non-technical person can read it and understand it. This may mean that the report is divided into technical and non-technical sections. (And yes,  sometimes we confess we are guilty of jargon too!)
  • A vision – your vision. As the CEO you must be able to articulate the digital vision of the organisation. Your council’s digital vision may well be very similar to neighbouring council’s. However, your digital strategy needs to respond uniquely to your organisation. The nuances in the vision are important to its success as this is what makes it authentic to your organisation and the community you are serving. You need to articulate a vision you truly believe in and understand. Otherwise, it won’t be realised.
    Some CEO’s worry that they aren’t technical enough to articulate a digital vision. This is simply not true. The trick is to focus on the outcomes of digital change:
    Digital can save the community enormous amounts of time and effort in dealing with council. It can engage the community to work much more closely with council staff. It can transform the community’s perception of council for the better. It can liberate your staff from endless manual processing and mundane tasks. It can provide them with flexibility and free them up to do more interesting and exciting work. Put that in your vision! 
  • Rapid prototyping. People must be allowed to play with digital tools and to learn by doing. They need to touch and feel digital technology to truly understand what it can do. They need to be encouraged to embrace failure, recognise it early and learn from it.
  • Cross-departmental teams: Departments need to work together on digital projects. Only in this way will they come to understand the holistic nature of digital.
  • Challenge the status quo. An acknowledgement that age old processes and the fundamentals of the business model will be challenged and may need to change. If staff are not constantly asking why things are done a certain way your digital roadmap will not deliver meaningful change. Put another way, if a lot of people are out of their comfort zones you will be driving digital change!
  • Clear milestones and actions. Total digital transformation is a huge undertaking for any organisation. It is daunting. Simply and clearly lay out what needs to be done, with distinct actions, who is responsible and the likely resource implications The roadmap should be staged with clear milestones. This allows the organisation to break the transformation into digestible pieces. At the end of each stage, staff can take stock of how far they have come and get ready for the next stage.

What are your next digital steps?

As the CEO, you need to ask yourself if this article resonates with you? Is your digital path foggy? Do the issues outlined feel familiar?

We’ve helped clear the fog for dozens of CEOs allowing them to confidently approach digital transformation with the support of a robust and clear digital roadmap.

If you would like to talk to us or alternatively chat with some of the CEOs we’ve assisted over the years. Please get in touch with us.

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What does good digital transformation look like in a council?

A graphical conversation starter for councils discussing digital transformation.

Explore The Digital Council Infographic