Quality Over Quantity: Rethinking Public Sector Digital Transformation

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The success of any organisation’s digital transformation strategy isn’t necessarily dictated by the technologies adopted — it’s dictated by the quality of the people within that organisation. And as a field that begins and ends with providing better services to people, the public sector is no different.

My concern is that public sector organisations still struggle to separate having larger teams and having skilled teams. For the public sector to continue improving its internal processes and delivery of services, there has to be a renewed focus on building and championing better skilled teams, rather than simply making them bigger — hence, the importance of remembering quality over quantity.

That’s not to say the public sector hasn’t recognised this and started putting that insight into action. One of the goals that the CDDO outlined in their 2022-2025 roadmap was to “equip civil servants for a digital future” by “upskill[ing] civil servants in digital capabilities and digital delivery, with access to the right data and tools to do their jobs effectively.”1 

My only addition to this is that equipping anyone for a digital future also involves making sure that they’re working within a team that can empower one another.

Curating this team is easier than you might think. The government is already primed to attract high-quality people because of its end goal to provide better services to the public. That means people that:

  • Want to be part of a greater good and…
  • Are driven by working in a productive team with motivated people.

I’m going to demonstrate, above all, how championing the skills and people within your teams is key to helping the public sector implement effective digital transformation strategies.

Want to know more about 101 Ways’ vision? Check out how we’re seeking to optimise public services.

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Identifying skill gaps in your organisation

Like I said, championing the people within your organisation is the first crucial step in seeing them enhance their skill sets. This involves thinking about how every person in your team is currently working, and what (or who) they need to support them to grow.

Identifying skill gaps isn’t always easy, but you can see what’s missing — or what you might have too much of — by working backwards from the need you’re trying to fulfil. 

This is something the GDS tried to codify a few years ago, a task they quickly found had limited success. Factors like how different cabinets and departments conduct their setups, approaches, and user access (to name a few) weren’t considered. After all, the NHS has entirely different requirements to Education, and Education will have different goals to the DWP. Public sector leaders who were inexperienced in identifying skill gaps ran with the approach and soon saw many attempted digital transformations end up unsuccessful.

This begs the question: Is there still value in having a set framework to forming a team? 

To an extent yes, but one size doesn’t fit all. Codified frameworks can provide a foundation, but it takes strong leadership — and maybe the help of a technology consultancy — to adapt that framework and achieve the goals of your organisation.

Suggested reading: As we venture further into the digital transformation of the public sector, we have to ask what the real future of technology leadership is

Be proud of what you do, and the right people will follow 

Building a team that is primed for a digital transformation strategy comes down to your employer branding: the image you’re selling to potential new members of your organisation. 

The best employer branding is openly and proudly promoting your success stories. It not only motivates your existing teams to carry on with the great work they do, but also attracts prospective team members that would want to be involved with that work. 

The private sector does an excellent job of this, something that strikes fear into the hearts of public sector organisations that risk having valuable team members snapped up.2

With that said, people often join a private sector company due to its amazing employer branding, only to lift the hood and see the harsh reality of the team they’ve just joined.

This acts as a learning opportunity for us in the public sector: rather than painting an idyllic picture of your organisation only for people to be disappointed, be honest. 

The public sector has clearly-defined needs it’s trying to fulfil, and they’re good causes that don’t take much hard selling. The right people for your team will be seeking honesty and transparency when deciding where to work. If you’re open about what needs to be done, proud of what you’re trying to achieve, and are cultivating a positive work environment, your team will want to stick around and continue to deliver better services.

Building a highly-skilled team

As a leader, it’s your responsibility to champion the skills of your team, keep them engaged, and empower them to provide efficient, user-centric services to citizens.

This comes down to making sure you have the right balance in your team. You might have 5 amazing engineers who all know their stuff, but putting them together on a project could mean 2 of them are twiddling their thumbs. This could be because there’s only so much engineering work to be done, or because their specialised skills are less relevant for this project.

However, if you swapped them out with UX designers, project managers, or any other role that fits into your project-specific requirements, you could find yourself with a more productive, self-sufficient team.

It all comes down to the importance of retaining a scalable, start-up mentality, something we often talk about at 101 Ways. Public sector organisations are under constant pressure to present what their teams will need to look like in 12 months in order to secure funding. But this way of working isn’t sustainable in an environment where both technologies, processes, and other impactful events can happen seemingly out of nowhere — need I bring up the pandemic as a major example? 

Instead of starting out with a full team that would be at risk of falling apart later on, build the right team for the problem you’re solving right now, and scale up when you need more support to realise your goals.

Suggested reading: Curious to know more about scaling in the digital age? Check out the highlights from our webinar, How to Scale Your Technology Organisation.

Getting the right support will transform your organisation

No one is saying that kickstarting digital transformation in the public sector is fun, as you’re constantly fighting bureaucracies and misconceptions. Many governmental departments are still paper-based due to fear of losing multiple sources of valuable information if they were ever to go fully digital. 

But I’m consistently impressed by teams like the DWP and Department for Education who make a real difference by continuing to fight against outdated systems and push for digitalisation.

The main takeaway is that transforming any public sector organisation for the digital age will inevitably be a long and evergreen process. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as organisations should be able to grow with and adapt to the digital age. That starts with empowering the accomplished people in your teams.

At 101 Ways, we have been amazed at the speed and scale of public sector digital transformation thus far. We have a proven track record of supporting organisations and are always eager to discover new ways to improve how teams work and work together. 

If you’re a leader who can see the potential in your public sector organisation, contact us today. There are 101 Ways to make a difference, and we’ll help you find the right one.

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1  Transforming for a digital future: 2022 to 2025 roadmap for digital and data – GOV.UK 

2  Putting your employer brand front in the battle for top talent | Belfast Telegraph