Archives For #UKDigiStrategy

Preface: The UK Digital Strategy and the refreshed Government Transformation Strategy went from MIA (for more than a year) to DOA (as with all UK Gov strategies in recent months e.g. Brexit, Industrial, Digital Economy, etc.). Perhaps they should have stayed Missing in Action?

Body:* 

After interminable delays the UK Government finally unveiled both its “Government Transformation Strategy (2017-2020)” and its “UK Digital Strategy” (parts of the notion of  a Digital Economy). To say they landed with loud thuds would be far too kind in my viewpoint.

These strategies were delivered by the Cabinet Offices’ “Top Digital Emperors” (Ben, Matt & Karen) and have been positioned “as the means to restore trust in the way that Government works with people, much less Democracy itself” as well as “to Create a Digital Economy that works for everyone”. Those are pretty tall orders for a Brexit-rattled Government that cannot define what their Leave Strategy actually entails.

Strategies come and go, but few have been set up for failure so substantially as these two.  These strategies are a Dog’s Breakfast of vague promises & aspiration that are the result of folly & fantasy of feckless Digital Emperors in Government, all of whom are desperate to show some “Digital” progress (and justification for their profligate spending). They pander to rising Nationalism and employ the tired practice of wrapping up their plan in empty patriotic rhetoric and slogans such as “The Government wants to serve” & “We have a plan for Britain”.

As expected, the facile Tech Press, Gov’t Funded Institutions and recipients of Corporate Welfare have all rallied around the Governments’ plans (or in some cases have remained silent so as to not draw attention to themselves) and are doing their best to promote its value to the UK, much less mankind itself. I am not a member of either of these camps and would like to share my unvarnished opinions with our readers.

To convey my view on these strategies I have chosen ten key points to focus attention on. Each will have a short note about itself.

  1. Substance (something worth fighting for). [Rating: very little].
  2. Leadership (someone you believe it). [Rating: virtually non-existent].
  3. Value (is it worth it?). [Rating: unquantifiable].
  4. he Notion of Government as a Business including Corporate Functions (Governments are not Business’ and vice versa). [Rating: hard to fathom].
  5. The use of Repetition as a Filler Mechanism (See if you can count the number of times that the same platitudes are cut ‘n pasted throughout). [Rating: high marks for repetition rate, but low marks for the content used].
  6. The Notion of Digital People (not a Culture of Digital) (an absurd reference to the fact that digital is special). [Rating: Nonsensical at best].
  7. The use of Farcical Financials (a tribute to bogus projections & other similarly dubious metrics) [Rating: expected, but the use of extreme specificity exposes it farcicality].
  8. The referencing of favorable Reference Points & Case Studies (cheery picked for maximum alignment w/themes) [Rating: these are bad and belie the fact there is no measurable success or financial benefits so far].
  9. Finding a way to “Blame it on Brexit” (If it fails (and it will); who do we blame?). [Rating: rubber stamp completed].
  10. The Level of Incompetence & Risk in the entire plan (not just mere whimsy, but rank incompetence). [Rating: doomed to fail, but it will still be heralded as a success].

While these evaluation points might be seen as harsh (or perhaps inconsequential) measures by some, let’s be clear; Strategy is a point in time view of a plan to get where you want to be. If it is crafted by people with no vision whatsoever (other than the next election cycle), with a mission that consists only of attaining & maintaining political power, and goals that benefit only those in power, then it is of little value, because as we all know “Execution of the strategy is 99.5% of the effort and consumes all of the money”. I see little to persuade me that precision in execution of these strategies will be the norm as the NAO continues to point out.

Brexit, no matter how it ends, will require all the Gov’t strategies to be completely re-thought and re-vamped. To create a “Digital Government which supports a Digital Economy made up of Digital Citizens” is a great political slogan, but means very little to the Electorate as it stands today with the greatest crisis in generations facing it; “What will Britain be like after Brexit and how does it affect me?” These abominations of a Digital Strategy and Transformation Program will not help whatsoever in bringing comfort to any Citizen in the UK.

 

*This posting in an edited form appears in the March 2017 issue of Information Age (UK) (www.information-age.com)

Preface: There are many UK Government Strategies, Manifestos, Advisory Boards, etc. and the list keeps growing each day. Here are just a few of the ones being touted by the UK Government at the moment; UK Digital Strategy, Mayor of London’s Data Strategy, GDS Vision for Gov.uk, GDS Principles for Government as a Platform, CO Government Data Programme, GDS Digital Advisory Board, CO Data Steering Group, UK Data Sharing Consultation, GDS Registry Advisory Board, Royal Statistics Society “Data Manifesto”, ONS Strategy post-Bean Review, etc.  You have to ask “what do all of these accomplish in respect to replacing/augmenting authentic leadership?”

Intro: The much ballyhooed UK Digital Strategy is apparently now in tatters. It has now been pushed out until after the BREXIT vote in the Summer, but is an indicator of the greater challenges in Government; A complete lack of competent leadership by the Cabinet Office and the Ministers who have been assigned responsibility for Digital, GDS and Other “transformational” investments. It also bodes disaster for Civil Service mandarins who must manage “the vision” and the budget simultaneously with no top-down leadership or direction.

As I proffer to all my clients whom I coach on Leadership: “You can’t Lead what you don’t Understand”.

Body: A common thread found today in every pronouncement by the UK Government and its Proxies is the role of the Strategy that they have developed, either independently (via consultants) or in consultation with a group of contributors/advisors (all of whom have an agenda seeking fulfillment). Each strategy is heralded as the means to achieve what has previously been unachievable e.g. Transformation; or disruptive in terms of changing the status quo e.g. Digital. According to these pronouncements, “All have been designed for maximum impact with little risk” i.e. Revolutionary. However, most will fail to achieve the desired outcomes which have been promoted to justify the investment or will be terminated altogether due to cost & time overruns, etc. (only to be resurrected later under a different name in many cases) at significant cost to the Treasury (and the taxpayers). Why is this always the case one should ask?

Having been a student of strategy (and its execution) for all of my long career, I find this phenomenon both exhilarating and nauseating at the same time. As you cannot see, I still have the scars of many failed strategies on my back; all of which were a result of bad leadership by my superiors who owned the outcome of the strategy, but were not invested enough to make it a success. In principle, Strategy is only 1% of the overall endeavor, with execution being the remaining 99%. This is the core challenge and the most troubling aspect of what I see so often in Government-Lead Strategies, Manifestos, Advisory Boards, etc. They are big on bluster & hype, but low on energy & commitment by their Leaders to achieving the outcome. One only needs to look at some of the pitchmen aka Leaders who are touting some of these strategies today to see real examples of this first hand.

Strategic Change must be part of every true Leaders portfolio of accountabilities in order for any Organization to grow (at inordinate rates), much less counter competitive threats. However, in politics/government where you have a partnership of the ruling party and the civil service there is always a disconnect, if not outright gulf between what is said and what ultimately is accomplished. To mitigate this risk many governments will engage Consultancies/Systems Integrators to deliver on their promises while they cheerlead from the sidelines and designate Civil Servants to “manage the program” as their proxies. This rarely works out and given the UK Government’s long history of large (and small) programme disasters it seems that few ever learn from these mistakes.

It is worth repeating what I have written many times before in this column; “Leadership must be top-down, hands-on and from those ultimately accountable for both the strategy and its success”. Appointing proxies or hiring contractors as surrogate leaders has never succeeded in the past, and will not in the future. The most important component of Strategic Change is that of the Organization’s Culture itself. An Organization’s Culture is the shadow of its Leaders. It mirrors their Leaders behavior and will support its strategic goals if trust has been sufficiently fostered and they feel engaged (not commanded.

Strategic Leaders must take ownership of all aspects of their strategies and drive their execution to success through both actions and deeds. These Leaders must rise to this challenge no matter what it brings and provide a steady hand through all phases of a Strategy Program, all the while keeping the lights on and wheels turning in the current operating environment. These traits are why I believe that “The mantle of Leadership cannot be learned, it must be earned through blood, sweat, toil & tears”. Most of today’s political leaders (so to speak) have reached their pinnacle of power by dodging accountability while taking glory for the hard work & ideas of others, and are ill equipped to be what I refer to as a Strategic Leader. Their partners in Civil Service, while independent of politics to some degree, are not particularly seasoned Leaders either as the system does not promote risk takers (who might fail) and continues to reward bureaucrats who duck for cover at the first sign of trouble. This creates a true Leadership Conundrum which must be reckoned with in order to succeed.

Leadership is more than a forward-looking vision and a grandiose strategy; it is about delivering on them. Without a crisis to focus on, most Politicians and Civil Servants cannot find it in themselves to rise to be real Leaders. Perhaps that is what many of these strategies need at the moment.

Notes:

1.- This article appeared in an edited form in the April 2016 issue of Information Age (UK) (www.information-age.uk)

2.- The featured image was taken at IBM’s IOD conference in 2012, but is being used in this context to denote how many so-called Leaders appear in public as they hype their strategic leadership capabilities.

 

 

A precursor to my discussion*:

  1. Digital has become such an amorphous term that few can describe what it actually means anymore
  2.  An effective Digital Strategy needs to be based on the Organization’s Core Strategic Objectives

Discussion:

Just prior to the New Year the UK Government quietly posted a notification that it was “seeking ideas for the next phase of the Digital Revolution”. From what I have seen in terms of those responses, they might have been better served by standing on a soapbox at Speakers Corner in Hype Park and asking passers by for their opinions, as their call to action has unleashed a torrent of “thought pieces”, Opinions & rants from virtually every corner of the UK.

Over the past several years, I have followed with great interest all of the Digital Transformation Programs that central governments across the world have embraced in their efforts to bring “Digital to the Masses”, while improving Government services, efficiencies, etc. Most of these have now evolved into “cults” with every agenda seeker and crackpot out there opining the virtues of their “flavor of digital” on social media and at every conference imaginable. During this same time, we have seen ever-increasing budgets allocated to these programs, high levels of management attrition and dubious ROI results being promoted as “savings realized”, but the single most glaring aspect that troubles me in virtually all of them is;  “What is the long-term Strategy”? It certainly can’t be just making better web sites or training the entire population to “hack code”? It is in this vain that I offer my opinion on “What is needed & what is not in the UK’s next Digital Strategy.”

As “digital” has now become a word without a stable definition, I will endeavor to ground my discussion in the basic notion that; “Digital as a term encompasses all disciplines in respect to embracing all that the Web, Data & Analytics have to offer”.  I refer to these as core competencies and believe that they must be leveraged in an Organization’s strategy in order to be an enabler of the desired outcomes from it. The UK (whether in or out of the EU in the future) must create a competitive strategy that makes its relevant on the world stage in order to capture inordinate levels of external investment, to develop the greatest talent pool in all sectors, etc., all at the expense of its peers. This notion of differentiation is a much more business-like view of the needs of a country, but most have been evolving their thinking in this direction for quite some time now. If the UK wants to “punch above its weight” in the world then it needs to make its core competencies the strongest & most sustainable anywhere, which cannot be easily duplicated or commoditized by countries motivated to do so.

What’s Needed? (to achieve this outcome):

  • Use “Digital” as a focal point to create sustainable sources of competitive advantage for the UK by baking it into every aspect of the long-term strategy for the country (independent of whatever party is in power) and the goals which it must be achieved i.e. Not a fashion statement or feel good program.
  • Develop Digital Leaders (Civil Service, Cabinet Office, MP’s, Charities, etc.) who are more than cheerleaders and partisan politicians. Educate everyone from the earliest age, throughout their entire academic & trade school careers to be literate in Digital, regardless of class or age. Promote Digital Leaders based upon competency and acumen (merit), not beauty, charm or politics. Develop Digital Leaders who “walk to talk” every day.
  • Create a National Culture that embraces “Digital at every turn”, not just one that consumes interesting content over broadband. Make Digital know-how essential to daily life in all Sectors of Government, Commercial & Non-Profit.
  • Invest inordinately in Education, Leadership Development, Infrastructure & Culture to create sustainable sources of competitive advantage in “All things Digital”.

What’s not Needed?

  • Superlatives & Exemplars: Digital is an evolutionary transition from the Analog world we have known for centuries. It is not disruptive, but can be transformational if executed with speed and precision. Hype is not of value in any strategy.
  • Grandiose predictions as to the impact of Outcomes or capabilities. At best, Digital is incremental in terms of benefits and sources of competitive advantage. It is the execution that is critical, not the idea itself. Benefits will manifest over the long term i.e. Transformational
  • Exclusion of any Sector from participation or realization of the full benefits of the Strategy and its outcomes. All boats must rise accordingly in this strategic journey.

A long-term Competitive Strategy for the UK should fully leverage all of its investments & know-how in Digital to date (Capabilities, Infrastructure & People) in order to create clear lines of differentiation in respect to other Countries who are pursuing similar paths, as well as to build sustainability for this momentum far into the future. The realization of  these outcomes will insure maximum benefits to the entire country and all of its citizens for decades to come.

Further Reading:

“What is Digital Transformation and Why do I need to embrace it?” (https://infomgmtexec.me/2015/10/29/what-is-digital-transformation-why-do-i-need-to-embrace-it/)

“Changes in Digital Transformation Leadership: Anarchy or Opportunity?” (https://infomgmtexec.me/2015/10/16/changes-in-digital-transformation-leadership-anarchy-or-opportunity/)

 

 

*- An edited version of this posting appeared in the February 2016 issue of Information Age (UK) (www.information-age.com)