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FST Government Wellington: our takeaways

The key theme at this year’s FST Government Conference (FSTGov) in Wellington was the acknowledgement that Government has to transform, to become more unified and citizen focussed. But with that seemingly common sense objective comes the reality check that our public sector is not setup to enable such lofty goals.

Like it or not, Digital Transformation is here to stay and amongst all the talk and pretty pictures this quote really jumped out at me:

“The only wrong move when it comes to Digital Transformation is not to make any move at all”
Didier Bonnet, Senior Vice President & Global Practice Leader Digital Transformation at CapGemini.

Peter Hughes the State Services Commissioner shared his view that “When it comes to delivering better public services, technology is the engine” but it isn’t the only element. The legislative regime that our government works under needs a revamp to deliver a modern, agile and adaptive public service that meets the needs of its citizens, but allows for us to continuously learn and evolve, adapt and grow. (You can provide input into the proposed State Sector reforms here: https://www.havemysay.govt.nz/)

I admit that I did enjoy Peter Hughes’ walk down memory lane and it is worth reminding ourselves how far our government has come since is inception in the 1840s (and the corruption and nepotism that was indicative of its time), to a government that in Peter Hughes’ words, is the envy of many other governments around world.

FST Government Wellington 2018 - our summary

And here are my top five themes from the conference.

Theme 1: Citizen as Customer

Almost every presentation, discussion and roundtable revolved around the concept of ‘citizen as customer’ with perspectives being shared on what that truly means, how it can be delivered and to what what extent technology will drive, or enable, the necessary changes.

Imagine the opportunities for citizens if we could rely on a single ‘identity’ that allowed a citizen to access multiple services across government without the need to constantly reapply and resubmit the same information – after all it is one government we are dealing with isn’t it?

But citizens aren’t the only customers our government deals with, so we need to get perspectives from across our customer segments. New Zealand is a diverse country. This gives us a strength and an opportunity that we should be leveraging more, as some of the most insightful perspectives come from different corners.

We were encouraged to model our new organisations by using inputs from as many perspectives as possible, take the diverse ideas from across your organisation, not just a sliver of the hierarchy and go outside your building too, to your partners, stakeholders, citizen groups and be open to what comes back from those groups; be open, be honest, be transparent.

Theme 2: Data & Information are critical to success

What was pleasing for me, was the acknowledgment that data and information would also be critical to success, not only in terms of core activities but in opportunities to deliver new services that we haven’t thought about yet.

High quality data feeds allow us to leverage the monumental power of machine learning but it still needs to be trained. If we have no data to consume, we cannot make decisions, but that data has to be reliable, usable, and secure. Our interaction with citizens is already changing and will continue to do so. If we are to exploit Virtual/Augmented reality solutions, artificial intelligence etc as Tim Occleshaw suggests we need high quality data feeds – and government has an ocean of it. Digital and data are both critical in delivering better outcomes for our citizens as per Peter Hughes’ keynote but then so is shared leadership.

Theme 3: People & Culture

Which brings me onto the next theme. All the technology and digital strategies in the world can’t help if your culture is broken.

Your culture in some ways provides your guiding principles or rules of engagement. When you look at the practicalities of delivering on your digital transformation initiatives, the cultural aspects have to be considered also.

The public sector for example delivers a lot of information but it can be reactive, so opportunities exist to switch the engagement model to a proactive one that encourages discussion and analysis.

For example, instead of reporting the headline stats to your executive or stakeholder group and waiting for them to ask more questions, create a collaborative space to draw deeper insights and more meaningful discussions; this could lead to shared initiatives that pool budgets and expertise that target interventions for better outcomes for a specific group eg at risk youth, or all Kiwis.

Theme 4: Be the change you want to see

But there is a change management imperative here. If we are going to be proactive and work together we have to build trust within our organisations and with our customers. The advice from our presenters was to ‘double-down’ on your change programme to arm people with the knowledge, insight, and capability to make decisions for their future. One of my favourite quotes of the day was to “seek out those people in your organisation that drive change, change is scary, but not doing it is scarier".

We are creatures of habit so when change is not managed well people become afraid and angry. This takes time away from doing the work that they are passionate about and that delivers to our customers. Activity based working, new technologies, new processes, expectations etc are likely to be elements in your transformation initiatives, but they won’t be successful unless the change is managed well.

You shouldn’t assume that change will just happen – this is a transformational programme – you have to drive the change you want to see.

Theme 5: Make it easy

Ultimately, we need to make it easy. Easy for our staff, easy for our customers, easy for our partners and stakeholders.

It sounds simple but you have to plan to execute this, to walk into your initiative with a design principle that this will be easy, while remembering that my definition of easy is going to be different to yours. What is easy for a firefighter is not necessarily easy for a policy advisor and vice versa.

When we talk about putting the customer first and designing for their needs we need to maximise any front line time you can get; ‘walk a mile in my shoes’ and see the practical realities of how we work. We focus sometimes too often on ‘virtual labs’ which can be useful but the deep understanding comes when you can experience what’s working and what’s not from your customers perspective. Emerging technologies such as AR and VR can help but there’s no substitute for personal experience.

You can’t just “become a digital workplace” overnight and be done with it. It is a continual process building on and leveraging different capabilities and innovations

Final thoughts

New Zealand is doing pretty well in the digital world. Yes there is more work to do but that will always be the case. FSTGov gave us the opportunity to engage with senior leaders across the public sector and hear first hand through our roundtables of the challenges they faced and the approaches that worked.

That knowledge sharing was incredibly valuable to us as we work with a range of public sector agencies here and in Australia but also reminded us that our small country really punches above its weight in a number of areas, and our public sector is trying to leverage digital technologies and approaches to transform the way it works so that it can simply ‘make a difference’.

There was also recognition that agencies can’t simply become a digital workplace overnight. It takes time and a degree of planning; at the very least – what are you trying to really achieve here. From our speakers and the roundtable discussions we also agreed that there is no ‘finish line’; once you complete this initiative you have completed a stage, and will them move into continuous improvements, enhancements or ‘micro-revolutions’ as you evolve your digital workplace into its next form.

I will leave you with a final thought, and one that I am getting printed on a mug: we need to be courageous, to simply ‘get going’ but remember that while nothing will ever be perfect, the customer should always be our focus. Or as one of our presenters put it: “Don't be face to the CEO, bum to the customer."

Posted by: Paula Smith, Practice Manager, Modern Workplace  | 20 September 2018


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