Ask the experts: What makes a transformation agenda successful in local government?

How do you navigate digital transformation successfully?

Many councils know they need to challenge the status quo in order to create an organisation capable of meeting the community’s needs in a digital economy. But how do you determine the best approach, present a compelling case for change, and then build momentum?


To help you drive your council forward, we asked three experts to share their thoughts.


Peter Suchting is the Group Director of Local Government at TechnologyOne. He’s a qualified accountant with almost 30 years of senior management experience and a deep understanding of the IT industry, business leadership, asset management, and enterprise software.


John Ravlic is Principal at Ravim RBC, a strategic consultancy focused on local government. He’s held leadership roles in local government and is passionate about helping councils position themselves for a new world.


Ian Roderick is a Partner at advisory firm GWI, where he helps clients to solve business problems through the use of transformative approaches, drawing on extensive ITC and business management experience.

What makes a digital transformation agenda successful?

John Ravlic, Principal, Ravim:

Digital transformation must be true to the organisation’s purpose and customer-facing, which requires a significant investment. It's beyond putting lipstick on a pig and requires streamlining of processes to both meet compliance requirements, as well as customers’ needs. Focusing on customers means doing it with them—take them on the development and implementation journey to ensure you design digital experiences that customers want to use.

A whole-of-council approach to transformation enables you to consistently respond to customers and find solutions to their problems. Integrated systems and SaaS solutions delivered by skilled professionals can take the worry out of day-to-day management, allowing a greater focus on what the council should be doing to support its customers.

Ian Roderick, Partner, GWI:

It’s not an IT thing, it’s a whole-of-business thing. It requires—particularly in a government context—that people be open to new ways of doing things.

Digital transformation is not just doing the same things better, often it requires doing things differently, or doing different things altogether. You can’t do that without a belief in the importance of digital transformation at the CEO or GM level.

Moving to the cloud or using a SaaS platform addresses efficiency and process improvement rather than being transformative by definition. For instance, if you want to change the way you do project delivery or procurement, SaaS applications can be adopted quickly to let you do things faster and be more agile.

Peter Suchting, Group Director Local Government, TechnologyOne:

Many councils undergo digital transformation to kick start their smart city or smart community journeys. But they often make the mistake of jumping straight to the customer-facing ‘smart’ applications.

For smart community ambitions to be successful, the underlying technology and architecture must be appropriate and enabling, such as with a SaaS-enabled ERP environment. If councils start by simplifying their IT layer, they can remove the need for dedicated in-house resources, reduce capital expenditure and be free to focus on their customers.

Partner
GWI

Digital transformation is not just doing the same things better, often it requires doing things differently, or doing different things altogether.

Descriptive message

Is it important to benchmark and measure results when undergoing digital transformation?

John Ravlic (Ravim):

Benchmarking enables you to gauge where you’re at in your transformation journey, what it has cost you, and how long it has taken. Benchmarking is about knowing what’s possible at what price and how effective it has been. Benchmarking can take place against previous analogue processes or against other transformations.

Ian Roderick (GWI):

You’ve got to know where you’re starting from so you can demonstrate success as you go through your transformative journey. You want to be able to look back and say, ‘We spent this much, and we improved these things’.

The outcomes aren’t always financial, it could be reducing the time it takes to complete certain tasks or doing more maintenance work because you’re managing the workforce more efficiently. It may be hard to quantify the dollars, but it's quantifiable in terms of service delivery or other things that the community would see as valuable.

Peter Suchting (TechnologyOne):

It’s useful to understand where you’re at now, but I don’t think you should delay digital transformation to develop benchmarks in order to justify the investment. Many councils are behind the curve when it comes to adopting modern technology—it’s a waste of time proving that you could do better with a better system.

It’s also important not to get bogged down in complex, time-consuming ways of trying to measure the impact of change in situations where you’re substantially transforming an ineffective approach and there are clear benefits.

Why is executive buy-in important in any digital transformation strategy?

John Ravlic (Ravim):

Without executive support, your digital transformation work is never going to be a priority, which may mean it never gets the required executive thinking time and visibility. The main risk is that the project may never receive the required resource allocation.

Every time a new initiative is introduced, the transformation project disappears further from executive sight. If the project has no line of executive sight there is no executive support.

Ian Roderick (GWI):

Leaders set the trajectory for your transformation and what needs to improve—customer service, community engagement, economic development or whatever it might be. Executives determine the strategy and need to ensure the execution of that strategy will achieve their objectives.

Also, without executive buy-in, your team won’t have permission to actually change things to achieve organisational objectives. So, the improvements won’t be realised.

Peter Suchting (TechnologyOne):

You need more than buy-in. You need executive leadership, and if you don’t have it, nothing happens next. A major transformational program can’t be successful with only lip service from the executive. In fact, I think that in government, a lack of will from leaders is the biggest barrier to digital transformation.

Some senior teams are happy with business as usual and have no enthusiasm to do anything differently. Whereas in councils with an innovative, forward-thinking leadership group, you get a strong change agenda and it’s possible to get faster outcomes with less friction.

Group Director - Local Government
TechnologyOne

In councils with an innovative, forward-thinking leadership group, you get a strong change agenda and it’s possible to get faster outcomes with less friction.

Descriptive message

Why is it important to align your digital transformation strategy with the organisation’s IT strategy?

John Ravlic (Ravim):

Staging the transformation according to priorities set out in the IT strategy, and in line with available resources, will be critical to achieving success. Primarily that’s because digital transformation projects don’t happen overnight: even with adequate funding they’ll span several budgets.

If you don’t dovetail with IT approaches, you may not deliver what’s needed when it’s needed. You’ll lose credibility and the organisation’s confidence by not delivering what’s expected, when it’s expected. This undermines the results of the digital transformation process, no matter how good they are.

Ian Roderick (GWI):

If you’re doing it properly, your digital transformation strategy and your IT strategy should be the same thing. It’s about the use of technology to achieve better outcomes for your council. I’d suggest a contemporary approach is to have an organisational strategy with something in there about transformation at that whole-of-business level, and then there’s something in the next level down that talks about tactics for using technology and data.

Separating the digital transformation agenda from your core IT strategy is fraught with danger. It can lead to duplication or people working towards different purposes. There’s often more than one way to get to where you’re going—but you can’t do them both at the same time.

Peter Suchting (TechnologyOne):

For IT systems and processes to be meaningful they should be embedded into, and support, your broader business strategy. Where councils sometimes get it wrong is they empower the wrong people. They put strategy decisions in the hands of an IT manager with outdated ideas and vested interests.

Running multiple different systems and relying on integrations to stitch it all together might keep your IT team busy, but it’s not a strategic approach. When senior leaders are informed enough to call it out, they can push through to create a more aligned plan that achieves organisational outcomes.

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