Natalie Taylor, digital transformation expert at PA Consulting, speaks to Disruption magazine about digital transformation within the public sector.
The article explains that both the public and private sector are facing digital disruption at every level and that success will rely on implementing and delivering digital services to customers and citizens.
Natalie says: “Digital is an enabler. It’s not just about technology. Buying a bit of kit doesn’t equal digital. It’s about working in the open, being transparent, being collaborative, and agile. The digital world has brought those ways of working along with it. They are just as important. Without them, your business won’t be fit for the digital era.”
The article mentions Natalie’s work with the Government Digital Service (GDS) where she helped several government departments to embrace digital transformation as well as her leadership role at the Mayor of London’s Office where she worked with all 33 London councils to demystify digital.
Natalie goes on to say: “Public sector organisations don’t have the same driver of making a profit, but they are also big organisations with a lot of staff who do a lot of things. They are built on legacy technology and processes. They both have to question what digital means for them, get their head around it, and best adopt it.”
We can help you identify how to reinvent your business to capitalise on digital technologies and innovation
How do organisations that have started their digital transformation keep their momentum? Natalie believes that this is all about reacting quickly and scaling when things are seen to work well. But before scaling, you need to experiment with new things.
She explains: “There has got to be board level buy in and understanding of what digital means for the business. I see a lot of organisations where senior leadership think that digital means your website and it’s done by the comms people. There’s a big culture shift that still isn’t happening that comes down to a lack of capability in our leadership. Until that changes, it’s going to be very difficult to make digital a mainstream part of how organisations run themselves.”
Natalie discusses the nature of leadership: “There’s still an attitude of ‘we’ve done it this way for 25 years and it made us a lot of money, so why change things now?’ I think there’s an element of not understanding, and carrying on as usual because leaders don’t want to say they don’t understand something. It takes a bold leader to say they got it wrong and take a new direction.”
She adds: “I’m in a senior role and I fully accept that a lot of the people I’m responsible for do work that I wouldn’t be able to do. That’s why they’re doing the job, and not me. It’s my job to give them the space to do what they’re good at and support them where they need it. I always ask them if what I’m doing is helpful. The live feedback loop is so important, otherwise we can’t continue to learn.”
The article then explores how new management models – less hierarchical and more collegiate – allow for more flexibility and experimentation within organisations. “In terms of private sector companies, one example that always springs to mind is Zara. They track demand in real time using analytics, they have an agile supply chain, they keep their stock level low so they don’t end up with a load of clothing that nobody wants to buy, they have an incredible daily feedback loop to tweak designs in response to buyer habits… Their performance reflects the success of using these models and they are beating their major competitors”, says Natalie.
However, Natalie admits that digital, which should sit at the heart of operations, isn’t yet the norm. “We’re still experimenting with digital technologies on the edge of business, which means this doesn’t get enough traction or isn’t taken seriously. We need to bring the experimental mindset much more to the front and centre of business and do it very openly so people see what’s happening, understand it and see the backing of the leadership team”, she says.
“We have digital natives coming up in the more junior ranks of our organisations, but are we listening to them? They have a lot of ideas about how we can do things better, but are we giving them a voice? How are we learning from talented people across the whole business? We need to make sure there are digital skills at all levels.”
The article mentions several examples of PA’s work culture that increase diversity in leadership and challenge the hierarchies that stifle digital transformation. These include reserve mentoring, PA partnerships with universities, apprenticeships and the Code First Girls programme that provides free training to women who want to learn to code.
Natalie concludes: “At the end of the day, it’s about bringing products, services, and information to citizens in the most user-friendly way possible. Whether you’re doing that for a private company, a government department, or a university, there are the same sort of challenges."