How to implement a successful IT project in Government
James Norman, UK public sector CIO at Dell EMC, discusses the necessary areas for change that could lead to far better success and real digital transformation
The introduction of transformative technology has been hailed as the key to a more connected, innovative and efficient government. From Care.data to the e-borders programme – there have been many government IT projects that have aimed to revolutionise services for citizens but, for various reasons, haven’t resulted in the positive change expected.
According to the recent ‘Making a success of digital Government’ report , since 2000, over £10 billion has been spent on Government IT projects that did not deliver their intended benefits. Last year’s figures show that money continues to be invested in failed projects . This poses the question: why are so many IT projects still going wrong?
There is a huge amount of ambition within the public sector to implement change through technology but what these organisations need is guidance and support to see these ambitions through. There are five areas for change that we believe could lead to far better success and real digital transformation.
1. Better understanding of the role that IT plays in digital transformation at board level
Digital transformation is still a bit of an enigma for public sector boards. Generally, they struggle to see the connection between technology and the wider change that they know needs to take place. Success relies on leadership from the top, so getting the board’s buy-in to any IT project needs to include demonstrating how it will impact the organisation from top to bottom. One way of doing this is by showing them use cases of how other organisations have changed public service delivery with better technology; demonstrating not just return on investment but streamlined processes and better working practices. If boards don’t understand the art of the possible, it is impossible for them to steer their organisations to a more digital future.
2. Culture of collaboration rather than a culture of silos
No one team, in government or beyond, has all the answers. Collaboration, therefore, is key to finding new ways to accelerate innovation in change. And this collaboration must go beyond public sector bodies, who can learn a great deal from the tech industry, the private sector in general and wider society. Collaboration needs to be a strong focus at central and local government level, as well as a willingness to work effectively with all parties capable of bringing about this change to drive digital success in government. It won’t just happen by itself; culture change, new processes, and new best practices need to be developed.
3. Pre-, during and post-deployment are all equally as important
IT projects are taking too long. On average, government organisations are spending two and a half years introducing ‘new’ technology which, considering the pace of change within the technology sector, is considered ‘old’ by the time it comes to deployment. To combat this, the relevant stakeholders within an organisation need to be engaged right from the beginning, with a clear set of objectives and roadmap agreed upon. They also need to be willing to be flexible when issues arise. Having a more agile approach and the flexibility to change the direction of the project if it isn’t delivering the expected results, will reduce the risk of project failure and help deliver true benefits and value in the long run.
So, once the technology is introduced, it’s on to the next project, correct? Unfortunately, it is at this point where so many projects fail. Technology will only provide positive impact if it is understood, embraced and used by the people that it has been implemented for. This means providing training and educating staff in the benefits that the technology provides. Without these steps, any technology project is doomed to failure. Moving forward, the government needs to think of technology as not simply a delivery channel, but instead as an absolute fundamental part of its operations.
4. Investing in relevant skills
Earlier this year, we released a study which revealed that four in five (81%) public sector workers believe they have the skills in their organisation to support the digital transformation of public services. However, nearly half (47%) of public sector workers said their organisation would benefit from having the vision to plot long-term digital plans, a skill the sector is significantly lacking. The government should help to further digital expertise outside of the GDS, improving digital skills across the country. After all, the Information Generation is going to be our future workforce and therefore will need the relevant skills to take advantage of new technology innovations.
5 . Introduce hybrid infrastructure to support legacy and new technologies
As discussed in the ‘Making a success of digital Government’ report , some big public services still run on legacy and dated technology. Replacing all of this technology is expensive and time consuming. This means, rather than allowing old IT to hold back innovation, government organisations need a hybrid IT infrastructure that will support old and new.
Equally, where possible, organisations should try to decommission old systems if they are being replaced by new technology. With the excitement of a new deployment going live, this step is easily missed but can be crucial to the acceptance and adoption of the new technology by staff. It can be tempting to use old systems if they’re still available.
There are some fantastic examples of successful IT projects within government and although the steps outlined above aren’t insignificant, they will go a long way to helping see real transformation and ensure that the money being spent is having a positive impact. Public sector workers need to be given a better understanding of how technology can help foster digital transformation, with a realistic sense of the benefits the technology can deliver. Enabling more collaboration and fostering the right IT skills will be key to successful IT projects in government.
James Norman is UK public sector CIO at Dell EMC