Reporting back from the All of Government Digital Transformation Conference, Wellington 15-16 May 2017

Having the Minister of Internal Affairs, the Honourable Peter Dunne, as opening keynote at a digital transformation conference, followed immediately by the Department’s Chief Executive Officer (Government Chief Information Officer – GCIO) Colin MacDonald, was quite a drawcard for this conference which was well attended by captains of industry in the information sector from all over New Zealand.  I’m delighted the seduction of a top speaker/topic line up paid dividends and present my highlights of the conference in the paper…

Central Government thinking

Minister Dunne essentially espoused Result 10 (I made some comments about this in an earlier blog) – but more eloquently he noted the typical citizen wants interaction with Government to be minimal, no fuss, and easy with that be a Business StartUp, or just access to information it should be convenient, tailored and of course 24/7:

“it’s pretty simple proposition… while a citizen watches telly, why can’t they interact with Government in their place, on their device, in their time – the focus should be on people’s needs, not Government structures”

and this set the tone for why Digital Transformation is so important.  (As an aside, I’m delighted to hear the Minister give a shout out to the National Library for the collaborative efforts to make libraries digital transformation community hubs for New Zealand. In my own experience is never more true than during the global financial crisis and post-earthquakes in Canterbury where the moral capital of libraries really shone.

I also sensed the realist in Minister Dunne (a trait I respect in him).  He acknowledges that different government organisations are looking at different rates of progress regarding digital transformation and this presents a constant challenge.  He noted that citizen privacy must be respected … at the same time acknowledging the desire for open government.

As our GCIO, Colin MacDonald is a pivotal player in the New Zealand government’s efforts towards digital transformation and he spoke impressively about building a digital ecosystem: how collaboration is delivering truly citizen centric services in Government.  He gave us his golden rules:

  • Put the customer at the centre
  • Design services around life events (where it makes sense)
  • Work within a system of service
  • Transform ICT to succeed

this resonated with me as it touches on the reasons my organisation is approached to improve information workflow through the use of technology.

With a touch of humour Colin MacDonald established his cred with the techies in the room with a passing comment that he graduated with a degree in Computer Science (Uni of Glasgow) in 1980 – he quipped that digital transformation through the introduction of computers was predicted to remove the paper from offices within the decade!  I discovered we have something in common I was at the University of Auckland’s second Department of Computer Science intake in 1982; – they were saying similar things!  I agree with Colin that digital transformation is more about good governance than it is about ICT…  “it’s also about collaboration for collective impact” he noted.

He was magnaminous enough to give us this message (or was he simply defending some howling fails from Government Departments in ICT project cost escalations, as well as privacy breaches?)

“Government is good at big projects, not so good at user-centric ICT services, citizens have to accept that Government may make mistakes as we transform digitally”

Both the GCIO and the Minister highlighted “Smart Start” as a good example of digital transformation inside their Department.  This site/App provides step-by-step info & support for a family to access the right services for them & their baby.

In fact for many his was the key take home speech from feedback of my own straw poll at the conference.  For me he engendered one question – and one nagging thought about the approach of Government to Digital Transformation:

A good question for our GCIO: how do u balance standardisation against a ‘world in beta’ as technology changes so rapidly?

Proposition (by me):  given these points why does digitisation and business eWorkflow NOT feature on an All of Government Panel?

It did feature for a while on the ‘MFD’ panel but (provocatively) in my experience the box-sellers know little about digitisation beyond what their photocopiers can do, and selling an MFD which largely services a print-paper-and-file-it mentality should not give you a government-monopoly on digitisation and eWorkflow.

Local Government thinking

Whoever constructed the programme did a good job… I have worked with the majority of our 78 (regional and territorial) Local bodies over the years in plain old digitisation / data transformation & migration during platform changes / digital transformation through business process change – in particular eWorkflow.  I really enjoyed the voice they had – and heard – at this conference.

The Local Government Act 2002 essentially states that the purpose of local government is:

To enable democratic local decision-making and action by, and on behalf of, diverse communities; and

To meet the current and future needs of communities for good-quality local infrastructure, local public services, and performance of regulatory functions in a way that is most cost-effective for – and accountable to – households and businesses.

A clear need for understanding where benefits might be made through Digital Transformation!

Referencing LGNZ (as I did above) the eleven regional councils are primarily concerned with environmental resource management, flood control, air and water quality, pest control, and, in specific cases, public transport, regional parks and bulk water supply.   The 67 territorial authorities (city and district councils) are responsible for a wide range of local services including roads, water reticulation, sewerage and refuse collection, libraries, parks, recreation services, local regulations, community and economic development, and town planning.

With their diverse communities and mandates, the wide range of services required, and in many cases a small population base spread over a large, variable and dynamic geographic area, then digital transformation offers great potential to maximise best use of resources, to maximise the value to the ratepayers, and to provide ease of interaction with Council services and facilities.

One Council focused on delivering value to their community is clearly Whanganui District Council.  By way of proving their value they sought independent assessment of that through entering the Smart21 challenge:

“Gaining a place among the year’s Smart21 is considered a badge of honor as well as the first step greater recognition as an Intelligent Community positioned to prosper in the broadband economy.”

I’m a big fan of the mantra “what gets measured gets improved; what gets tracked, gets done” (was that Drucker? or Lean Thinking? or both?) and I suspect Jason Simon is as well when he mentioned they had made the list 7 out of 8 times in recent years and the improvements were quantifiable this way, for example: my tweet:

Jason spoke strongly to Digital Transformation running through his council’s Information Strategy 2015-18 identifying:

  • Mobility
  • Business Continuity
  • Digitisation Services
  • Operations
  • Open Data/Access

as key themes…  I was interested to note they’re a Council that uses #RealMe for authentication

And a gem of a quote from Jason Simon for those of us who have to embrace Digital Transformation while working with budgets inside the constraints of archaic (perhaps – ‘pre-internet thinking’ is a kinder term) accounting frameworks – the annual, three-year, and long Term Plan:

“who plans budgets 10 years in advance in ICT?!!?” – “Local Government does!”

Which I thought fed beautifully into the Local Government Panel discussion on preparing for the future of digital services delivery where I thought the mix of large and small, town versus country was perfect… some bullet take-homes:

  • Eddo van Loenen (STDC) – digital services should be invisible (seamless)! To effect change you need resources to facilitate – difficult for lean councils who are full of VERY busy experts.  Need accurate & clean data for quality decision making.  Operate global – be local.
  • Gavin Till (Chc City Ccl) – digital services is about connectivity, a digital ecosystem – a “digitally connected community”.  “Just because your Org doesn’t have a #BusinessStrategy does NOT mean you cannot have an #ICTStrategy”.  Systems come & go – what’s important is data.
  • Mark Denvir (Akl Council) – LG business is transaction-focused – value for digital services is CommunityEngagement eg don’t transact graffiti removal via an App – influence the community not to encourage prevention.  Can we leverage Ak’s scale to help other LG?  Still have pain from the amalgamation.

And this gem that resonated for me from Mark Denvir about partnership opportunities:

“By presenting an RFP we get exactly what we ask for… potentially miss out on opportunity for innovation.  Vendors take a punt (if successful) to influence once inside.”

Refreshing to hear that Akld Ccl is so willing to share, my experience in past 5 years is them looking overseas for ideas and sharing and turning their back on the LG scene in NZ.  Here they acknowledge they have similar problems and needs to smaller Ccls!

Stacey Young (Marlborough DC) – present data for decision making, be driven by the citizen too, sensible to insert data from primary industries to educate the process.  Advocate for a simplified (ie high level, graphical) presentation of strategy critical for keeping stakeholders informed.

But the meat of the conversation surrounded leveraging the strengths of both LG and CG.  Collaboration was key!  For example IT standards developed by CG had been adopted by LG because of no local resource … however – are they fit for purpose?  Likewise one system to rule them all isn’t helpful in diverse communities wishing to retain own culture!  Cloud systems are helpful.

The GCIO’s office has lots of good stuff – but CG focus, not LG.  So one aprocah suggested by Denvir was to get a voice at the CG table – use organisations like ALGIM, LGNZ & Auckland Council to seed ideas, be heard.  One common goal was Building Consents – 27 LG have got together, now CG taking a leadership role in that collaboration.

And so on to user and customer experience in digital transformation

The scale of the potential benefits of digital transformation (disruption?) was evident with sophisticated presentations by Ministry of Social Development’s David Habershon and NZ Police’s Mark Evans with their (separate) efforts to improve mobility and a streamlined customer experience (yes, there are parallel’s with this pair) whether a policeman ‘in the field’ or as one of 340,000 registered users with 40,000 logins per day for MSD using for admin.  Impressive!

And talking of scale – I recall I felt bad 6 weeks after the Christchurch February Quake in 2011 that I didn’t have enough emotional energy to share with the tragedy of the Japanese Tsunami (Fukushima) … the shear number of deaths was overwhelming!  But thinking economically, and recovery-focused, Linda Smith of the Earthquake Commission gave me some context there explaining that whilst both were massive the percentage impact on our respective economies was about 15 to 1 against NZ (with cost of our EQ being around $40Bn – 20% of our GDP).  She also gave salutary lessons about the cost and effort of recovery being commensurate with Disaster Recovery Planning.

Which brought forth Nicola Chrisp from Waikato Regional Council with some salient science around research into human attention span declining in recent years, moreso since the advent of the smartphone (from 12 to 8 seconds would you believe – less than the common goldfish according to a Canadian study – who clearly had plenty of time on their hands to undertake the research (smirk)  J !) … we appear to be in an era of multitaskers!

Janek Rozov, Head of Information Society Services for the Estonian Government provided an interesting presentation of how planning and expanding around one system, their ID card/Smartphone, has paid dividends for their citizens in terms of efficiency and the savings in the cost of time spent on citizen-administration by government workers (820 working years thus far!).  The state-controlled approach seems easier to administer in a small nation with 1.3M people in the post-‘eastern bloc’ era.

In more ‘westernised’ economies the focus is firmly on user experience, and ANZ Bank’s Head of Digital & Transformation, Lizzie Maguire, uses UMR Research to identify what frustrates a customer online: “not replying to questions”; “advertising too much”; “being boring”; “incorrect information”… The bank is looking to optimise its digital business model around what is consumed, relating to the customer experience, with the platform being incidental.  We heard similar from Mark Denvir from Auckland Council the day before.  However a key take-home for me as an entrepreneur was that:

… for a (new) user/consumer, endorsement from a trusted source (family, friend, organisation), even non-expert, would generally outweigh any form of marketing or sales approach…

Which kind of fits my ethos of striving to produce quality work, always, and doing your utmost NEVER to let a customer down are important values.

What about Leadership in digital transformation?

Whilst I was wowed by the scale of ANZ Bank’s operation (I believe the ICT project to merge themselves and National Bank into one system is the largest this country has seen), Pradeep Navalkar Principle Advisor Service Continuity Management at MBIE chimed in with the scale of his ‘domain’ – the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment stands up 3300 staff, 2,000 servers, and is responsible for 123 Acts of Parliament!  And every user who interacts with their systems expects excellence, ease of use, accessibility…  “Digital Transformation” and “business disruption” roll off the tongue easily however at the enterprise level this is BIG business.

Putting together a leader’s panel from large corporates was inspiring, and clever on behalf of Aventedge, complementing beautifully Central and Local Government thinking heard thus far.  It was refreshing for me to receive affirmation that large organisations are changing perspectives from designing improvements and interoperability around the constraints of large cumbersome platforms, they are not prepared to put a new lick of paint on legacy systems, more likely to turn features off and rebuild or reengineer business services/processes according to customer demand – technology has become the enabler whereas the platform was previously.  Thank you Carmen Casagranda of CIGNA, Ed Overy of Kiwirail, James Dickinson of BDO and Lukasz Zawilski, of NZQA.  And as we read more and more about the inadequacies of lowest price conforming bids winning tenders the leader’s panel spoke to this:

… everything we do in Digital Transformation is PEOPLE-centric – except tenders – which are $ led, not relationships-led.  Invariably this creates a relationship climate of minimalist levels of service.  In our normal lives we seek best value for money, where we look for parties we know we can work well with to deliver the result everyone wants …

A common traditional approach was to look for ways to produce the lowest cost of procurement… and it has some merit in the purchase of fit-for-purpose widgets, certainly compared to weighted attribute models, but the former, more commonly used, approach can be madness if you are outcomes-focused on delivering best value for your users.  Particularly where there are unknowns in quantity or quality that will not be surfaced until well into the job thus presenting a ‘level-playing field’ that can be interpreted differently.

Organisational change

I always found illogic in the statement that us humans are change-averse and the general sentiment of the panel on change affirmed this.  However they made some salient points about how it is communicated and conducted, with great deference to understanding your audience.  Simon Rice of LINZ provided us with context showing all manner of expertly produced records – created over many decades – inferring he has an audience in his organisation of highly trained professionals with great pride in their pedigree and performance.  Change for them must reflect their expectations of professionalism.  Sonya Crosby – Chief Innovation Officer – SkyCity – identified the need for digital champions throughout org – COACH them to coach others on managing change, after all, why should tech drive innovation and change – the whole company should … and it should reflect the demands and needs of internal and external customers (I mean, who has a ‘customer experience manager’ on the payroll?  We’re all generally intuitive about customer needs aren’t we?).  We are after all, an extension of our customer experience noted Jo Avenell of NZ Post Group… are you working for them or yourself?

Thinking: So what makes a great digital champion?  The panel came up with:
energy, enthusiasm, persistence, live & breathe what they preach, fight headwinds, able to give context, know where business is going, & ‘AQ’ Adaptability Quotient – worth looking that up in the context of IQ and EQ!

And on that note, where compliance is required, try aiming for it by default, not by forcing action – which was rather gorgeous from the IRD (and an ex-Army person to boot) in Mark Daldorf, the IRD’s Chief People Officer.

In closing

Closing the Conference with a suite of offerings around Open Data, Privacy, and ICT Security were significant broad topics to delve into to round off a well-compiled programme around digital transformation.  The “WannaCry” ransomware was in full cry in the days surrounding the Conference and Howard Broad impressed with alerting us to the role of the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) & CERT NZ & their efforts to protect kiwis – one of the biggest challenges they face is knowing about the events ie being alerted to spam or cyber attacks – because the reputational risk of publicising you’ve been breached is as bad or worse than the event!  So knowing how widespread the problem is can be difficult.  But if you want to develop a Cyber Security Policy )and Action Plan) you might start here.

As an employer of nearly 100 people – I felt a bit naive for having never visited Privacy Commissioner John Edward’s website before… he kindly reminded me it was pertinent to me (and not just Government Departments) and it really is just 12 simple Principles.  His best advice was actually a reminder that:

“… technology is not neutral, data is not neutral, and that biases can occur (unwittingly or otherwise)…

His useful take-home – a “Data Safety Toolkit” – about how to handle a data breach led beautifully into Howard Broad’s cyber security presentation.

And even though his was the third to last presentation – I thought the Statistics NZ session on Open Data deserved the final word – after all this missive is about digital transformation, and while we must operate under some (minimal I hope) controls and standards (and values!) I hope ‘data or information revolution’ we are currently in remains as open as it can be, because we will surely accelerate the collective knowledge of the world faster this way.

Chris Buxton, Chief Digital Officer of Statistics NZ talked of Statistics NZ promoting the 5 star schema for Open Data, originally suggested by internet inventor Tim Berners-Lee.  But when embracing such things it’s important to remember Open Data is not just about sharing stuff more widely, it’s about better performance and system capability, it’s about economic well-being and new ideas … and ‘highest on the dial’ (refer diagram) for me are the significant people benefits through better transparency and accountability as well as enticing broader user participation against relevant social contexts.  I think this dovetails neatly with the sentiment of all of the speakers and panels at this conference – we all want to use digital transformation to leverage the opportunities digital technologies bring to maximise process efficiency and accuracy, business benefits (and change!) it can offer people, after all:

“He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata. He tangata. He tangata’ he tangata, he tangata, he tangata…”

“What is the most important thing in the world? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata. It is the people, it is the people…”

Next steps…

I lead a couple of ICT companies (one in the business records and information workflow sector and the other in the heritage records and community engagement sector) and we have been developing our leadership and communications skills across our values set over the past year.  I ’m professionally interested in transforming workplace processes using automation and digital technologies…  I’m going to take these thoughts back to my wider leadership teams in each company, and revisit our progress, our ambitions, and our Annual Plans with renewed invigoration about the people benefits of digital transformation for us and our customers.

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