Technology being poorly used is nothing new. In 1998, the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology warned that poorly managed IT risked making problems worse, freezing organisations and their existing structures, hierarchies, processes and services at a moment in time.
Their warning largely fell on deaf ears. A generation of inexperienced management - in both public and private sectors - used technology to automate the way they had always done things, instead of seizing the opportunity to reimagine, redesign and improve organisations and the way they worked.
There are notable exceptions of course: the bellwethers of the private sector stand out precisely because they have redesigned organisations, functions and processes, enabling them to flex, adapt and transform to meet changing user demand. The last decade or so for successful organisations has been the era of smartly brokering their business services from a mix of in-house and external sources.
Yet far too many organisations still fail to understand and apply technology effectively. Poor or absent strategy, bureaucratic management models, arbitrary organisational and functional divisions, broken risk-reward models, and poor systems and processes continue to predominate for no better reason than “this is the way it’s always been done”.
Meanwhile the tedious fad for debating whether CMOs or CIOs or CDOs or CTOs are in charge or whether “technology" or “digital" is more important, rivals “watch the emulsion dry” as most indulgent displacement activity of the year. In the real world, tech-savvy leaders are busy challenging sloppy management thinking and reimagining organisations and how they function - driven by the user-focused culture and fluid platform economics that underpin open, consumerised services.
The public sector’s own bellwethers outshine many in the private sector, displacing entrenched management and organisational inertia: their example needs to rapidly become the norm. Whatever one’s personal views of the government’s High Speed 2 (HS2) project, its technology leadership is well ahead of many alleged flagship organisations in the private sector. Wardley Maps have been used to identify strategic business and user needs, with capabilities and services delivered by the optimal route - whether that’s in-house or via the government’s cloud-first strategy.
The public sector needs to encourage and cultivate more leaders such as HS2’s CIO James Findlay. Leaders with strategic business vision, able to focus on users' needs, drive processes of continuous improvement in their organisations, cultivate open competitive markets, and make effective use of modern tools, technologies and techniques. Leaders who are able to finally break away from the “this is the way it’s always been done” dogma of the past.
Technology only truly succeeds as part of a strategic business change. HS2’s technology leadership makes clear that it’s possible to overcome the problems foreseen in 1998. But doing so requires highly capable CxOs, able to challenge and displace stale thinking, and able to turn technology from being an organisational blocker to an enabler - unfreezing rigid organisational structures in order to deliver a long-desired, and desperately needed, reinvention and improvement of our public services.