Friday, 23 November 2018

It's about leadership, innit?

So, I'll get to the point.

Leaders matter. Digital transformation is hard to do. And its impossible unless leaders 'get it'.


Digital literacy among the senior civil service of the Welsh Government, the Chief Executives of Local Authorities and Health Boards, and Sponsored Bodies, is generally poor. And the same is true of political leaders.

Digital transformation doesn’t succeed by chance. It takes decisive leadership that is prepared to challenge and be challenged, be resilient, make difficult decisions and focus on delivery.

The Welsh Government has a Chief Digital Officer (who has done lots of good things from close to a standing start) but her writ doesn't run much beyond Cathays Park. She's the CDO for WG, not for Wales. There is no ‘guiding mind’ for digital developments across all public services to spread best practice, or to set digital service standards, or veto duplication and waste across the public sector.

When Socitm assessed the digital leadership of authorities they found that most Councils do not have a Chief Digital Officer, with many still seeing digital as an offshoot of ICT. They found that digital strategies, where they exist (nearly a quarter of Council did not have one), “do not completely embrace the full potential of the digital agenda”. Local Authorities are not making the most of citizen data to design services, not using digital engagement to co-produce services, and not using open data as a key enabler. Socitm also found that there is too little benchmarking with organisations outside Wales.

This isn't a counsel of despair, its a call to action. And Socitm did find some good practice, but they argued that digital excellence will only be sustained where there is a culture change, development of digital skills at every level, and a strategy that is embedded across every level of a local authority.

Its much the same in the NHS. There is some great practice in pockets. I visited the Welsh Renal Clinical Network in Morriston hospital yesterday. They've created a digital transformation of the service delivered to kidney patients, including e-prescribing and patient access to their test results and treatment plans. Its saved time and money, as well as improving patient outcomes and the patient experience.

It can be done.

But they've achieved it despite, not because of the system.

The Wales Audit Office report, the Parliamentary review of Health and Social Care in Wales, and the recent Public Accounts Committee report all identified leadership and skills as a significant issue

The WAO report pointed out the problem of not having digital represented at board level in the Health Service. And PAC went further in recommending a review of the senior leadership capacity in terms of skill-set and governance within both NWIS and the wider NHS Digital Team. “We were not convinced that the senior Welsh Government officials and top NHS executives have the detailed technical understanding needed to give NWIS a clear direction and challenge its performance and decisions” the committee said. 

Scotland's Local Government Digital Office has a programme to equip current and future leaders with the skills they need to deliver digital transformation. Likewise their impressive DataLab has a stream of work focused on developing skills and talent, including helping senior leaders understand data and digital and their own role in harnessing it (I should declare an interest, they gave me some free socks).

Shouldn't we be doing something similar (not the socks bit)? Delivering digital capability to the senior leadership across the Welsh public service seems critical to me. The panel is considering recommending developing a mixed model of support for all senior leaders, including training courses and providing Agile coaches and mentors.

What would help do the trick?

And of course as well as up-skilling senior leaders, we need to do the same for the whole workforce. We need to create a People Strategy that can assess the skills, capabilities and ambition of our public sector workers, and provide the training and support that they need to deliver in the Digital Age. This is also an opportunity to create a diverse and inclusive public sector workforce.

What do you think would make a difference?

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