The Pig strikes back

While I understand where it comes from there is nothing I dislike more than the current trend in and around digital government to dismiss (and dismiss is totally the right word for how it comes across) any web project as;

Lipstick on a pig.

When Dave Briggs, someone I’ve known for years and mainly agree with, was describing what how he defines ‘Government as a Platform’ he referred to;

not just slapping nicely designed front end lipstick onto legacy pigs

Just this week Nick Halliday, another sensible friend with good instincts, wrote about the quest for shiny and how it was getting in the way of more fundamental transformations to underlying processes and infrastructure.

Those bemoaning the ‘lipstick/pig’ school of transformation are not wrong. The ‘digital transformation’ journey is as deep as it is wide and can’t be fixed with a redesign. Real, lasting change goes beyond improving the user interface to the services and systems. There is legacy technology and cultural inertia that needs to be swept away as well.

That said travelling beyond doesn’t mean that isn’t where the journey starts. Users are not going to wait for the five years the digitally inspired ‘business change programme’ is probably going to take. They have high expectations and putting some user-centric lippy on the front-end improves their experience now also helps identify which of those legacy pigs to prioritise and provides some time and space to tackle those knotty problems.

Now obviously I have some ‘skin in the game’ as they say. I have spent the last 18 months of my life speaking to our users at every opportunity, sweating over every interaction, piece of micro-copy and colour combination on the new ONS website. All in all I’d suggest it was worthy of an ‘Oscar for Best Makeup’ rather than a little lipstick.

I’d also suggest that running a ‘web’ project the ‘right way’ openly and publicly can have a significant cultural impact on an organisation that makes some of the tougher parts of transformation to come a little easier to swallow. I’ve seen it happen up close.