Digital Leaders — Building the Nation’s Digital DNA, ND16

I was lucky enough to attend this conference in London yesterday— http://www.nd16.co.uk/. In all honesty I had mixed expectations. We knew the audience was primarily Public Sector and charity representatives. The theme of the day was very much around digital transformation. My guess was that we’d cover a range of technical solutions that in reality would take years for any such organisations to adopt. I was wrong.

We (Red Bullet) work a lot with local government, charities and larger organisations, and have done for many years. We see first hand how hard it is to implement change within such structures… imagine an oil tanker turning around, with a failing left rudder. That said, we’ve experienced an increase in the optimism around implementing digital change.

What was refreshing today was the emphasis on the ingredients for transformation. Less focus on the tech solutions. After all we know there are tech solutions out there to solve a host of problems faced by Public Sector. The challenge comes in implementing those.

There were a lot of really interesting points raised by several speakers but there were a few that resonated with me.

Bottoms Up!

Stephen Foreshew-Cain had some really great insight into the culture within the Government Digital Service. They’ve adopted a more “agency” culture to how they work and it’s clearly bringing success. By unshackling the perception of working in Government, it allows the people to work with less constraint. This leads to innovation and agility in how solutions are delivered. Creating this “bottom up” (not top-down) approach to how the team does things breeds empowerment, attracts talent and of course results in great digital output. A testament to the success of this approach is the loss of one of our most valued team members, who is starting work with Gov.uk’s digital team in July (- curse you GDS, look after him, he’s a true legend!)

Buzzword Bingo

As you’d imagine there were a lot of buzzwords thrown around yesterday— “agile” was mentioned a lot. From our own experience, we see agile mentioned in many briefs and tenders. In reality though, when we come to the crunch, the client really wants a waterfall approach. Gantt charts are thrown about and we have our heads in our hands too many times. That said, hope is on the horizon and we can increasingly educate clients in a better way. And it was great to hear the digital leaders today talking the same language as us. An agile, iterative approach yields a better product.

Plugging the Skills Gap

The BBC took over a session and had a really interesting outlook. We all know TV viewing amongst the younger generation is declining. They are pushing themselves to plug the hole between digital and the TV output. The Mixital initiative is their brainchild to pull in a more interactive-searching audience. We heard from members of their youth panel who were helping to shape how the BBC evolves these interactive channels. It was interesting to hear how these youth panel members (both female) had been exposed to the world of digital. It opened up questions for our table around how, and if, there is a skills gap in the young. People’s perception of digital is still very much “computer, geeky stuff”… but there is now so much more to all we do online — from user experience, content, design, ideas, testing, data analysis — it’s so much more than simply “coding”. What is worrying is that schools are still churning out IT lessons, focused on teaching Word, Excel and basic computer knowledge. Why, oh why are we not teaching the youth of today about the wider digital world and the opportunities out there. My kids are already more proficient on any device than my wife (sorry love) — we should be harnessing their skills, building on them. After all, they’ll be carrying the baton for digital transformation when we pass it on.

Summing Up

I was pleasantly surprised by how the right people are saying the right things around digital transformation. I feel hopeful about the next few years for Public Sector.

What does frustrate me (and I’ll leave the full rant to another article) is the way suppliers (agencies) are procured. The tender process is painful at times. We are a small team, passionate about helping Public Sector and Charities work smarter. There are loads of other companies like us. Yet so often we lose out to larger (presumably “risk-free”) companies churning out waterfall, old-school solutions for crazy money — they don’t give a shit. We do, we’re here if you need us :-)