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Think digitally and ditch the hierarchies to create effective digital services advises Socitm

Being able to think digitally and being prepared to ditch traditional hierarchies are necessary precursors to creating, establishing and operating effective digital services says The Digital Mindset, a new briefing from Socitm.

But digital leaders must also sell this way of thinking to service managers and other decision-makers, since a deep understanding of the capability of digital,  and how to use it effectively, changes people’s view of how to get things done.

Consequently, digital thinking cannot be left to ‘techhies’ or any other single group of organisational stakeholders. But if a digital mindset is developed and applied, it promises local public services much beyond mere ‘efficiency savings’, although this will take time, effort and resources - all of which are currently in short supply.

The briefing lists 15 critical features of the digital mindset in an ‘approximate priority order’, describing each in turn and providing links to further sources of information.

Understand how technology changes business processes: digitally enabled processes are transforming the growth and scale of business and shifting power from suppliers to buyers. The scope, nature and design of public services will change also – as Government Digital Service projects demonstrate

Lead more, manage less: traditional top-down management hierarchies actively manage the status quo. Digital leaders establish cultures that embrace change, continuous challenge, and improvement in order to meet user needs. 

Take calculated risks: conservative public sector attitudes to risk must change. Progress iteratively with small-scale, controlled experiments, learning from the results and ensuring that any potential fallout is manageable

Learn and collaborate: allow time for teams to learn about new emerging technologies by trying them out. Share and implement projects created elsewhere. Find new collaborators.

Garner ideas from the wider community: by publishing anonymised travel data, Transport for London (TfL) has enabled the production by others of new smartphone apps for journey planning and access to real-time travel information. These benefit many travellers without TfL bearing the cost of developing apps itself.

Connect concepts together: exploitation of data derived from different sources is fundamentally changing the way that we address issues like congestion, social isolation, and obesity, and target their resolution.

Look for win-wins: working collaboratively towards agreed mutually beneficial goals can result in win-wins. Buyers and suppliers both supporting and benefiting from open data and the use of open standards are examples of win-win scenarios.

Develop influencing skills: digital leaders need to be able ‘sell’ ideas for digitally enabled approaches that may involve major cultural change to relevant service managers and/or to senior management teams.

Be more agile and adaptable: today’s solutions cannot to be set in stone and future options must be kept open. The phrase ‘perpetual beta’ sums up the degree of fluidity required, especially in the early days of something new.

Ease control on time and space: old constraints about when and where work should be done do not fit with new digital thinking. The focus should be on managing by individual and teamwork outcomes, rather than work inputs.

Become more comfortable with ambiguity: digital leaders must be comfortable with complexity and uncertainty while having a clear vision of where they want to take their team and their organisation next.

Respect other, differing, perspectives: digital leaders must encourage diverse, evidence-based and reasoned debate. All ideas, whatever their origin must be evaluated dispassionately.

Accommodate globalisation and diversity: younger employees and customers of local public services may have different social and cultural perspectives than older cadres. Digital leaders will make sure their organisations reach out to all parts of diverse communities in order to serve them better.

Provide the skilled people: the skill sets required to take the local public sector forward in the digital age are at a premium right now. Digital leaders will have to look beyond traditional recruitment channels.

Provide the physical wherewithal: local digital leaders must support delivery of networks and access to make communities truly digital – this is now regarded as a universal social need, like household electricity and running water.

The Digital Mindset is available free of charge to Socitm corporate members and Socitm Insight subscribers in the Socitm Insight Group library on KHub.

Further information:

Dr Andy Hopkirk, Head of Research at Socitm - andy.hopkirk@socitm.net; 01604 709456

Vicky Sargent, Socitm Press Office - vicky.sargent@socitm.net; 07726 601139