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CIOs drive confident, resilient governments

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CIOs must work constantly with their IT leadership teams and the agency leadership in four areas to keep their digital government programme on track and aligned with expected organisational outcomes, according to Gartner.
“Digital government failures or even minor setbacks may drive a risk-averse government to take a step back at the exact time it should be making bold digital investments,” says Dean Lacheca, research director at Gartner. “That’s why it’s vital that digital leaders in government look at four areas to build resilience and inspire confidence in their programmes.”
CIOs and IT leaders developing a digital initiative should build a partnership with their organisation’s head of HR and the lead of any wider transformation programmes. This partnership may be extended to other key roles like chief digital officer or head of citizen experience, where appropriate.
“At this stage, digital leaders can ‘recruit’ tech-savvy stakeholders within the organisations that will be affected by the programme,” says Lacheca. “This involves mentoring and educating to create champions for the digital programme that can provide feedback and advocate the benefits at all levels of the organisation. This should result in more steadfast support for the programme, even in the wake of any setbacks or failures.”
Having this buy-in and feedback from all levels in the organisation is also an important part of creating something that meets the needs of all stakeholders.
Shared goals between the IT department and executive leadership within the government organisation are a critical aspect of success. IT cannot be expected to successfully deliver digital government if it is focused on technology alone, as opposed to looking more broadly at organisational goals.
Once the shared strategy is agreed upon, it is vital to start delivering tangible organisational benefits quickly. A strategy that has no pre-agreed measurable benefits is more susceptible to loss of support at an executive level. It is important to agree a constant flow of small, but timely deliverables.
“As each technical milestone is reached, it should be related to direct benefits or improved services for stakeholders and citizens,” says Lacheca. “This builds crucial momentum, as well as trust and confidence that is likely to result in a degree of tolerance when faced with any future setbacks.”
This step should be at the core of all IT principles, and should be clearly visible in the actions of the CIO and IT leadership team. Open and continuous communication around progress, successes and setbacks should underpin every stage of digital transformation from planning to delivery.
It is one thing to achieve great things with IT, it is another to have those achievements recognised (and continue to receive the support they deserve). Communication is a vital and often overlooked part of success in digital transformation.
“Aside from ongoing communications, it often pays to have a communication strategy in place where the possibility of a setback is known in advance,” says Lacheca. “This mitigates any perception of panic that can simply add to the sense of ‘crisis’ rather than a ‘bump in the road’.”
The perspective on risk is one of the fundamental differences between government and the private sector. Public sector organisations are usually not driven by a desire for growth or shareholder return.
Therefore, using traditional IT project-based approaches to risk management may result in a disconnection between the risk appetite of the organisation and the risk-management activities of the programme.
Implementing ‘fail fast’ approaches by backing agile delivery practices with formal reviews at crucial states by executive leaders ensures there is an ongoing dialogue on risk, and an opportunity for executive leaders to feel they are closely involved.
“The CIO must actively translate the needs and concerns of the organisation’s executives into tangible goals for the delivery teams,” says Rick Holgate, research director at Gartner. This means being aware of the changing external influences on the programme, while managing the risk expectations and concerns at the highest levels of organisational leadership.
“Maintaining an ongoing dialogue on risk should allow the CIO to keep the digital government programme on track, and build confidence that any setbacks are under control and within expectations,” Holgate adds.