The public sector tends to organise in very similar ways and wrestle with very similar questions. Increasingly, as technology advances they are wrestling with questions like:

• What is our digital strategy?
• Where should our Chief Digital Officer sit?
• How do we manage digital in comparison with legacy IT?

After a number of years of deep engagement with ICT sections of small and large public and private sector organisations we’ve come to the realisation that these are increasingly the wrong questions to begin with.

Digital has matured. Digital is real. Digital is not an app. And it is not an add-on.

Digital is the underpinning of the service relationship organisations have with their customers and clients.

The question isn’t “where should our Chief Digital Officer sit?” The question is, “By understanding that digital is embedded and enabling our entire business, what is our service offer?”

In this, the first of three four related posts, we explore how we have seen the notion of digital evolve – from front-facing ICT component to business and service strategy driver.


The Evolving Digital Definition

As recently as last week we were in a room listening to a senior ICT Executive presenting on the differences and separation between his and the digital world.

While his views seemed to sit well with much of the IT-leaning audience, we firmly believe that the idea that digital is the outward-facing part of technology, or a ‘blue-sky’ technology strategy, has shifted significantly.

The digital promise has become the business reality.

The introduction of digital as a concept historically was positioned as a way of refining an existing, under pressure ICT model. Where ICT had been seen as a reliable but large and hard to navigate enabling capability for the delivery of services, the digital promise embodied the speedy, competitively advantaged, ‘responsive to customer world’ capability that business was looking for. Business needed this kind of technology response and ICT also needed this view of digital to reinvigorate investment outside of large legacy funding.

Digital has now evolved even beyond the legacy ICT ‘cut through’ that it was first introduced as. With the evolution and refinement of what comprises digital it has now moved to process and strategy. Digital is increasingly less important as a separate technology option and more as a service strategy – a business strategy.

The importance of this evolution, within a context of existing (probably for some time to come) legacy ICT and large infrastructure, is as much about the ‘business’ understanding that it is the master of digital, and the ICT section just happens to be its technology home.

Business isn’t the ‘user’ of digital. Business IS digital.

This realisation that digital is now the business reality, due to maturity and embedded digital practices within the business, is also as critical as the emerging realisation that business is still about service (a staff and client experience).

In the evolved digital model, digital isn’t simply the automation of a historical process on a device; it is the reconsideration and reinvention of the relationship with the customer before that interface is even designed.

 

Services enable a customer to achieve their goal

For a public service, that goal is hardly ever the resolution of the immediate service itself. The service exists to allow the customer to:

  • Access something
  • Do something
  • Confirm something
  • Meet an obligation that’s an input to something bigger such as how they live their life or within their family’s life.

The decades-old introduction of service design and organisational co-design intent has meant we’re able to better describe the customer and user needs in the context of how the organisation is set-up to deliver on that articulation. Balancing what’s desirable (human factors), viable (business factors), and feasible (technical factors).

Our professional experiences at DMA have been working at a time where online, on-the-phone, at-the-counter channel strategies were critical for an organisation to make sense of services and service delivery.

But the mantra of “IT can do anything you want – just describe it” sat uncomfortably with the reality of “we can’t change the wording in that letter because it’s hardcoded in the system, so we’ll need to develop a workaround”. Until digital became a watchword for improvement, this view hadn’t changed that much.

As digital has matured, we see it less as an opportunity for ICT improvement and more as an evolution of the very definition of the service.

 

Digital changes the transactional nature of services to ‘interactional’

For a service delivered by an organisation to take advantage of digital being embedded the definition of service needs to move:

  • From a transactional service – “We offer the following services, which then means we have a service delivery commitment and our clients respond to the service”
  • To an interactional service – “Because digital automates and can prepopulate data, we enable our customers to manage the service to achieve their outcome from whichever direction they choose to approach it”.

In this definition, resolution of the customer need – via the service – is supported by data, history, automation, accuracy, feedback, access etc.

In ‘interactional services’, the evolution of digital is integrated across business and service strategy, (not as an ICT add-on):

  • Customer decision-making is supported (choose this, buy this, consider this, compare this, complete this, confirm this).
  • Steps and actions of the decision-making are automated in real time (we’ve done this, you do this, now this, now you’re here, you’re done).
  • Support is within the customer’s own context (their device, their patterns of interaction/transaction/enquiry).
  • The customer for their part, affords the service deliverer permission to change, evolve, improve, even get rid of the service.

And importantly, staff have the technology, business processes and permission to support this service approach (through changed management models and performance measurement).

This is critical, because as important as the early digital promise has been, organisations aren’t in business to be digital.

They are in business, or exist, to deliver services, and in a complex service system that means digital can inform how customers interact, how the organisation interacts and is supported, and how a business-eye is always kept on “what’s next”.

Only once digital is acknowledged as ‘the’ business delivering interactional services, can the organisation evolve beyond the business/ICT construct and the transactional service delivery model with clients.

 

 

If digital moves beyond technology, what does it move to?
For us, from a public sector service design perspective, digital is the realisation and representation that public services (regardless of channel of delivery) ARE user-, data- and then technology-driven.

A mature digital business is one where there is no demarcation between the business and ICT, because digital has blurred the lines between business process and technology, and this is actually being driven by what people need from a service in order to comply, not what internal organisational units think is required or policy positions set out.

Good digital businesses already use technology to enable outcomes and enable people to appreciate their services (think SmartGate at airports) – future digital businesses are using a digital mindset to ensure the people seeking outcomes are, and can, inform and drive the service focus, design and outcomes. And in doing so, this mindset is no longer ‘digital’, it’s just ‘good business’.

When digital has been done right organisations have focused on responding to user needs. Digital is not a channel. It’s how organisations organise run and deliver their business.  It’s how organisations interact with their customers. It’s how staff and stakeholders interact within and into their organisations.

 

Service-Led
The evolution of the new business reality in terms of the digital promise leads naturally to the question – so what does lead the organisation if digital is now just ‘how we work’?

We believe that it is not about an organisation being design-led, or becoming a digital organisation, or innovative for innovation’s sake.

It’s about public sector organisations being truly service-led.

As service designers we can see – and our experience in complex ICT helps us understand uniquely – that the intention for customer-led, co-designed, joined-up service experiences and the need for ICT to enable that utilising digital has a gap that digital strategy and Chief Digital Officers haven’t been able to fill to this point.

Whilst digital has been seen as an ‘add-on’ or a new thing, it has been exactly that – an add on. But the digital strategies of the future are actually business strategies – that assume the digital promise has been met and that the power of the digital promise is inherent in the services offered.

To explore this our next post will look at what interactional services and the new business reality means for the public sector organisation.