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First blog post – digital leaders

This is the post excerpt.

Every government executive I know serves an organization that is in a constant state of transformation. And they are all looking for journey-focused guidance on how to succeed.  I started this blog to open a dialog on their challenges.

So let me begin by describing what I see as the most fundamental challenge. Most organizations (even in the commercial sector) have wandered into the 21st Century with a 20th Century structure. And when it comes to government, most executives have very limited freedom of maneuver because they are constrained by legislative and regulatory mandates, limited budgets, and a sprawling and complex IT estate to maintain. Despite these constraints, government executives want to be digital leaders.

So let’s begin with the end in mind. Just what does it mean to be a digital leader?

Through its research, DXC Technology’s Leading Edge Forum (LEF) has defined digital transformation as not only adopting new technology but also acting and operating differently in six areas, with the customer at the center. Digital leaders:

  1. Recognize market trends and experiment with new technologies
  2. Create an identity that makes sense in a digital world, and a strategy that maintains that identity
  3. Leverage IT infrastructure, information and talent outside their four walls, especially partners and customers (i.e., an “outside-in” approach)
  4. Reimagine their ecosystem of products and services to take advantage of digital augmentation, digital linkages between services and digital extensions into new partners
  5. Develop an agile business that responds quickly to threats and exploits opportunities
  6. Lead by focusing on value creation and risk, rather than tasks, with emphasis on platform economics, and scenario analysis

Are you doing all 6 of these well? Are you doing them at all? These capabilities transcend digital technology and are the essence of the 21st century organization. (See the LEF report, “Winning in the 21st Century: A User’s Guide.”)

When an organization scales its digital transformation, it replaces legacy methods with automated, analytically enabled processes that extend across the enterprise, thereby reducing operational overhead, simplifying access and improving responsiveness. It focuses on standardization, robotic process automation, analytical insights, machine learning and self-healing. These techniques require enterprises to rethink how information flows, how to promote the right information and how to govern its usage and protection.

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Freeing Government from Legacy Constraints in a Cloud World

In the world of on-premise delivery, government IT services are often hampered by a wide range of technical and compliance constraints. A great example of this is storage quotas that stop people from having an email mailbox or file larger than a certain size.

Likely, when the technical infrastructure was being procured for the on-premise service, someone looked at the costs and said something like, “We don’t have the appropriations we need to cover that. That’s a lot of equipment. Why do we need all of that? Tell them they can only have 100MB. Why would anyone need to store more than 100MB of email?”

As a result, people are forced to waste their time and energy managing within 100 MB. The equipment costs of 100 MB were visible, but no one considered the hidden costs of managing within the quota, and no one knew the cost of the missed opportunities resulting from people managing within the derisory 100 MB.

In a cloud-first world, many of these constraints vanish. We no longer need to have a 100 MB mailbox; our subscription, to whichever cloud service we use, gives us practically unlimited storage.

Yet, the legacy constraints continue to exert themselves within organizations. So why haven’t people broken free?

  • The “anti-deficiency” Reason – Government employees are only permitted to spend money within appropriation limits. If they exceed the limits they face severe penalties. So their instinct is to impose capacity limits on all services since capacity drives costs in an on-premise implementation. And while capacity typically doesn’t drive costs for many cloud services, the instincts remain.
  • The “Other Reason” Reason – In most organizations, the people who created the initial constraint are long gone and with them the reasoning behind the initial constraint. Sometimes organizations faced with a removal of the constraint convince themselves that there must be other reasons for having the constraint in place. They reason that “the cost of equipment can’t be the only reason we created this constraint.” The problem for those of us fighting this reasoning is that it’s like fighting a ghost; it’s hard to reason with something that no longer exists (and perhaps never existed in the first place).
  • The “Hierarchy” Reason – In a world of constraint, seniority defines the level of privilege; privilege is expressed by how much of the constrained item they get compared to normal people. How do you reflect privilege in a world without constraints? You reinstate the constraint.
  • The “I’ve Always Done It This Way” Reason – To manage within a constraint, people build coping mechanisms. People don’t naturally move away from these coping mechanisms once the constraint has been removed. People compress files to save on storage even though infinite amounts of storage have already been provided, even when doing so adds effort and reduces the value. Changing the working practice gives them value, but they’ve “always done it this way.”
  • The “I’m all for progress, it’s change I can’t stand” reason – Many leaders have an outdated view that productivity is disrupted by change. They want to protect their organization from the productivity drop, therefore they try to maintain a sense of continuity with the past. Unfortunately this delay of change in the moment quickly becomes a long term habit leading to a petrified work environment with badly outdated services.

The reality is that none of these are good or sensible reasons to retain the constraints, but that’s precisely what I see being done. Cloud service providers give people the ability to reenact the constraints because the market tells them it’s a required feature. It doesn’t cost providers very much to offer these capabilities, but it’s not really adding anything of value to the offer. That value can be greatly enhanced by freeing the mindset of the people stuck in “I’ve always done it this way” reasoning, which requires communication and coaching.

The organizations that completely remove the constraints and communicate with their people that they no longer have to manage around constraints get immediate value. But more than that, they open themselves to a whole set of opportunities that didn’t exist in the constrained world.

Once organizations remove the constraints, they often uncover other issues that the unconstrained world enables. The way to deal with these issues is not to reenact the old constraints, but rather to find new solutions more appropriate to the world of cloud that retain the value of freedom.

As people enter the government workforce without previous knowledge of constraints, the retention of constraints look strange to them, even archaic. For this emerging cloud-native workforce, it isn’t enough that your organization has cloud services available; they will need to be available in an unconstrained way, so that these workers can gain the value they expect.

The old constraints were just a pain in the old world. Don’t continue the pain by bringing them into the new world. Declare freedom!