I was recently doing a bit of networking, talking about how we're using digital exemplar projects as a key enabler to drive our wider digital business transformation. For those who read my blogs, you’ll know I can’t resist a good analogy and the analogy I always use for this is that the exemplars are like icebreaking vessels; big, highly visible, strong and powerful.
An icebreaker will plough into an ice-flow at pace, fracturing the ice, breaking it into pieces and destabilising the ice sheet as it drives its course ahead, leaving a nice clear channel along which other, lesser vessels, can follow. So it is with digital exemplars, you start them up and drive them headlong into old processes, governance structures and ways of working, fracturing and breaking them apart as you go. Lots of noise, lots of stress, but a lot of excitement too.
The captains of ice breakers know that they can’t let the ice reform behind them otherwise they’re stranded! This is exactly the same when using exemplars to help drive digital transformation. Challenging and using different processes and ways of working to do those projects will disrupt and break up the things they touch for sure, clearing a path of digital opportunity. But if the opportunity to backfill with something new isn't taken then, as the ice would just reform, so the old processes and ways of working will just return and you will be left with some, no doubt, successful projects, but stranded ones. Stranded in corporate memory as something that all those digital people did.
This is why digital transformation isn’t just about doing some nice big digital projects. Such projects can be used to disrupt and exemplar new ways of working and create excitement, to bring “digital” to life and make it real. But new processes and ways of working must fill the void created so that a transformed business can propagate and continue to grow, also acting as a catalyst for the development of digital competence and capability in everyone across the organisation.
We’re at the beginning of our digital (business) transformation journey and the first of our ice breakers are now starting to cut ice. It’s very noisy, very stressful, but very exciting and the potential prizes are enormous; not just because of the value and benefit that these projects will deliver in isolation, but because of the potential of the path they will clear, the legacy momentum they will leave behind and the future they will pave the way for. A digital future.
Harvey Neve is head of digital products and transformation at Public Health England and a specialist in leadership and change management having held transformational leadership roles in both the private and public sectors, more recently leading the application of new technologies and adoption of the behavioural change required to realise the benefits of digital transformation. Harvey is also director of Inglefield Consulting who specialises in leadership and culture development.
Harvey is a Chartered Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute and a regular blogger/speaker and lives with his wife and family in County Durham, England.