Senior Government leaders still lack the essential knowledge and capabilities needed to effectively implement digital business-change projects, according to a new report by the National Audit Office.
The report ‘The challenges in implementing digital change’ says that while technology is often blamed as the primary reason for digital project failures, there are typically multiple issues responsible across organisational culture, governance, leadership and skills.
In particular, the research singles out a lack of digital understanding at the top of government organisations as a root cause of many issues: “Only a small proportion of Permanent Secretaries and other senior officials have first-hand experience of digital business change and as a result many lack sufficient understanding of the business, technical and delivery risks for which they are responsible. This means that many of the problems stem from the inability of senior decision-makers to engage effectively with the difficult decisions required to implement technology-enabled business change.”
Recommended actions for government
The NAO makes a series of recommendations for government to rectify the issues at both an individual and structural level:
Change existing training programmes to better equip and train all decision‑makers with responsibility for digital transformation programmes.
Work with HM Treasury to review existing business case funding and approval processes for digital programmes.
Share and implement lessons learned from the successes and failures of past projects, including deepening understanding of failure in digital strategies.
Carry out more robust evaluation and project assurance at the start of digital programmes to better understand their complexity and scope.
Ensure that the government’s senior DDaT leaders have wider influence on all change programmes that have digital components.
Improve the process of supplier engagement by better identifying and developing requirements before tenders and bid processes begin.
Produce departmental strategies and plans to manage legacy IT systems, particularly around maintenance, support and decommissioning.
Tim is the Community Director at Government Transformation magazine, maintaining engagement with our public sector audience through learning and networking activities, and hosting the weekly GovX Show.