18 months of Digital Bucks – what I’ve learnt

I leave Buckinghamshire County Council today, after 18 months as Head of Digital. The team moves to an exciting new phase as part of an integrated digital and ICT function, led by Mark Adams Wright. I get to be Head of Digital in Hackney. I love Hackney, and can’t wait to return.

The interview process in Hackney gave me the opportunity to reflect, briefly, on what I’ve learnt in Buckinghamshire. Here’s what I told them:

  • Digital transformation is a journey, not a destination

You can buy technology that will save money and improve customers’ experience. And nothing we needed to deliver required technology that didn’t exist. But improving customer outcomes and delivering a step-change in the cost-base of services requires changing hearts and minds – mostly of staff. To do this, momentum is everything. Slow the pace, and everyone gets off and wonders ‘where next’. You have to move quicker than is comfortable.

  • It’s delivery, stupid

As a digital team, you have to earn the right to do the really radical stuff. You do that by doing the day job as well as you can. If it takes a week to update a webpage, you lack credibility. If your customer service is off, you can’t tell others how you want to improve their service.

  • Business needs are from mars, User needs are from venus

Business needs are immediate: legislative deadlines, budget reductions. Failure to meet business needs means Ofsted, the LGO or any number of other regulators. User needs are diffuse, subtle and hard to capture. “It works on a mobile” can mean so many different things. The person asserting the business need may, or may not, be incentivised to also meet the user need.

  • Listening and empathy build trust

“We’re all on the same team” hides as many truths as it reveals. In a sports team there’s always a teammate that wants your place. In a business, there’s always a service who find the quick-win appealing, potentially at the expense of the back-office pain.

Most of all, though, I’ve been very impressed and proud of the team that has delivered. I used to consider it meaningless that “the unit of delivery is the team”. But now I truly understand what that means. I’ve never before left a job, so passionate about ensuring that this is the start, not the high point. Good luck.

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