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Early adopters find transformation fosters innovation


By David Braue
Tuesday, 16 August, 2016


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Early government cloud adopters are finding that the process of digital transformation is fostering innovation and cultural change.

Public-sector cloud adopters are chalking up early wins but anecdotal reports from Australia’s government-cloud front line suggest there is truth in warnings that many change-minded CEOs are still rushing into cloud with the right intentions but the wrong expectations.

Despite considerable momentum behind digital transformation within government, the mismatch between expectations and enthusiasm remains a common issue, Gartner Research Director Michael Warrilow recently opined. “Some are making dangerous assumptions that [cloud] will always save them money, which it’s not necessarily going to do. What they will get is more agility and a different mix of capex and opex, which the business likes. I am having this conversation every week with companies in Australia and New Zealand,” he wrote.

ServiceNow ANZ solution consulting director Michael de Landre is having similar conversations. “One of the things we’re continually seeing is that we’ve got to start each time with a conversation on clarity around what the issues really are,” he said during a panel session at the AC Events Connected Government Summit in Melbourne earlier this year.

“There is some mythology and lack of clarity around what the rules and guidelines are. We’ve often been able to get through some of the concerns people might have by getting through to the way things really are.”

Many organisations are finding expectations being shaped more gradually as they ramp up their cloud efforts and increasingly engage both business and technology leaders. Such has been the case at Victoria’s Department of Health & Human Services, where Alex Thomas, principal report developer within the application development area, said innovation during the agency’s cloud journey has come not from top-down mandates but by empowering staff to think differently about infrastructure and how cloud can improve it.

“We are finding that innovation happens at the periphery,” said Thomas. “The disciplines of experimentation and participatory design are very key elements, and we basically then ingest and promote the things that we’re working on.”

Engaging employees in the transformation effort not only draws out the talent and combined intellect of the organisation, but is helping to drive cultural reinvention at some government bodies. This has proven to be a big boon for Consumer Affairs Victoria where, general manager of corporate services Chris Balfour said, collaboration is “something that is very firmly ingrained in our business case”.

“What we do is maximising public value,” he explained, “and there are a lot of things we touched upon in the organisation. It helps build your cost-benefits model, and it’s a very positive way to integrate that into the business and to have people working with that. People feel they’re getting better value from their jobs and that there is more purposefulness in what they’re doing.”

The use of Agile methodologies has helped drive greater buy-in from employees that have driven “a genuine redesign of the processes”, Balfour continued.

“We've been trying to get there through the Agile methodology,” he said. “Project teams are building the user stories together. We’ve got different heads in the room suggesting different approaches and thinking through it. It has really been quite inventive.”

This type of collaboration has often been harder to foster in organisations that haven’t progressed towards digitisation efforts, but Keith Don, director of strategy and consulting at HSD, believes being digital and cloud based often makes all the difference.

“Having digital as part of the conversation allows you to answer a lot of customer expectations,” he explained, “as well as looking at ways our existing systems can do that. This allows there to be a platform where both digital and IT teams can start to talk to each other, and to work out a solution that both can agree on to move forward.”

Organisations struggling to find their transformation momentum often get the ball rolling with “little projects that make sense to both sides and allow you to break the ice”, Don added. “You realise that these new guys on the block are pretty much like us, and doing the same thing we’ve been doing all along.”

Social media has proven to be a catalyst for reinvention at the NSW Government’s OneGov centralised-services organisation. There, technology head Rahul Dutta believes that as well as focusing on “the little things that are simple”, a key driver for change has been to find ways to engage staff with social media and other digital channels.

“The idea,” he said, “is to advance the digital experience into a day-to-day platform that we use as something different or special, that you have to make a jump to.”

Building the business case

Steady progress towards cloud adoption has driven a perceptible shift in the way that vendors and government bodies are engaging when discussing new cloud-based initiatives.

“There’s no doubt that we’ve seen a shift in language and conversation while talking with government organisations,” said ServiceNow’s De Landre. “We used to talk about which bits we should move into the cloud in terms of infrastructure and assets. But the conversations we often have today are about which business processes are causing pain, which are inefficient across multiple different departments and multiple different processes.”

Evolving results-focused approaches to cloud transformation have driven a reduction in large, infrastructure-based projects and a surge in short projects, he added. “We used to talk about projects that might be 12 to 18 months before we realised benefits, but it’s very common for us to be talking with customers and seeing true benefits realised within 12 weeks.

“By taking a SaaS approach, you are able to skip that whole conversation about which platform I’m putting it on and how I am acquiring it.”

Even in organisations where there is internal enthusiasm for cloud and digital business, the transition is “genuinely not easy”, warned Balfour, who said Consumer Affairs “has taken twice as long getting to the starting blocks” as it expected.

One frequent obstacle has been the forming of business cases in a way that they appeal to executives with differing agendas, while other projects have struggled not because the need for change was questioned but because there were so many ideas about how to accomplish it.

“It’s a matter of finding some common approaches and common solutions that start to work,” he explained, “then putting in a chunk at a time. That chunk approach has worked for us and we can focus on which chunks need the most help — and trying to make the most effective change.”

Backlogs can be tricky to manage, Balfour said, particularly as Agile projects take off and the number of chunks increases. “It can make everyone nervous,” he said, “trying to work through that and having executives say we’ll only deliver 80% of what they want — and that delivering the other 20% is a matter of trying to work through priorities.

“Once they have comfort that the 80% will deliver the benefits you’re promising, you can actually start to tangibly show them the benefits. That’s pretty helpful.”

For his part, Thomas warned against over-optimistic estimations of the cost savings to be achieved from the shift to the cloud. “You do suddenly hit release of consideration around hardware, but you still have to have quite a lot around administration,” he said.

“In most of the cloud economic models we’ve done, we’ve found that we already run quite lean and that there is not that much savings in some of the administration spaces. But we are just getting ahead and doing it.”

Some discussions about business cases had been stymied by governance concerns about the location of hosted data, with many cloud services out of the question because they stored data offshore. But policies change, said Thomas, adding that the inflection point provided by the cloud transition is also a good time to make sure data can be moved as appropriate down the track.

“It’s about how do I build things that give me the opportunity to do things later on,” he explained. “Just because a cloud service is out of the question now, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t store my data in a way that allows me to have that choice later on. As long as what you do right now gives you the option later on, that’s what becomes really important and really powerful.”

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