Managing complex IT change programmes in the public sector

The impact of technology across the public sector has been transformational over recent years. The digitisation of legacy paper-based processes, the increasing ability to self-serve through online portals and apps and the accessibility of personal data have all had a profound effect on the way citizens engage with the state.



Four steps to delivering complex IT change in the public sector


Managing the change programmes that deliver these improvements can be complex, and the public sector brings its own set of unique challenges that need to be understood and managed to ensure that this change is implemented and adopted successfully.


So, how should public sector organisations approach managing complex IT change programmes to navigate the specific challenges they face and ensure taxpayers money is being well spent?



In our experience, four areas are key to this:


Setting the programme up for success from the start


Whilst this is a principle that applies to all change programmes, it is particularly relevant in this context. Public sector organisations have traditionally approached large IT initiatives as ‘monolithic’ programmes, these rarely deliver as intended. Planning the delivery of IT change in ‘bite size chunks’ will provide flexibility and adaptability and allow for requirements to evolve as understanding develops. This will allow for early, less expensive failure which can be more easily remedied.


Public sector resources can be scarce, however securing the right business and technical resources onto these IT programmes is key. This runs all the way from a Steering Group with the right Heads of Department and senior officers on it, an active and visible SRO who can be held accountable for the outcomes and seconded business resource who are backfilled to enable them to commit to the programme. Specific technical resources will also be important including Enterprise Architects who often work within departments and ‘model offices’ and test environments which will engender confidence in IT solutions from the programme.



Dealing with the inherent risk appetite


There is a natural risk adverse to large, complex IT programmes across the public sector. The high-profile visibility, across both Government and externally, and the fear of any mistakes becoming news drives this and can stifle innovation and suppress delivery. As is always the case, these cultural blockers should not be underestimated as they risk preserving the ‘status quo’.


This attitude to risk needs to be both accepted and challenged to drive successful IT change across the Public Sector. Working within Government policies and requirements – for example, adopting a clear focus on data protection requirements up front – rather than against will ultimately prove more successful than ‘fighting the machine’. At the same time, pushing people within the programme to ‘get their hands dirty’ and adopt a test and learn approach to build confidence in the IT solutions across departments will drive adoption of the new ways of working.



Bringing in external expertise and thinking


Many public sector employees have worked exclusively in the sector throughout their careers. Whilst this brings valuable knowledge of current ways of working, it can create a barrier to change with limited experience of understanding of other ways of working, or what may be possible through technology change. Furthermore, Government departments and public sector organisations are generally not specialists in IT.


Engaging an external Service Integration and Management (SIAM) organisation that can bring the necessary external expertise around IT and technology change and the skilled resources and ways of working to integrate this into the department’s business processes will help to ensure these complex IT programmes are able to deliver genuine outcomes.



Adopting a business transformation mindset


Implementing new IT systems to support old ways of working rarely delivers real change. Public sector organisations need to leverage the opportunities that new technology can bring by embracing the ambition to use a ‘vanilla’ implementation of best of breed technology solutions, then being prepared to be flexible and customise where needed to fit with departments’ specific requirements and practices. Setting up a Business Design Authority with the power to own the transformational design and maintain its integrity throughout is important.


For this type of business transformation to be successful, a ‘people-centred’ approach to implementing IT change will be important. This will include clear, senior ownership to lead and sponsor the change, active engagement of people from the departments impacted by the programme to build motivation for the change and personal incentives to support and adopt new ways of working. Establishing an experienced and fully empowered Business Readiness capability will help to ensure this approach is successful.



Do you need change expertise?


At Project One, we help and support our public sector customers to set-up, mobilise and deliver complex change programmes. Our team of change experts have years of experience and work with senior leaders to provide independent support through every step of their change journey.


If you would like to discuss your specific challenges and our public sector experience to see how we can help, please get in touch.

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