Rob Fotheringham, Managing Director at Fotheringham Associates shares his thoughts on pragmatic digital transformation and the observations he has made in this vein which will help you on your journey
First of all, context is everything. We seem to be surrounded by the words digital and transformation. Public sector tenders, job adverts and press articles (and yes, I do realise I have just added to their number) are all talking about something that is not particularly well defined or understood. My objective is not to provide you with a theoretical definition but simply provide a pragmatic example and make a few observations to help you on your journey.
Our team at Fotheringham Associates have considerable experience in financial services and large corporates but have more recently worked within the public sector. Our effort with local government organisations has been on projects focussed on increasing their capabilities in order to meet the challenges of digital transformation and to better manage suppliers on their journeys.
After a good mix of industry sectors and countless projects, we have become pretty good at solving problems. We then met some very committed, passionate people who were trying to solve a really big problem.
Lambeth Early Action Partnership (LEAP) is an innovative £36 million, 10-year programme funded by the National Lottery Community Fund (previously the Big Lottery) as part of their A Better Start initiative to improve the life chances of babies and young children living in the London borough of Lambeth.
LEAP is trying to solve the problem of child inequality in one of the most deprived areas of London. Whilst we do not possess the skills to solve this problem, we knew we could help them with their challenge.
If you want to read about chat-bots and the Internet of things (IoT), then this is probably not the article for you. However, if you want to see a real-life example of using digital technology effectively to enable people to make a difference, then this may be for you.
LEAP is a complex programme consisting of a large range of service providers including several NHS Trusts, Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), three departments of the Council, a number of charities and a host of community groups. These service providers deliver 30 different inventions helping pregnant women, children under four and their families.
The service providers collect information via their own systems and send it quarterly to LEAP who report to the funder on the beneficiary reach. The funder requires the reach reporting to only include unique beneficiaries. The problem was, therefore, how to achieve this when all data is collected by the service providers and new GDPR and data protection rules would inhibit the sharing of personal information openly. We had to understand how the interventions provided by the service providers worked in order to firstly rectify information governance concerns around consent. Once we were happy that personal information could be collected, we had to find a way of sharing it whilst also protecting it, for this we decided to use an opensource pseudonymiser.
Finally, we had to find a way of collating the information and automatically processing it to manage unique beneficiaries across the programme. An Azure Cloud Data Factory will be used to securely martial, pseudonymise and process the data across LEAP. This solution automates the most time-consuming aspects of the data management, delivers the critical requirement of the funder and builds a rich dataset that is ready for the evaluation and analytics stage of the programme, but that as they say is another story.
Some thoughts on your digital journey
Don’t become seduced by the “bells & whistles”. Having a bot automate part of a bad process just creates bad results and extra work, faster. Focus instead on the aspects that can deliver real benefit from digital change.
This pragmatic approach will help to turn digital transformation from a mythical creature into something that all organisations can embrace. In our scenario, the key area was in the processing and collation of information, data validation and preparing the data for reporting. Even with only half the service interventions up and running, the back-office team were struggling to stabilise the information by the end of the quarter. In addition, the funder’s requirement for the identification of unique beneficiaries was still outstanding with no solution known. This, therefore, was our target for transformation.
It might be a cliché, but keep it simple. At least the part that your key users interact with. New digital solutions should be as familiar to use as possible and certainly no more complex than the current situation. In many cases, it is about bringing technology familiar from people’s personal life into their work environment. In our situation, expecting potential resistance to change, we looked at alternative ways of the service providers submitting their information. We decided upon the approach that would be the most familiar for them; simply logging into a website and navigating to select a file. This is an operation that the users were familiar with from a host of applications, including the creation of photobooks to show their holiday snaps.
With all that digital technology to think about, don’t forget human behaviour. In an increasingly crowded life, many humans will want to take short cuts, leave things as late as possible and focus on what they consider to be their most important task. In our case, that could be clinicians leaving the data preparation to the end of the reporting period and then entering the bare minimum of data that they can remember, or still have close to hand. Their focus, under an incredibly heavy workload, is the practical intervention they make with their clients.
However, without good quality data, there would be no funding and, therefore, no interventions to focus on. So as well as keeping processes simple, as mentioned above, we recommended changing the collection periods to monthly rather than quarterly and to introduce automated data quality checks before accepting their submission.
This is aimed at driving behaviour to see that the data collection activity is actually part of the intervention with their clients and not simply an administrative task at the end of the quarter.
Now, where did I see that other mythical creature?
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