UK: Public Sector IT Leaders Need A New Skill: The Art Of Storytelling

Last Updated: 13 November 2014
Article by Jonathan Meddes

That might be why so many IT leaders find it so difficult to think beyond keeping the lights on.  Our most recent CIO survey, conducted among 900 CIOs across the world, suggested that 55 per cent of CIO budgets are focused on delivery of core IT services, with just 22 per cent devoted to business growth.

For the public sector, 'business growth' can be replaced with operational effectiveness or delivering on the promise to citizens of a modern public sector that embraces digital public services. Here the public organisations need to think towards online services as slick as the best of the private sector.

So beyond the ongoing narrative of real or expected public sector spending cuts, IT leaders need to consider how technology can drive organisational innovation and efficiency, and meet the growing demands on public services.

So what to do?

Innovation as a concept means risk, and that's something for which the public sector doesn't always have the most voracious appetite – it's the fear of failure. IT departments, too, are often unfamiliar and uncomfortable with the unknown. But risk doesn't have to mean playing fast-and-loose with organisational data or infrastructure.

Even venture capitalists avoid unqualified long-shots. Their risk decisions tend to be based on acceptable parameters and acknowledge failure as an inevitable part of the process. Failure on those terms isn't a disaster.

Migrating to that mindset into the public sector is challenging, but for CIOs with the vision and appetite of a venture capitalist who can offer their teams as innovation centres, rather than purely cost-bearing organisational functions, it's not impossible. It's the opportunity to step up.

Our research highlights a couple of illuminating points in this respect.  CIOs tend to struggle in forging partnerships or strategic alliances across their organisations.  At a time when senior roles in digital are at a premium, CIOs are at risk of being left behind especially with a new generation of Chief Digital Officers ready to fill the innovation void.

If there's a silver lining, it's this: CIOs say their relationships are better with the more 'traditional' C-suite roles, like chief executives and chief financial officers, where maybe innovation is not their priority. This is the opportunity. To influence their peers on the benefits of technology investment, CIOs need to get better at storytelling.  Complex IT scenarios can be brought to life with anecdotes and real world examples, helping to bring emotion to a hitherto binary subject, and positioning technology as an enabler of innovation throughout the rest of the organisation.

Risk, in this context, isn't about a 'hit and hope' strategy with little real chance of success.  It's about painting a picture of the future and making sure public sector technology plays a key role in reinvigorating how public services are delivered in Scotland.

So the choice then becomes quite clear: do you want your organisation to consider IT to be a custodian of core systems or drivers of service transformation through technological innovation?

Think about it...

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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