Creating digital services. A jump not a journey

Perhaps a little naively I have spent most of my adult life trying to find the perfect productivity system. I have read various books on the subject and keep challenging myself to get more out of the 24 hour day. I use a mix of Microsoft Outlook and an A4 notebook. This week I have added in a version of the Eisenhower matrix (urgent vs important grid) to supplement the Post It method (use a square post it to write the things you must do today). However it still feels that this is still writing to do lists to consume the time I don’t manage to get from elsewhere. However the very large, bad tempered, and demanding elephant in the room is my e mail Inbox….

Part of me says I should ignore the Inbox and focus on areas where I can add value to my business. However given that in practical terms the organisation uses e mail as a workflow engine it is difficult to simply opt out. The best I have managed is to develop a productivity system that tries to tame the elephant. It doesn’t swap the elephant for <insert something nicer, easier to handle and less demanding>. Various pieces of technology are starting to emerge which may challenge e mail  and I guess over the next few years e mails will disappear – how many teenagers do you know who use e mail unless they are communicating with adults?

I don’t yet have a clever answer for the collection of tech that will combine collaboration, video, speech, voice and storage into a package that supports people in the quest to add value to their customers. Although the first person to market with a productivity suite of things as a web service may be on to something. The e mail question however is just a rally point for the dissatisfaction we feel when systems drive us to serve the machine as we do battle to ‘clear the Inbox’, losing sight of what we are really there for.

The interesting question though is how did we (only) get here? For most people in large organisations they are still working in the same way they were 25 years ago when I started my first job. E mails have replaced memos and carbon paper but the ‘call and return’ / ‘fire and forget’ systems remain.

This issue does expose the bigger challenge of leading the building of digital services. We can now easily build systems which make what we already do faster and cheaper. But, this just digitises processes which have analogue DNA. I have written before about the dangers of using stuff that ‘works’, limiting our ability to think about the future (Fax machines in the NHS and lawyers offices for example). It is the doing things right vs doing right things problem.

Language is important here. It seems to me that we shouldn’t just talk about “digitising  services” as this implies digitising our anlogue thinking. We need to “create digitial services” and see it as a jump not a journey (or any other term that implies incrementalism).

The big digital leadership challenge is to be disruptive, explicitly challenging anything which looks like an ‘e’ version of what went before, asking the unscripted questions that drive the innovation which, in the words of Peter Drucker “creates a new dimension of performance”.

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About iansthoughts

Chief Operating Officer at DEFRA, and former council Chief Executive. All views expressed are my own and not formal policy of my employers current or past.
This entry was posted in analogue, digital, lawyers, Uncategorized, web and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Creating digital services. A jump not a journey

  1. Phil R says:

    It’s a jump and a journey. As Government creates digital versions of its services (not new digital services) it’s a jump to produce them, then a journey as people shift over to using them.
    It’s taken a year for something I worked on to become the primary channel, which I wrote about here http://philrumens.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/december-of-digital-by-choice.html.
    After the initial jump of design and launch it was then a journey not only of itteration and improvement but engendering customer confidence that they actually work. This also means working with the staff who’ll be using them, to ensure they’re providing the best service they can through the new medium.

  2. Mark Foden says:

    Absolutely agree: unthinkingly ‘e’-ing stuff that already exists will put us among sea monsters; but (like Phil Rumens) I believe there is a need for both Jump and Journey…

    Jump in the sense of needing to re-imagine what might be done – working more from the future backwards than from the present forwards. Jump in mindset that will accept the potentially radical organisational consequences of such re-imagining and enable a change from mostly avoiding risk, to grasping it by the neck. And Jump in the sense of there needing to be a big difference between what is happening now and what will be happening in, say, a year’s time.

    Journey in the sense of how things are done. Government has tried time and again to achieve jumps in performance through big-ticket IT-driven change; and often got it wrong. In this sense, incrementalism is critical – obsessive-compulsive, high-velocity incrementalism – of the sort that GDS has demonstrated over the last year.

    If the aphorism is not overdone, we should “think big, start small, move fast”.

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