AGP Ep 27: Steve Hodgkinson—Platform+Agile. The formula for successful digital transformation in large organisations
Steve Hodgkinson is the CIO for Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services. Steve has spent time in both public and private sector and he believes this balance is the key to his success. Listen to hear his methodology for delivering successful digital transformation in large organisations that avoids the pitfalls of both waterfall and agile methodologies at enterprise scale.
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Thank you for your honesty. How can we improve?
- Refining awareness to respond to a growing social consciousness
- Digital transformation and the systems of information sharing: risks, challenges, and benefit realisation framework
- Steve’s phases of involvement with Victoria State Government to drive digital innovation
- Agile ways of implementing Information Technology Systems
- Platform+Agile: What is it all about? The initiative behind the idea
- Evolution of cloud service and cloud service platforms
- The pitfalls of Waterfall implementations in government
- The traps of Agile implementation in government
- How to avoid them all using Platform+Agile
- Empowering public services through Platform+Agile system implementation
- The concept of Compounding Organization Learning
- The role of strong digital leaders to bridge the gap between technology, the business, and the customer
“Sharing or not sharing is often a very difficult qualitative decision”. — Steve Hodgkinson
“There is a limitation in the flow of information when it is on paper”. — Steve Hodgkinson
“It is about freeing up capacity to service a demand”. — Steve Hodgkinson
“Try to change the way of implementing information systems in an environment that is inherently complex”. — Steve Hodgkinson
“Things are always changing; we need to be agile and adaptive” — Steve Hodgkinson
“The solution will become a platform of thoughts”. — Steve Hodgkinson
“Consolidate. Standardize. Rationalize”. — Steve Hodgkinson
“You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear”. — Steve Hodgkinson
“You’ve just got to become an intelligent consumer of the platform on its terms”. — Steve Hodgkinson
“Get around the real dynamics of what is possible and what is not”. — Steve Hodgkinson
“The critical thing is how fast can you make something visible to everyone”. — Steve Hodgkinson
“Seeing is believing”. — Steve Hodgkinson
“Get more innovation and systems out the door”. — Steve Hodgkinson
“Move away from the naïve approach of waterfall”. — Steve Hodgkinson
“Influence the people that work for you”. — Steve Hodgkinson
“Start small. Build momentum. Then compounding effects start to play”. — Steve Hodgkinson
“The more things you have running, the more the compounding effect starts to play”. — Steve Hodgkinson
“Exercise your common sense”. — Steve Hodgkinson
“Leadership matters”. — Steve Hodgkinson
“Leadership is principally around confidence”. — Steve Hodgkinson
“Challenge the status quo”. — Steve Hodgkinson
“Choose your battles wisely”. — Steve Hodgkinson
Steve Hodgkinson has spent time inside government adding consultancy outside government and this diversity of experience provides the depth of understanding but also the perspective to see the big picture.
This has been a really important part of his career. During his eight years with consulting firm Ovum, Steve refined his thinking on how to deliver digital transformation inside large organisations and avoid the pitfalls of both waterfall and agile implementations. His patent pending platform plus agile methodology combines the best of agile development on top of cloud based platform capability to deliver results quickly bought with enterprise scale and compliance. Now we just had a fantastic conversation. We didn’t even stop to introduce the show. We just jumped straight into it and I’m really glad that we did. I was glad to get all the time we could to chat. So here we go. Without further delay please enjoy my conversation with Steve…
So family violence generally is becoming a big deal the society do in a way that. Is a kind of a growing consciousness in the same way as it has been for six years the abuse of children by institutions so that Royal Commission exposed the fact that there are a whole lot of terrible things going on in society that.
In one way or another have been known about for a very long time and tolerated family violence is a similar thing. It’s one of these things that’s growing in social consciousness is something that we we kind of know about but tolerate and don’t talk about. And government has not really had a coherent integrated response to it but these things are growing in the social consciousness and as a consequence there was a royal commission. And now there’s a greater degree of kind of it Wallasey focus on what really is going on and what really can be done in them.
The main thrust of that is around better integration of services between the different arms of government and the different elements of the social services sector and flow of information. It’s all around. How do you have a better awareness of what’s going on and how do you coordinate services in order to respond.
It’s a shame it had to come about in this in this way. As you say if there were deaths as a result of a lack of information sharing between government arms. However it’s a really good thing that it’s happening now that the pendulum sort of swinging back in favour of more sharing of information between agencies.
Yes. And when you say too quickly you know it’s easy and it can work. But there will be many issues either way and you are not sharing or sharing is often a very difficult qualitative decision and that the most critical thing is that these days of course it’s all about information systems computer systems. Because that’s how we store information and transmitted and shared. So the theory is that we ought to be able to do this in a much more fondly grained way in terms of. Knowing what information we have and who it can and should be shared with and then sharing it and then knowing what happened. But the consequence is also the fact that it’s possible to make a big difference very quickly and have very large numbers of people over shared with. You know mistakes are made and processes don’t work as they should.
So a good example is that for the past decade and a half almost Victoria Police have had a process of sharing the primary referral about domestic violence incidents into the social services sector with Piper Fix’s. So 70000 referrals a year transmitted by paper fax to this department and other social services agencies say it’s astonishing that it’s only in the last year that we implemented a system to automate that a referral portal. And what that does is on the one hand it gives us a much better digital control over that information. So information pouring off a fax machine in hundreds of fax machines all around the state is not safe or secure. But it also means that the degree to which a single incident can create a massive oversharing of that information is quite small. And there’s a limitation in the flow of information when it’s on paper and infixes.
So now that that’s been automated which is a really good thing in terms of the information flowing to the people that it needs to when it needs to in a much more timely manner. But it also creates the risk of of much more widespread oversharing you know information sharing breaches privacy breaches. Yes because that information is now and zeros and ones and can be you know friction endlessly broadcast in a much much more harmful way if mistakes are made.
Yes. So I imagine that’s about having the right permissions structures and roll structures around that information.
That’s right. So it just means that the whole game becomes a much more fine grained exercise of information systems the way they design the way security controls a boot into them the way administrative and price controls operate. Now people are also authorised to have access to systems. You know it becomes a much more sophisticated process and administrative approach.
So do you think there are I mean there’s obviously process efficiencies there and things can happen fast. Do you think there’s a cost benefit to that. Or is that offset by the additional complexity now of making those environments really secure.
There is a cost benefit for any of these organisations but the issue is overwhelming demand for services means that any efficiencies quickly absorbed into more services. [So this extra capacity]. So it’s really about freeing up capacity in order to service demand which is hugely under service administrative efficiencies disappear instantaneously just because of the mountain of excess demand that exists.
This is true. That happens a lot and certainly in my experience with government it’s it’s hard to really see any excess capacity because it just disappears so quickly.
And it becomes just accounting trickery, to be honest in terms of how you account for them in order to be able to explain that there was a benefit even though it’s been quickly absorbed by the system.
Is that a challenge seen working in government trying to trying to quantify and demonstrate the value or the benefit realization of digital transformation.
Yes. I’ve had a few different phases of my involvement in the Victorian State Government so I do. The State Government in. 2000 won two rounds in a group called Multimedia Victoria which was then the government’s main e-government digital transformation. We would call it these days but in those days it was called e-government and that was the main thing that was driving e-government and that I scaled that up to an office of the chief information officer and the Department of Premier and Cabinet with the whole of government government enabling kind of mandate. So the key was preoccupied a lot of that face was this whole benefit realised discussion.
So how could you justify spending more money on information technology in order to drive efficiencies and improved services and getting that money in government requires trying to be as clear as you can about the benefit case and how the benefits will outweigh the costs. But that whole process I look back on that on that phase of activity really was quite unsuccessful at any real tangible ways of making the direct linkage between investment and the benefit the many attempts to benefit realisation frameworks and business cases. And all of these formal processes I seldom saw them really do anything useful that wouldn’t have been achieved just by a more common sense approach of getting on with things. In a sense the timing if it that’s put into justifying things and trying to put a framework around them would have been better spent just getting on with things you know it never catches the full benefits anyway does it and it chews up a lot of benefits or chews up a lot of extra expense in the process the results are always give.
The problem is the pace of change and government is so random, and fast, that things are always just overtaken by events so any kind of sense that you could have a three to five year program of activity which is implemented in a focused and disciplined way and therefore you could have coherent and rational benefit realisation processes and then go back retrospectively and do that analysis and clarify that the benefits of the business case that was presented three or four years ago are actually delivered. So that whole story is actually just a fantasy.
It’s so seldom realised in any practical way [that sounds very waterfall thinking as well doesn’t that whole thing at the start and at the end] yeah I’ve come to learn over the years that that whole approach is just a waste of time. The problem is worse than that because what it actually does is it tricks people into thinking that that approach is viable and can work [and that there is an end] yet and that the whole thing is worthwhile. So I was in that role for six/five years or so and then I’ve had eight is working effectively in a kind of sabbatical for a research and advisory firm called Ovum.
As the head of public sector advisory and research and that was a fantastic opportunity just to think and write and consult and talk to people and a large number of different countries and jurisdictions and learning from that period when the office of the CIO and the opportunity to reflect without even then I come to an entirely different way of thinking about these things which is much more informed by the possibilities and the pace of new technology and also the frustrations and inefficiencies of older approaches to technology. The new cloud services and age are ways of doing information technology so I use that in my role now so I’m as chief information officer of the Department of Health and Human Services and one of the things that attracted me into this role was the opportunity of trying to change the way we go about implementing information systems in an environment that is inherently complex.
And that’s an important context if you’re doing something like this take a project that’s running in Victoria at the moment the Melbourne metropolitan rail authority is a huge project to build underground tunnels and to extend the route when it may. So those type of information systems projects for that agency.
Of course need a very disciplined and rigorous engineering style approach because what they’re dealing with is an engineering style environment which can be managed and controlled. But if we think about health and human services particularly then the types of information systems challenges and the business challenges that that need to be solved are inherently complex and even chaotic in the sense that. There’s not in most cases a literal mechanistic relationship between cause and effect. The solutions in a business sense that are required are not necessarily obvious up front. People have ideas upfront about what they want to do and what would be useful and what would work. But it’s not necessarily the case that they know or that they are right. And so when you take that more traditional waterfall type approach to this and you say well. What will we need for this system.
Well we’ll do a detailed requirements document and a business case and we’ll formulate a project over two is which is a big project planet in its whole detail and then run it for that period of time and go to market and commission company to build these systems and lock it up in a contract which might take 18 months to implement or deliver. That whole approach is fundamentally flawed. If you don’t have confidence that what you specified in the beginning is right or is useful will be useful in several years time once once the projects completed yet. So if you look at David Snowdon’s work can either can Ifan framework and the thinking around complex problems as distinct from simple problems in most structured environments then. We really need a way which is more flexible and adaptive which enables us to find a way to get started as quickly as possible.
And deliver something as quickly as possible so that it’s possible for people to see something and then react to it and then iterate it and evolve it so cool that platform plus agile and that’s them method that we’re using in that department what it’s about is I platform plus I just want to use it as a capital P and A plus sign and a capital A one would to try and brand it. Because even though I say that to people a lot of that platform plus agile I still hear people say Oh you mean agile plus platform. And then that simple kind of switch swapping it around exposes how most people think. So I will say well we want to be agile because we want to do things more quickly and we want to be more flexible because we know that things are always changing and we need to be involved in the day after.
So therefore what we will do is get started with that to become and get moving with it. A Gov Hack type initiative for get some digital team onto it. I often use the phrase kind of smarty pants digital teams. So a group of young people with internet technologies and digital design thinking co-design will get going with an agile approach and then we will create the solution and that will be good. And the solution will become a platform of sorts and we’ll evolve it forwards. But that whole thinking just ignores the problem and government that inevitably, anything you do as a small agile thing in order for it to be useful in a in a context like Health and Human Services. It has to be a serious enterprise grade application because of information privacy and security requirements because of procurement processes and probity and because of the need to integrate with lots of other applications and because of the need to introduce the application whatever it is into an already crowded space of other applications and legacy systems for frontline workers to use so that edge I’ll just get going with that type of approach actually isn’t very helpful because what it does is it tends to create projects that go into a data end.
Because eventually even if what’s created is fantastic as a digital innovation it often just hits a dead wall a brick wall. Because now we need to go through procurement in order to scale it all. It’s not compliant with their security requirements. It’s not easy to integrate with their legacy systems. So therefore it’s a standalone it because we don’t need more standalone notifications. [Hence the platform].
Yes I platform plus edge is the idea that you must start with a platform and then be agile on top of that platform. So what is a platform these days these days. So one of the things that I spent a lot of time working on and thinking when I was in my Ovum years was the emergence of cloud services as a fundamentally different way of going about delivering I.T. systems. When I was in the office of the CIO then I lead the creation of what’s now become Cenetex which is a shared service provider for the Victorian state government. So in the early 2000s, ICT strategy was primarily driven by a kind of ICT strategy 101 kind of thinking consolidate, standardised, rationalise or in order to reduce waste become more efficient become more secure and to save money and to drive digital innovation you needed to not just run away and do something fragmented you needed to first consolidate standardised rationalise the environment in order to have something that you could say is repeatable trustworthy machine that you could turn the handle on.
So in the early 2000s that was mainly around shared services and government and that led to the creation of Cenetex as a shared service which still exists today and we, Cenetex is going through a major resurgence through some of the work that we’ve been doing with him. But if you had your time over in the main you wouldn’t do it that way today because when you’re trying to do ICT strategy 101 consolidate, standardise, rationalise. You’re effectively trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. When you look at what’s happened in the industry with cloud services so there is a good reason why Amazon Web Services has overtaken even IBM or any of the big traditional ICT infrastructure providers and that is because they have not had to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. They started with a silk purse, they had the opportunity of a greenfield start. And the opportunity of building a new way of doing things that was a new bundle of people, processes, technology, culture, operating model, commercial model. Virtually every existing I.T. organisation in the world other than the new breed of cloud service providers is now trying to re-engineer what they already had to become more like a cloud service provider. So there was a big realisation for me when I was at Ovum observing that evolution so I became quite an advocate of cloud services and cloud services platforms particularly for the catalytic effect in the public sector.
Okay well what is a platform then from my perspective? The exemplar of our platform these days is sales force, sales force dot com. What is that. Well because they are fully enterprise grade at huge scale providing green trust with the platform which enables applications business applications to be created and launched without needing to do anything other than become an intelligent consumer and configure of something that already exists. So you start with the fact that the platforms in this case sales force already exists.
And is fantastic and has a sustainable future and is continually getting better faster more secure more functional on a trajectory of its own independently of you doing anything. So that whole platform notion is exemplified by the likes of salesforce dot com, service now Office 365 the Microsoft stack is becoming like that now.
So it’s really the opposite of those bespoke legacy systems that sit there and entropy takes its toll these systems sort of degrade over time that the platform is actually enhancing itself and maintaining itself over time without any input from you.
That’s right and that is that it can only do that because it’s been engineered for that possibility from the outset and because it has huge scale preferably global scale.
And then there’s a series of attributes that just come with the platform the main one being that platforms like that cannot be in an old sense customised to meet your specific requirements. Because if they did that they would end up in the spider’s web that we’ve had before. There’s no way that a platform like South force can support over 200 thousand different organisations around the world if it allows its platform to be customised to the needs of every one of them.
So that helps managing requirement complexity but also scope creep I imagine
Yep, exactly. So that there are two things that one is you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. So if you acknowledge that then you’ve just got to become an intelligent consumer of the platform on its terms. So you can’t say oh I need Salesforce to do this special thing for me and me only because that’s a breach of the whole model. And that becomes a huge benefit for government as it turns out. Because what that means is we need to adapt new behaviours to say well where we would previously have wanted to customise this thing in order to fit the rest of the world to our unique prices. What we will now do is just cut change the way our processes operate in order to fit with the economies of scale that have been created by the rest of the world. It’s a fundamental mind shift so that when you take that platform plus agile approach then your starting point is a platform like that
It would be a hard sell. Wouldn’t it because the controversy there would be that it always used to be said. Well you start with the process you start with the business and then the technology fits that you don’t start with the technology but that that is now starting to change isn’t it.
Yes it is. It’s a complex change for. Everybody to get the hit around and in some cases people that struggle with it the most I.T. professionals and business analysts in some ways struggle with it the most of anybody because they’ve grown up in a world that is the most important thing is to understand the business need and then to document that in a in a requirements document of some sort. In a way that is unencumbered by how technology could save that business need. The most important thing is to understand and document the business. Ask the users what do you want. And the problem with that is that’s what leads to the idea that if you ask users what they want organisationally you’re in a situation where what you need is something that is customised to only you.
Because the way the requirements have been allowed to be framed is ignorant of any kind of concept of the difficulty or cost of their implementation. So once you frame those requirements that way then you have a series of quite difficult situations to deal with. One is you go to market and you find that there is no solution that perfectly matches the way you’ve asked for it. So then you either have a difficult conversation having to unwind a whole lot of thinking in people’s heads about what they wanted. I’m sorry you can’t get what you wanted because we’ve now been through this 18 month procurement process and evaluated three different vendor offerings and now we know that what he wanted can be delivered or you go through a process of customising it to meet those requirements which usually creates cost and risk in the project
…And even cost and risk then in maintaining that over time that additional complexity that’s that’s a nightmare that that really becomes quite an expensive proposition.
Exactly. And say this to people say What is it that creates the fact that you believe that you are the only organisation in the history of human civilisation that has this particular focus need and that makes you happy to carry the cost of it in perpetuity forever. Because you’re the only organisation in the world that is going to have this system
… And if you do that with a platform every time the platform upgrades they could be incompatibilities there you are your customisation the likely to break over time.
So what platform plus age are the core of it thing is this idea that if you go back to this scenario where at the very first conversation with a business user or a sponsor or someone in one of the departments from policy or service delivery perspective from the very first conversation. What we’re trying to do is to guide that conversation towards a sweet spot. So what is the sweet spot the sweet spot is. Is a conversation around what would be useful which is some form of what do I want. What do we need. What are the requirements. But immediately to stop framing that conversation in the sense of what can be done with the platform. Because if you start that process then and the issue is of course that business analysts and everyone involved in that price is actually need to understand the platforms.
And it doesn’t really the what the platforms are good at what the functionality already does what is extended modules and common objects already do how integration works and generally what’s the art of the possible. And then also. How that turns into cost. So. How does licensing work. Is this the kind of thing that is licensed on a per user basis or various and which should users you know the front the frontline users in the community. Does it have to be licensed for every single user and if there’s a hundred thousand users it’s not affordable. Or is it licensed in various ways towards the backing towards people that do things inside the organisation and then the consumption of it is free. So there’s commercial considerations functional and so therefore you can’t do that and have that sweet spot common sense conversation.
If you have 25 different platform possibilities because it’s just too. Impossible to manage. So the crucial thing that platform plus agile is all about is saying. Look we have a small number a handful or so of what we regard as strategic platforms. In our case in light of pop and Salesforce, service now the Microsoft stake generally office 365. Sure and the services that are available in that ecosystem and Oracle to some degree we have and mainly those decisions are not necessarily strategic in the sense that we regard it as selves as having a ‘green field’ and we just chose those platforms in the main those evolutions of the situation we are really in. We already have self-support locations we already have extensive dot made applications. We already have PeopleSoft, Oracle, Oracle Financials. So what it’s all about is acknowledging practically and tactically what platforms we have and maybe tuning out ones that we no longer regard as strategic and then investing in the in-house skills and capability with those platforms.
So and the partnerships with vendors that enable us to do things quickly. So the platform then is a bundle of people processes and technologies that we believe that were comfortable and confident in our ability to deploy applications into. So if we go back to that conversation between a business analyst and a user with a new application. Then that concept of the sweet spot is fundamental and in that way what what you’re doing actually is shaping business and I.T. alignment in real time on the fly.
Absolutely and that’s a real skill set. And I wonder if in typical organisations especially at scale especially when it’s a large project you would often have a B.A. who’s who’s good at the business analysis but maybe doesn’t necessarily understand the technology in depth. You’d have your technical experts who don’t necessarily talk to the clients of the key stakeholders so you almost need someone with the skills on both sides the technical understanding but also the ability to have those conversations and be quite influential with the key stakeholders.
That’s right. This is one of the key challenges. So once a program once a project is moving then it’s into a platform and agile way scoped to sweet spot of the business need form that into a scope of work which can be done in a head start with a series of sprints which gets you to a minimum viable product of some sort. Then once that’s moving that team of people required to do it is multi disciplinary team. [It’s a very agile way of looking at it]. And then the challenges have to involve enough people in that process so that over time you’re building the overall awareness of that sweet spot conversation possibility because what you say is exactly right. So most business analysts are involved it only the front end of a project and then they don’t necessarily get involved in the agile sprints and get exposed to the real dynamics of the conversation around what’s possible what’s not possible what’s easy what’s cost effective in order to do with this platform versus that platform.
So it is a real challenge to try and multi-skill people because also people want to be involved in something that goes from start to finish and deliver as a result. Whereas the way we’ve done things historically is is very compartmentalised. You know you write the requirements document you produce the business case someone else might write the go to market specifications somebody else might manage the procurement somebody else does the old contract thing and then somebody entirely different picks it off as a project implemented and then that project is probably stuffed up with a whole bunch of people that were never involved in anything up to that point. So we’ve compartmentalised these things such that very few people apart from a handful of enterprise architects perhaps have any kind of involvement right throughout the whole life-cycle of the system.
That’s not really about our ownership over the end-to-end experience for the user or for the business.
So a big part of this whole thing is really just trying to work out ways to compress time frames and then to create more agile multidisciplinary teams of people that are working on a business problem and can see results started using the phrase, so people talk about MVP (minimum viable product). And I’ve started to use the phrase Minimum Visible Product because the critical thing is how fast can you make something visible to users and to everyone actually about how this sweet spot has been resolved. So we had this idea we conceptualise that a particular way and we’ve thought about how technology could apply. That whole discussion is theoretical. We don’t know whether that is the right way to bundle up that the dimensions of that and the only way we know is when we see something. So the idea of minimum visible product as fast as possible is all about the idea that you make it transparent make the whole problem now transparent because you’ve exposed to people an actual.
Solution of it and people quickly and immediately look at a minimum viable product. Well that’s not right. Yes that’s fantastic. Wow I didn’t think about that it could be done that way but now that I see it you know it’s wonderful. So the Holy celebrating the time and the only reason of course that you’re able to accelerate the time frame and this whole kind of bundle of thinking is because you start with a product with the platform that is already in existence. It’s already proven to be enterprise grade. We already know it and trust it it’s already been through the gauntlet of procurement and all of the issues that plague projects. So all we’re doing is making an increment of something that already exists and is proven.
And then you’re focusing on a minimum viable product approach as opposed to the full waterfall requirements gathering. [Exactly]. So you can actually make that quite quick.
Exactly. And so it just accelerates the whole thing. And in the end it’s all about productivity. So when you come back to benefit realisation then the way we think of benefit realisation is historically is framed by this idea that we have a particular view of what good looks like and then we put that into a mechanistic process and do it over a long period of time. And then we go back half and see whether the naive concept of what we thought good looked like has been delivered. So from our perspective the whole logic totally misses the point because the point is actually just the productivity benefit given the time and cost and effort the issue is that we’re just not getting enough innovation in enough systems out the door. Absolutely. So if we can just get more systems out the door and do so in a more agile and iterative manner.
We will have more applications more data and more insight. And as long as people use that insight for the good of the system that overall benefit is much much greater than we would have got through any kind of more simplistic naive mechanistic approach to it. Because what this is all about. I used the phrase compounding organisational learning side when we all end in primary school that you better to put a dollar in the bank account a month rather than 12 dollars and at the end of the year because of compounding interest. So. The traditional approach to I.T. projects and government in in that metaphor is that we like to put 36 dollars and at the end of three years you know like we we have this thing we get nothing. For the whole three years until the end.
And then we like this naive assumption that that’s a good way to do it. So compounding organisational learning is fuelled by the platform plus dollar approach because what it does is it enables smaller cycles of learning about what’s good what’s bad what works what doesn’t and then everyone is in a different place.
What’s hugely compounding isn’t it because you might pivot at each iteration along that journey and you would never get anywhere near that if he took a year to release the first release. Yep exactly. Absolutely. What a lovely framework. The Platform plus Agile and such a fantastic overview. Thank you so much for taking the time to walk us through that. I think it sounds if I can summarise it sounds to me like it’s moving away from the naive approach of waterfall but it’s also moving away from a naive implementation of agile. It sounds like it’s really this is how to take agile up to the enterprise level by starting with platform first. And it sounds like a big cultural shift as well. Have you got any insights around how do you bring your organisation but then also those stakeholders around you that you’re collaborating with. I mean certainly you’re talking about examples of sharing information between government agencies and workflows between government agencies. So it starts to become a matter of not only influencing the people that work for you and with you but broader group as well to come on board with this new way of doing things. Has that been a difficult cultural shift?
It’s just an ongoing journey. And the way I think about that is just. Compounding organisational learning. Like everyone has to learn how to do this differently. And once they see it then seeing is believing. So the only way to do this is by getting on with it.[ Start small build momentum]. Exactly. And that’s why platform plus 8 is crucial. Capacity is the ability to start small. And what that means is you can get a larger number of rabbits running and they know some will work some won’t work but everybody’s seeing and learning and being exposed to a different way of doing things. So, at this journey for two years we had tech Expo event a few weeks ago where within the department we had a kind of internal I.T. conference if you like. Really to celebrate and case what we’re doing and the successes of these things not just in our projects but other I.T. projects from across the department in Health and Human Services and that was the first time for example anyone can remember when we’ve had an internal conference just for ourselves to showcase peer to peer and talk about what we’re doing is hugely successful.
And that’s that’s just part of that change journey. So just trying to get onto the front foot to celebrate and to showcase things that are going on in a way that’s only possible because you’re building a momentum of confidence because there is a large number of things going on you can do a large number of things. If each of those things is not a large complex traditional I.T. project. So there’s a kind of like it is a literally a compounding type of thing. One thing leads to another. The more things you have running the more the compounding effect starts to play.
Sounds like you can tackle larger projects with less active resources as well using this methodology that would make sense.
Yes because you’re spreading the smallish pool of knowledgeable people across a large number of initiatives leveraged with contractors and we’ve set up a new panel arrangement of service providers where we have a network of companies that we can draw on to provide services in a much more flexible way. So it’s all about trying to work effectively the other the other key impact of this from my perspective is I talk a little bit a while ago about this idea of the sweet spot. And finding the sweet spot between what a business need is and what can be done using the platforms. What that does is it totally changes the way we think of and value in-house sized people. So government you know in the last decade or so particularly in Victoria has got itself into this mindset of I.T. projects big and costly and risky because they’re big and costly and risky and because of cost cutting and then down wasting of internal capabilities everything has to be done by consultants and then through procurement with big systems integration companies et cetera.
So the problem with that is we talked a bit about this. It’s very difficult to exercise common sense in that process. Maybe some common sense in the first framing of the problem. But once it’s become collated into thick with documents and PowerPoint presentations and requirements documents and contracts then actually there’s no common sense applied and it’s very difficult to exercise any common sense over it. You know governance always almost always fails to exercise common sense. You know you have governance committees where everyone knows what’s going on is stupid but nobody feels empowered or able to do anything about it. So if you unwind that whole thing inside platform plus edge at its core is actually all about empowering public servants within the teams to get the hell on and do things and exercise the fact that they have knowledge.
They have relationships they have experience of doing lots of different things and each person can personally influence this crisis by exercising the common sense to shape that sweet spot. And the reason they can do that is because most of the things we traditionally think of as I.T. entirely outsourced to the platform. So when you’re using Salesforce.com or what you’re developing in the fourth dotcom platform virtually the entirety of what you would traditionally call the I.T. function. Is encapsulated in the platform. So what you have Liff is business functional analysts and configures and designers. User experience all they can can and should be in-house people because they know they have relationships.
When you’re running agile sprints those are really expensive processes on people and you have to have good relationships in order to for those conversations to work well and for you to be able to call on the right people in the organisation at the right time to make decisions and to get things done.
So there’s a real digital leadership skill in there someone who can work with those that have the deep technology someone who has comfort with the technology concepts themselves but can also communicate clearly influenced stakeholders not just gather requirements. But manage and align them and bring others on that journey to embrace that new culture.
Exactly. And so I and my department and I’m fortunate in some ways that’s why that’s why I’m in this department because the Department of Health and Human Services has a large enough department to have enough money to have a large enough in-house team to actually do this. So it is a struggle in other departments where they have only very small in-house teams and they have no rules no budget no discretionary budget. So it is quite hard to do it when you heft where the only way you can get money is to go through this budget process and in order to get you through this tight budget crisis you have to do a deal with the devil effectively in order to have a big business case to justify it and then the deal with the level of debt and there’s a whole kind of machinery that follows because you got the money was a big business case it needs to be a big project therefore it needs to be done.
So a lot of this in a way it’s kind of like going back 30 years to the way things used to be. But along the way because like head of things used to be used to be we had you know large in-house I.T. teams that would have detailed knowledge of business and would build highly customised and specialised systems sourcing partnerships with industry to do it along the way.
Everyone got overtaken by this idea of outsourcing everything that the internal teams down wasted and the capability was lost because it was assumed that the capability would just be procured from the market on a transactional basis as it was required. Now we’ve kind of come up again and actually with valuing the idea that in a way we are better say and configuring new applications on cloud services platforms is an ideal model. These were custom configuring because who sounds like a contradiction because we actually don’t want to customise applications. But what we’re discovering is that the configure ability of the enterprise grade cloud services platforms means that you can actually deliver something to users that they think is a customised experience. But it hasn’t required the writing of customised code. It’s actually just the configuration.
It’s not entirely bespoke it’s just customised. You found that sweet spot.
That’s right. And that’s all about the sweet spot of how can you use the platform to achieve something that achieves a particular business need in a way that everyone is comfortable happy with. And at the same time is fast more affordable more sustainable going forward. So in the end that comes back to actually really valuing the fact that you have a small but leverage able team of people in the department that genuinely know how to do this. They know the departments processes they have relationships of trust with senior and influential people across the department. They can call on people to come and advise on an agile sprint.
They make connections, they really lead that process of finding a sweet spot and getting those solutions delivered.
And what’s fuelling that now is the fact that these platforms exist and they are more flexible and able faster more cost effective kind of solutions. And that’s just all available on tap but only as long as you can become an intelligent consumer of it. [Yes] which means finding the sweet spot. Having the capability to find the sweet spot.
That’s fantastic. Thank you so much for that. It’s I’m very conscious of your time. We probably should look at wrapping it up can we find out more about the platform plus agile thinking is there some way we can look to your information online on.
Yes, LinkedIn. On my LinkedIn profile I’ve published a few different presentations is one that’s published on Slideshare at the moment. It’s called ICT Mojo Lost [and then found again] yes and found again. That’s right. So this is part of this logic you know I think we have a little bit pejorative on my part but you know the Victorian Government has lost its ICT mojo. And what we’ve talked about as platform plus agile is my idea about how we can get our mojo back.
Fantastic. Well thank you for that. I’ll link to that from the show notes page. And is there any final advice you’d like to leave for our listeners.
I suppose, the one thing I’ve learned over the years is just sounds silly really. But leadership matters. Leadership is around principally around confidence. So as a leader, how do you have a sense of confidence that what you’re talking about or the ideas that you have will work are safe and trustworthy that won’t put people in danger in terms of if they follow you they live down the garden path and then there’s some disaster or create a disaster for the government to say somehow or rather there is a conundrum in all of this from a public service perspective about perspective about whether people should be just within the public sector so they feel they know the public sector and data whether they should come in from without. And there are problems with both and I think about my career and the serendipitous nature of it.
I think one thing that has been useful to me is having moved in and out of the public sector over over the whole of my career in consulting and advisory and have distinctive roles and I think that’s actually important because I’m too much within the public sector. Makes you not inclined enough to challenge the status quo or to see fault in the status quo too much from without the public sector means that actually you are just naive really quite frankly like we see a lot of damage done by people that come in from outside the public sector and then spend two or three years trying to make the public sector like a corporation. Grinding is yeah it eventually they get spat out because they discover that they can’t or they just do something really stupid because they don’t understand the nuances and subtleties of it so there’s a real leadership imperative I think for public sector executives to be consciously valuing the need to have periods in their career when they’re outside the public sector and when they’re inside and then choosing from my perspective it’s about choosing your battles wisely and that’s why I say there’s a reason why I’m here in health and human services because and that’s a conscious choice on my part because I believe I can be effective in this case because of the experiences that I’ve had and because the problems in this department are complex and therefore this model that I’ve talked about platform plus said trial is a necessary adaptive resilient kind of way of doing things in this sector and I wouldn’t have come to that realization had I just stayed within the State Government and if I had stayed had not had experience in government I wouldn’t have come to that realisation outside somehow or other. I think it’s valuable for executives to be having periods in and out.
Absolutely yeah. Both sides of the coin. Well thank you again for taking the time and sharing so much of your wisdom and your experience with us. I can’t wait to go back through and listen to that again because there’s so much depth in there around the implications of platform plus agile that I want to unpack and understand.
Well, it’s my passion and my pleasure. So I’m happy to talk.