THE CLIENT: East Lothian Council is one of Scotland’s 32 local authorities, responsible for around 800 services for the 120,000 residents of this county to the east of Edinburgh.
THE CHALLENGE FOR THE CLIENT: The council was facing severe financial challenges and all its major customer-facing platforms were obsolete. It required firstly a digital transformation strategy and secondly a programme of projects to deliver on that high level vision. It had no internal capacity for change and limited understanding of the challenges, limits and realities of delivering lasting change.
The Challenge for Me
The council’s stakeholders didn’t know what they didn’t know. They had been so busy fire-fighting they had never checked which fires needed to be controlled, and which fires should be left to burn out. Their confidence was low and their knowledge of new ways of working extremely limited. They accepted that change was required but their vision was vague and their exposure to new thinking was too superficial.
WHAT DID I DO?: I led the process of creating a digital transformation strategy for East Lothian Council, working with the council’s head of IT. I aligned that strategy to national work. I devised a programme of candidate projects, set up governance and admission criteria for the programme and then ran the projects which made up the programme of work
THE COSTS: This two year programme of work was in the under £2m category of spend.
THE OUTCOMES: Delivered 12 projects in two years, increasing the percentage of council income transactions performed digitally by 41%. Set the IT roadmap for five years and removed cash handling from schools.
What were the lessons learned?
1>Set a deadline around something which is complex, over which you have limited control. For instance, I looked at sharing a CRM system with a neighbouring local authority. This would have been a major win. However, there was limited momentum behind sharing and too little preparedness to compromise on requirements, and so I had to call a halt to this process and move East Lothian along on its own. With hindsight, I’d have placed three months on the initial proof of concept discussions.
2>Don’t assume any knowledge on the part of your client and budget for repeated conversations and briefings to help them get up to speed, and for you to manage their expectations. Digital stuff looks relatively easy, and sometimes people on your project teams will have no knowledge of the commercial side, nor of the agreed scope. Publicise the client’s requirements internally, and ensure what people know what’s in scope for when.
3>Remember your stakeholders can be conscripts rather than volunteers – and duck out of showing leadership as a result sometimes. Tempting though it may be to step into that gap, remember your power is limited and persuading your reluctant leader to step forward and step up is a better long-term strategy.
4>Don’t be surprised if the client’s business and IT teams don’t know each other and have differing agendas and suspicions.